‘The Homecoming’ by Frank Yerby

Yerby, Frank 1944

The Homecoming by Frank Yerby, 1946

The magic trick:

Showing how controlled kindness from whites is just as demeaning for blacks, in many ways, as controlled vitriol

A close cousin to Yerby’s first published story, “Health Card” (previously featured on SSMT), “The Homecoming” portrays an African American man who only seeks the freedom to control his own identity.

The story’s opening scenes are, sadly, not surprising. Willie, in spite of his admirable service in World War II, returns home to disrespect and plain meanness from the white people he encounters in town. The story really pushes into complicated waters, though, when Willie returns home to the Colonel’s house. Here, we see textbook “kindness” from Southern whites to their black employees. So long as Willie smiles when he should smile and says all the right things, he will always be welcomed in the town as “Willie, the Colonel’s boy.”

This is no longer good enough for Willie. Therein lies the story’s conflict. Therein lies the conflict for generations of Southern blacks. The fact that white folks like the Colonel in this story couldn’t even see why there should be a conflict at all tells you a lot about why 75 years later, very little has been solved. And that’s quite a trick on Yerby’s part.

The selection:

“The North is no place for n——, Willie. Why, those dang-blasted Yankees would let you starve to death. Down here a time you get hungry you can always come up to most anybody’s back door and they’ll feed you.”

“Yes,” Willie said. “They feed me all right. They say that’s Colonel Bob’s boy, Willie, and they give me a swell meal. That’s how come I got to go.”

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