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Rights: Malcolm X


Walker Art Center



Institution Walker Art Center
Willie Cole refers to this speech by Malcolm X, known as "The House Negro and the Field Negro," as a source of inspiration for Stowage: "Even though I cite the speech as inspiration, it was primarily my own musing about its title that led me to imagine the ironing-board shield as part of the house Negro's arsenal during a revolt."

[During slavery] There were two kinds of Negroes. There was that old house Negro and the field Negro. And the house Negro always looked out for his master. When the field Negroes got too much out of line, he held them back in check. He put them back on the plantation.

The house Negro could afford to do that because he lived better than the field Negro. He ate better, he dressed better, and he lived in a better house. He lived right up next to his master--in the attic or the basement. He ate the same food as his master and wore his same clothes. And he could talk just like his master--good diction. And he loved his master more than his master loved himself. That's why he didn't want his master to get hurt.

If the master got hurt he'd say: "What's the matter, boss--we sick?" When the master's house caught afire, he'd try and put out the fire. He didn't want his master's house burnt. He never wanted his master's property threatened. And he was more defensive of it than his master was. That was the house Negro.

But then you had some field Negroes, who lived in huts, had nothing to lose. They wore the worst kind of clothes. They ate the worst food. And they caught hell. Oh yes, they did. If the master got sick, they'd pray that the master'd die. If the master's house caught afire, they'd pray for a strong wind to come along. This was the difference between the two.

And today you still have house Negroes and field Negroes.

I'm a field Negro. If I can't live in the house as a human being, I'm praying for a wind to come along. If the master won't treat me right and he's sick, I'll tell the doctor to go in the other direction. But if all of us are going to live as human beings, then I'm for a society of human beings that can practice brotherhood.

--Malcolm X, Selma, Alabama, February 4, 1965

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Type: Commentary, online content
Source: Rights: Malcolm X, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.
Rights: Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center
Added to Site: March 1, 2009