This essay focuses on the life and writing of African American novelist, playwright, and activist Julian Mayfield, whose under-studied work and extraordinary life tell a story about race and civil rights in literature that challenges familiar accounts. By analyzing Mayfield’s published novels, The Hit (1957), The Long Night (1958), and The Grand Parade (1961), as well as some of his essays, plays, and other unpublished work written in the 1960s and 1970s after his move from Harlem to Ghana, I describe an “alternative civil rights literature” not set in the South or primarily concerned with documenting segregation, but focused instead on racial capitalism, black history, internationalism, and on the ways “race” had meaning in postwar United States. Although he has remained largely absent from black literary histories, Mayfield was a prolific figure connected to numerous moments of civil rights reform, and his writing is a model for thinking about other texts that engage questions of race and rights in ways markedly distinct from the dominant narrative of the Civil Rights Movement as such, and have not been recognized as “civil rights literatures” at all.

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