Jesse Jackson John Rowe Townsend - Essay

John Rowe Townsend

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Among stories which were "contemporary" at the time but which now look dated is Call Me Charley, concerning] the acceptance of a black boy in a suburban community generally.

[In this book] the black characters bear injustice with a patience which now appears Uncle Tommish…. Charley Moss's mother in Call Me Charley advises him on the last page, 'As long as you work hard and try to do right, you will always find good [white] people like Doc Cunningham or Tom and his folks marching along with you in the right path.' Actually Charley is not without spirit; when someone addresses him as Sambo he says, 'My name is Charles. Sometimes I'm called Charley. Nobody calls me Sambo and gets away with it.' Hence the book's title. Nevertheless, there is some resemblance to the treatment of the poor in books by well-meaning Victorians. Just as the poor were expected to rely on and be grateful for the beneficence of the rich, so the black must rely on and be grateful for the beneficence of the white. Of course we have no right to sneer from our vantage-point in the 1970s at advice which was sensible when it was given. But well might poor or black have retorted, 'Damn your charity, give us justice.' (p. 272)

John Rowe Townsend, in his Written for Children: An Outline of English-Language Children's Literature (copyright © 1965, 1974 by John Rowe Townsend; reprinted by permission of J. B. Lippincott Company; in Canada by Kestrel Books), revised edition, Lippincott, 1974.