James A. Emanuel: On "Goodbye Christ"

An example of a miscarriage of poetic point is Hughes's controversial "Goodbye Christ," a poem which, in the 1930's and 1940's especially, attracted gusts of misinterpretation and calumny. Such repercussions bore upon the refusal of the Los Angeles Civic League in August, 1935, to let Hughes speak in a local YMCA building, and upon the picketing and circularizing by Gerald L. K. Smith's America First Party in April, 1943, at Wayne State University when the Student Council invited the poet to speak there. Hughes defense of the tough-guy poem as not anti-Christ but as "an ironic protest against racketeering in the churches" and as "anti-misuse of religion" implies that the gist of the poem is in these lines about the New Testament:

But it's dead now.

The popes and the preachers've

Made too much money from it.

They've sold you [Christ] to too many

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers--

Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks. . . .

The fact that the poem also excoriates "big black Saint Becton/Of the Consecrated Dime," the Harlem preacher shown as a charlatan in The Big Sea, has not redeemed features disliked by detractors. Redemption was not needed in the eyes of other readers, such as the Reverend Charles C. Hill, Chairman of the Citizens Committee of Detroit, who answered a letter from Gerald L. K. Smith by saying that Hughes "was expressing the feeling of most Negroes toward white Christianity as displayed every day." Emphasizing that a distortion of Christianity was the poet's point of attack, he added: "I can join Langston Hughes with teeming others in saying 'Goodbye Christ'--the Christ as held up by the white supremacists. . . .

From Langston Hughes (Twayne, 1967).

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Criticism Overview
Title James A. Emanuel: On "Goodbye Christ" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James A. Emanuel Criticism Target Langston Hughes
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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