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Book Review on The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright



The Man Who Lived Underground tells a tale that far too many black men can relate to. A black man getting off from work and being wrongfully accused of a double homicide that he did not commit. Not only did he not commit the murders, but the arresting police officers know that he didn't as well. "'I think he'll do, Lawson,' said the tall, raw-boned policeman who had not spoken before."


Frank Daniels is an upstanding citizen, working and trying to provide for his family. His only crime was being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not only was he wrongfully accused, but he was also beaten and tortured until he confessed to a crime he did not commit. "He filled his dry mouth with cold water and was in the act of swallowing when he saw a white fist sweeping toward him; it struck him squarely in the stomach at the very moment he had swallowed the water and and his diaphragm heaved involuntarily and the water shot upward through his chest and gushed forth at his nostrils, leaving streaks of pain in its wake. At the same instant the glass leaped from his fingers and bounded with a ringing twang into a corner. Coughing, he pitched prone on the floor, face first, and lay twitching. Pain balled in his stomach and he began to gag amid his coughing as more water trickled through his nostrils and lips."


After his confession, the "nice" officers, Lawson, Johnson, and Murphy, take Frank to see his pregnant wife. "No one can say we mistreated him if we let 'im see his old lady, hunh?" She gets so worked up seeing her bloodied and bruised husband and immediately goes in to labor. Being the nice officers that they are, they hurriedly get Mrs. Daniels to the hospital so her baby can be delivered. It's at that hospital that Frank decides to run. "A tremor of relief went through his body and he dropped to his knees and his hands reached for the curved rim of the the manhole cover. The siren hooted its warning and, with a gasp of physical strength, he jerked the cover far enough off the manhole to admit his body. Resting the weight of his body on both of his arms, with his fingers clutching at the rim of the manhole, he swung his legs quickly over the opening and lowered himself quickly into the rustling, watery blackness of the underground."


Frank is only in "the underground" for three days, but of course it feels like so much longer to him. He embarks on a journey that is somewhat enlightening. Helping him to see himself and others in their true form. "And again he was overwhelmed with that inescapable emotion that always cut down to the foundations of life here in the underground, that emotion that told him that, though he were innocent, he was guilty; though blameless, he was accused; though living, he must die; though possessing faculties of dignity, he must live a life of shame; though existing in a seemingly reasonable world, he must die a certainly reasonless death."


The start of this book was extremely hard for me. Reading about the torturing of an innocent black man, while waiting on the verdict on the George Floyd case, in addition to reading about Ma'Khia Bryant was draining. It brought tears to my eyes just knowing that a book written so long ago still has relevance. Once I was able to push through that, the book flowed, and I enjoyed it. Richard Wright is a true wordsmith. I loved the eloquence of the writing; I loved the themes, and the way the book ended held true to reality. I am forever grateful to whoever decided this book needed to be introduced to the world.

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