Calvin C. Hernton

Calvin Coolidge Hernton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He earned a BA in sociology from Talladega College in 1954 and an MA in the same discipline from Fisk University in 1956.

In the early 1960s, Hernton cofounded the Umbra literary group with Tom Dent, David Henderson, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, and several others, in addition to having been one of the initiators of the Black Arts Movement. Hernton is the author of numerous works of poetry and prose, including The Red Crab Gang and Black River Poems (Ishmael Reed Publishing, 1999) and the free verse poetry collection Medicine Man (Reed, Cannon & Johnson, 1976). Hernton’s prose works include the novel Scarecrow (Doubleday, 1974); Sex and Racism in America (Doubleday, 1965), which has been released in numerous editions, most recently in 1992; and criticism on James Baldwin, Chester Himes, and Langston Hughes. In The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers (Anchor Press, 1987), Hernton praised Alice Walker’s The Color Purple as “one of the best sociological dramatic studies written on the subject of sexual oppression within the black race.” 

From 1960 to 1961, Hernton worked as a social worker in New York City before becoming an instructor in history and sociology. He has taught at Benedict College in South Carolina, Edward Waters College (now, Edward Waters University) in Florida, Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, and Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana. Hernton was the writer in residence at Oberlin College from 1970 to 1972. He then joined the college’s faculty in Black studies and creative writing the following year. Later in his career, Hernton became a professor emeritus at Oberlin College, where he taught courses in African, African American, and Caribbean literatures.