‘The Boy Who Painted Christ Black’ by John Henrik Clarke

Clark, John Henrik 1940

The Boy Who Painted Christ Black by John Henrik Clarke, 1940

The magic trick:

Creating a memorable and powerful final scene of victory even in the face of short-term defeat

The closing image/scene in this story is a knockout. Without ruining the details of the plot for those who haven’t read it (find it! read it! it’s good!). Sufficed to say, the closing scene sees two champions – one a boy, one a man – walking off together as equals, brave and bold even in short-term defeat. It’s definitely one that sticks in your memory. And that’s quite a trick on Clarke’s part.

The selection:

“Aaron,” she spoke at last, a slight tinge of uncertainty in her tone, “this is a most welcome present. Thanks. I will treasure it.” She paused, then went on speaking, a trifle more coherent than before. “Looks like you are going to be quite an artist…Suppose you come forward and tell the class how you came to paint this remarkable picture.

When he rose to speak, to explain about the picture, a hush fell tightly over the room, and the children gave him all of their attention…something they rarely did for the teacher. He did not speak at first; he just stood there in front of the room, toying absently with his hands, observing his audience carefully, like a great concert artist.

“It was like this,” he said, placing full emphasis on every word. “You see, my uncle who lives in New York teaches classes in Negro History at the Y.M.C.A. When he visited us last year he was telling me about the many great black folks who have made history. He said black folks were once the most powerful people on earth. When I asked him about Christ, he said no one ever proved whether he was black or white. Somehow a feeling came over me that he was a black man, ‘cause he was so kind and forgiving, kinder than I have ever seen white people be. So, when I painted his picture I couldn’t help but paint it as I thought it was.”

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