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Calvin Hernton

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Calvin Hernton

Calvin Coolidge Hernton (April 28, 1932 — September 30, 2001)[1] was an American sociologist, poet and author, particularly renowned for his 1965 study Sex and Racism in America.


Hernton was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA, on 28 April 1932. He studied at Talladega College in Alabama, where he received a B.A. in sociology (1954), and at Fisk University, where he earned a master's degree. In the mid-1950s, he worked as a social worker in New York City. He also gave poetry readings there and co-founded the magazine Umbra, which published a collective of Black writers including Langston Hughes, Ishmael Reed and Alice Walker. Hernton subsequently went to London and worked with the Institute of Phenomenological Studies (1965–69), studying under R. D. Laing.[2] He was active alongside Obi Egbuna and CLR James in the Antiuniversity of London[3]

He returned to the US in 1970, and went to Oberlin College as a writer in residence and two years later joined the Black Studies department. He was a Professor of African-American Studies there until his retirement in 1999.[4]

Hernton was the author of nine books that reflect his writings as a poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, and social scientist, including the bestselling Sex and Racism In America, which was translated into several languages, and the ground-breaking The Sexual Mountain And Black Women Writers: Adventures in Sex, Literature, and Real Life. His poems were also published in Essence, Evergreen Review and Black Scholar, among other places, and on various recordings and were performed in plays on Broadway and on tour.[4]

In 2011 the Chelsea Art Museum recreated a performance of Black Zero, a happening staged by Aldo Tambellini at Group Center on several occasions between 1963 and 1965. Sound recordings of Calvin Hernton reciting his poetry were accompanied by improvised performances by Ben Morea and Henry Grimes.[5]

Hernton died in Oberlin, Ohio, at the age of 69.



  • Scarecrow (1974)


  • Sex and Racism in America (Doubleday, 1965)
  • White Papers for White Americans (1966)
  • Coming Together: Black Power, White Hatred, and Sexual Hang-ups (1966)
  • The Cannabis Experience: An Interpretative Study of the Effects of Marijuana and Hashish (with Joseph Berke) (1974), London: Peter Owen
  • The Sexual Mountain and Black Women Writers: Adventures in Sex, Literature, and Real Life (1987)


  • The Coming of Chronos to the House of Nightsong: An Epical Narrative of the South (1964)
  • Medicine Man: Collected Poems (1976)
  • The Red Crab Gang and Black River Poems (with Carla Bank, 1999)


Further reading

  • Michel Oren, "The Enigmatic Career of Hernton's Scarecrow", Callaloo, Volume 29, Number 2, Spring 2006, pp. 608–618.

External links

  • Brief biography, Reporting Civil Rights: Reporters and Writers: Calvin C. Hernton
  • Margalit Fox, "Calvin Hernton, 69, Scholar Of American Race Relations" (obituary), New York Times, October 10, 2001
  • "Medicine Man" by Calvin Hernton, African American Registry

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