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Jay Saunders Redding
*Jay Saunders Redding was born on this date in 1906. He was a Black professor of English, an author, and a literary critic.
From Wilmington, Delaware, he was the third of seven children growing up in a predominantly white middle-class neighborhood. Redding went to Howard High School, doing extremely well in journalism, debate, basketball, drama, and speech. His mother died at this time, and after graduating, he went to college in Pennsylvania.
Redding followed his brother Louis to Brown University, transferring after a year at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. After graduation in 1928, he taught at Morehouse College until 1931 and came back to Brown for a master's degree in 1932. He spent an additional year at Brown and studied at Columbia from 1933-34. He taught at Louisville Municipal College from 1934 to 1936 and at Southern University in Baton Rouge from 1936 to 1938. He was head of the English Department at State Teachers College, Elizabeth City, N. C., from 1938 to 1943 and professor of English at Hampton Institute from 1943 to 1966.
In the first semester of 1949-50, Redding was a visiting professor at Brown, the first Black appointed to the faculty. His course on the Negro in American literature was the first such course given in a Northern college. In 1964-65 he was a fellow in the Humanities at Duke. His first book, To Make a Poet Black, was published in 1939 and was followed by the autobiographical No Day of Triumph in 1942 and his first novel, Stranger and Alone, in 1950. Then followed his books on the Black experience, They Came in Chains (1951), On Being Negro in America (1951), The Lonesome Road (1958), and The Negro, a book on the role of blacks in America, written for U. S. Information Agency distribution in 1967.
In 1954 he wrote An American in India after a State Department assignment in that country. Redding became a professor of American history and civilization at George Washington University in 1969. From 1971 until his retirement in 1975, he was an Ernest I. White Professor of American Studies and Humane Letters at Cornell University. He was a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University from 1969 to 1981.
The New York Times called him "probably the most eminent Negro writer of nonfiction in the country." J. Saunders Redding died on March 2, 1988, in Ithaca, New York.