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3. The Status of African Americans 1900–1950

Matthew Pratt Guterl

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics African American, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00006.x


Winslow Homer's darkly iconic painting, Gulf Stream (1899), features a black man, wearing only a tattered pair of pants, lying supine on the deck of a listing and battered sailboat. Though the bulk of the painting is in shadow, a single shaft of daylight illuminates the boat, drawing the viewer's attention to a few twisting cane stalks, a crumpled sail, and a broken mast, all scattered across the deck and around “the Negro.” The man is not resting comfortably. The blue waters surrounding the craft are filled with crazed sharks, gnashing their teeth and hungering after his flesh. A waterspout sits in the near background, and angry clouds are only a few miles away. A distant schooner is headed in the opposite direction and cannot bring him to salvation. Gulf Stream was an unusual piece for Homer, a New England painter whose heroic portraits of hardy sailors, their families, and the seafaring life were thought to be quintessentially “American.” Indeed, Homer's patrons worried about the unnamed black, and pressed the artist to offer a positive interpretation of the troublesome image, a request he refused or ridiculed. His sequel, After the Hurricane (1899), featured a black body, lying in the sand next to an upside-down, crushed boat, and offered little solace to those who hoped to find the black sailor alive and well. Despite the concerns of Homer's patrons, Gulf Stream reflected ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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