(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dan Freeman’s elaborate plot against a racist society is set in motion by Senator Gilbert Hennington’s willingness to do anything to win reelection. Concluding that he cannot win without the black vote, he decides to campaign for the integration of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), figuring that the CIA is vulnerable after the Bay of Pigs and U-2 disasters. This cynical maneuvering for public attention works, and Hennington is reelected.

Freeman is one of the twenty-three black men chosen for training, with the understanding that only one will complete the program. The CIA plans to make the training so difficult that no one will last. Freeman, the only candidate without a typical middle-class African American background, survives because disadvantage has given him the strength of will to prevail. His biggest test comes in the hand-to-hand combat sessions taught by the racist Calhoun, whom he defeats and disgraces. Hennington himself is indifferent to the fruits of his protest. He had won his election, and for another six years he was safe.

Having learned how to be a spy, Freeman employs these skills in the CIA not toward his country’s enemies but against his employers, playing to their racist expectations and manipulating them. He is given a menial desk job at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, as “top secret reproduction section chief,” a job that simply entails operating a ditto machine. He is asked to give a tour to a Senate committee, including Hennington. After seemingly flattering Hennington, he is promoted to special assistant to the CIA director. His job was “to be black and conspicuous as the integrated Negro of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America. As long as he was there, one of an officer corps of thousands,...

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(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Burrell, Walter. “Rappin’ with Sam Greenlee.” Black World 20 (July, 1971): 42-47. In this interview, Greenlee explains how The Spook Who Sat by the Door is aimed not only at educated African Americans but also at ordinary black people who rarely read. He discusses why he made no concessions for white readers, arguing that fiction pleading for whites to understand blacks had not worked. Greenlee also offers his views on the treatment of African Americans in films and on television.

Gould, Mark. “Through the Front Door with Sam Greenlee.” Biography News 1 (January, 1974): 39. In this interview, reprinted from Chicago News, Greenlee discusses the difficulty of getting The Spook Who Sat by the Door published and a similar difficulty facing the production of the 1973 film version, which he cowrote and coproduced. Greenlee answers charges that the film is irresponsible.

Greenlee, Sam. “Thoughts on Gwendolyn Brooks.” In Gwendolyn Brooks and Working Writers, edited by Jacqueline Imani Bryant. Chicago: Third World Press, 2007. This essay on fellow novelist and poet Brooks reveals Greenlee’s attitudes toward African American literature generally.

Schraufnagel, Noel. From Apology to Protest: The Black American Novel. Deland, Fla.: Everett/Edwards, 1973. In a short analysis, The Spook Who Sat by the Door is placed in the context of African American protest novels, showing the influence on Greenlee of the writings of Richard Wright and James Baldwin. Argues that the novel succeeds primarily as propaganda and that in spite of such flaws as authorial intrusions and caricatured characters it is an effective exposé of American racism.

Starke, Catherine Juanita. Black Portraiture in American Fiction: Stock Characters, Archetypes, and Individuals. New York: Basic Books, 1971. Includes a brief analysis of the character of Dan Freeman. Discusses how he contrasts with middle-class blacks and explains how he is a double agent in several senses.

Van Deburg, William L. New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. The anger of The Spook Who Sat by the Door is considered briefly in the context of the larger social, political, and cultural issues of its day.