Living Amongst the Fays: Rudolph Fisher’s Portrayal of Race Collision in ‘The Walls of Jericho’

Arriving into New York in 1925, Rudolph Fisher immediately became involved in the Harlem Renaissance, befriending the likes of Langston Hughes and contributing short stories to both white and Black publications, including The New Negro. Fisher published his first novel, The Walls of Jericho, in 1928, aiming to complete a challenge set by his friend to write treating the upper and lower classes of Black Harlem as equal: a move which would empower Black Americans during the difficulties they faced during The Great Migration, whilst exposing Fisher’s Pan-African beliefs.

Though written in the third-person and stepping away from the stream-of-consciousness styles so popular in Harlem Renaissance writing, lawyer Ralph Merrit exists as a vessel through which Pan-Africanism is carried. His move away from Harlem and into an affluent white neighbourhood is met with the snide satire provided by Miss Cramp, the neighbour. Her ‘swift change of mien from complacency to unbelieving horror’ that Merrit was masquerading as a white man is humorously highlighted as she realises there will be a Negro living on Court Avenue: ‘they’ll blame me’.

Fisher interweaves a romantic sub-plot between Miss Cramp’s Black maid, Linda, and one of Merrit’s piano movers, Shine. This focus on the lower class Harlemites highlights the Pan-African need for unification amongst the classes: Linda eventually abandons Miss Cramp to seek employment with Merrit, and Shine is offered an ‘economic backbone’ via Merrit’s business opportunity. ‘That’s what we Negroes need,’ says Merrit, ‘What kind of a social structure can anybody have with nothing but the extremes – bootblacks on one end and doctors on the other.’

The denouement of The Walls of Jericho sees an unchanged Miss Cramp complain to her new Irish maid of the ‘extremely deceitful’ Negroes. ‘There is so much hatred between races,’ she says, ‘it is all that can be expected.’ Despite the white woman’s static stance, Fisher ends the novel with the contrasting progress of Linda and Shine driving away together ‘up and over a crest beyond which spread sunrise like a promise.’

Sources:
Britannica Online, Rudolph Fisher https://www.britannica.com/biography/Rudolph-Fisher
City Sites, University of Birmingham Online, Rudolph Fisher http://artsweb.bham.ac.uk/CitySites/harlem/section05.htm
Gale Academic Onefile, Mapping race: the discourse of blackness in Rudolph fisher’s walls of Jericho https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?p=AONE&u=tou&id=GALE%7CA361554477&v=2.1&it=r
Rudolph Fisher (1928) The Walls of Jericho, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, The University of Michigan Press.

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