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Writers' War Board



NOTE: According to various Langston Hughes biographers, this dramatic sketch -- originally intended for actors Rex Ingram and Canada Lee -- was offered to wartime propaganda series such as "Keep 'Em Rolling" and "Treasury Star Parade" but rejected as too controversial. Other sources report that it was later "recorded in New York and released to local radio stations," apparently distributed by the Writers' War Board, the leading wartime civilian propaganda committee, of which Hughes was the lone African-American member.

Scheduled for broadcast Oct 25 1942 over WTAM, 1:30 pm, by The Gilpin Players of Karamu House. Scheduled cast: Lloyd Gentry, Minnie Gentry, George Moore, Dr. Jesse Firse, Harold Crites, Elmer Brown and Roland Mulhauser.









AUTHOR'S NOTE: This script is written in an attempt to face and resolve some of the problems troubling the minds of some American Negro citizens today in regard to our war effort and their own unresolved problems of democracy at home. The seamen of the Merchant Marine, including Negro seamen, are among the outstanding heroes of this war. Here we let a Negro seaman speak.

ANNOUNCER: (INSERT NAME OF ORGANIZATION) presents "BROTHERS", a radio play by Langston Hughes. 

(Sound: wind howling) 

ANNOUNCER: A convoy on the North Atlantic on a stormy night in winter. An American ship is returning to home port after a voyage to one of our far-flung bases of democracy. In the fo's'cle a group of sailors sit around the mess-table playing cards. 

(Sound: wind continues in background through scene.) 

SWEDE: I'm hitting, Chips.

NORWAY: Hit me with a ten spot, Swede -- and take these toothpicks. 

SWEDE: Every toothpick's a cent, remember. 

NORWAY: I don't forget when we paid off tomorrow. 

SWEDE: Here's your ten spot. 

NORWAY: Busted! 

SWEDE: What you want, Frenchie? 

FRENCHIE: Pass me. I'm O.K. 

SWEDE: Sitting pretty, heh? How about you, Dominic? 

ITALIAN: I do all right, too. Get yourself twenty-one. 

SWEDE: One card for me. And that's just what I done -- sixteen and five -- twenty-one.

ITALIAN: Well, I'll be dog-goned! 

NORWAY: You lucky son-of-a-gun, you! I bust out, and you win from every body else anyhow. 

FRENCHIE: You got all the luck since Cowboy quit the game. Where he go, anyhow? 

SWEDE: To relieve Charlie on the bridge. Time for the watch to change, you know.

(Sound: ship's bell in the distance heard over wind.) 

NORWAY: There's eight bells now. 

SWEDE: How can you hear it through all this storm?

ITALIAN: Norway's got good ears. He say he heard that torpedo go past the bow the other day. 

FRENCHIE: And he say he could tell by the sound if it was German, Japanese, or I-talian. 

NORWAY: Aw, mates, I ain't that good.

SWEDE: Lay out your toothpicks. I'm dealing. What you want, Chips? 

NORWAY: Count me out. I'm climbing in me bunk. 

FRENCHIE: Let's break up this game. Swede's won all the pesos. 

ITALIAN: We don't stop yet. Harlem'll be here in a minute. He always like to play. 

SWEDE: Harlem Charlie! Darn swell guy.

NORWAY: Sure, Charlie's O.K. 

FRENCHIE: They was some on this boat said they didn't want to work with a colored guy. 

SWEDE: That's right, Frenchie. But the union put him on -- and a finer seaman never went to sea -- black or white. 

ITALIAN: Charlie learned his navigating on four-masters -- where plenty other sailors learned, too. These steam tubs don't mean a thing to him, see.

(Sound: door opens. Wind up.) 

FRENCHIE: Here he comes now. 

NORWAY: Hey, Harlem, shut that wind-breaker! 

FRENCHIE: Charlie, leave them waves outside the door!

(Sound: door bangs shut -- wind down.) 

CHARLIE: (Fading in) Old Papa Neptune's sure having a ball! But what you guys yelling about? It's plenty warm down here in the fo's'cle. So let her roll -- cause we're rolling home tomorrow. And boys, home is Harlem. 

NORWAY: How you know we're docking in New York? 

CHARLIE: I can smell that New York Air, way out here. Destination may be secret, but I know I'm heading home.

FRENCHIE: Me, I live Fourteenth Street, downtown. 

NORWAY: Me, Seaman's Home. 

SWEDE: Me and my old lady in Brooklyn. I been American twenty years. 

ITALIAN: I got second papers. 

CHARLIE: I was born American. But we're all signing on for the next voyage, ain't we?


Mais, oui, alors! 

Ya, bet your boots! 

Yes, indeed! 

CHARLIE: Cause this cargo's got to cross -- so we can win this war.

NORWAY: You bet we got to win this war. Norway's got to be free again.

FRENCHIE: France got to be free. 

CHARLIE: We all got to be free. Just like the President said in that speech of his about the Four Freedoms. We all got to be free. Lemme get some hot coffee. 

SWEDE: Harlem, take off them dripping oil-skins, come on let's play a little cards. 

CHARLIE: Uh-hum! No cards for me tonight, men. I got home on my mind. And some little presents to wrap up for my mother. 

SWEDE: And who else? 

CHARLIE: My kid brother. 

SWEDE: And who else? 

CHARLIE: My girl-friend, Jack, my girl-friend. 

SWEDE: Now you're talking. 

CHARLIE: She's going to be crazy about these bracelets from -- that's right. Whoa! We ain't suppose to say where we've been.

SWEDE: Nor where we're sailing for. 

CHARLIE: Destination unknown! But we're rolling! And this time we're rolling home to Harlem. So -- (Sings) Yo-Ho!

ALL: Gimme some time to blow the man down! 

CHARLIE: As I was walking down Hicklby Street -- 

ALL: Yo-Ho! Blow the man down! etc ... 

(Sound: fade out on sailors singing lustily. Then fade in tramp of a woman's footsteps up rickety stairs of tenement in Harlem. Foot steps alone several seconds. Then:) 

MAMA: Uh! These steps sure is a trial! I must be getting old. Lemme see can I find my keys. Vincent! Vincent! Lemme in, son. 

VINCENT: (Within) Coming, Mama. 

(Sound: door opens.) 

VINCENT: Gimme your packages, Mama. What you got good for supper?

MAMA: Secret, child! Keep your eyes out of them bags. I'm liable to have layovers in 'em. 

(Sound: door closes) 

VINCENT: Layovers? 

MAMA: To catch meddlers! Only thing is, I couldn't get no sugar. But what's not having a few pounds of sugar -- if we beat the pants off Hitler? 

VINCENT: We got a few Hitlers at home to lick, too. 

MAMA: We'll take care of them in due time. They ain't wandering all over the globe like Adolf is. And they ain't using bombing planes. 

VINCENT: They got lynch ropes, though, and Jim Crow cars for Negroes. 

MAMA: But they ain't got no Ges-tap-o.

VINCENT: O.K., Mama, you win. Otherwise you'll just stand here arguing all night and won't fix supper. What you got in the box, a chocolate cake? 

MAMA: Son, I told you to keep out of these supper things! Yes, I got a cake. You know why? Somehow, I been had a feeling all day your brother might be home tonight off that ship. 

VINCENT: Charlie? We haven't heard from him, have we?

MAMA: You think he's sending radiograms like a passenger? He's a sailor. 

(Sound: rattling of pans and kitchen utensils.) 

MAMA: This can's near empty. But if I had enough sugar, I'd bake a real cake, though, cause I got a feeling he's coming home. I had that feeling all day -- and my mind seldom fools me .... Vincent, say, listen! 

(Sound: footsteps on stairs.) 

VINCENT: Somebody's coming sure enough. 

MAMA: Ain't them his feet coming up the stairs? I know his footsteps. Listen! 

VINCENT: That's him! 

MAMA: That's him! That's my boy! Charlie! Charlie! Charlie! Charlie! 

(Sound: mother and son rushing through house. Door flies open. Shouts of greeting.) 


MAMA: My boy! 

CHARLIE: Vincent! What you know, old kid?

VINCENT: How are yuh, Jack? 

MAMA: Did you have a rough trip? 

VINCENT: Did you see any submarines? 

MAMA: Was you in a big convoy? 

VINCENT: Did you go to Iceland?

MAMA: Don't ask him where he's been! Did you have warm clothes? 

VINCENT: Are you full of hard tack? 

MAMA: My boy! Charlie! I felt you was coming! My boy!

CHARLIE: Look at the presents, Mama! Look! (Music in) I brought you some presents. Open that bag, brother, while I undo this bundle. See, Mama! All these presents. . . . 

(Music up in joyous melody. Transition.) 

(Sound: food cooking. Pots and pans.) 

CHARLIE: Um-hummm-mm-m! Mom, that sure smells good! What you frying back there in the kitchen? 

MAMA: (From the kitchen) Chicken. And I'm making you some hot biscuits, too. 

VINCENT: Mama, stop talking about victuals. Charlie's mouth's watering now. 

CHARLIE: After all that galley-hash I been eating at sea, it's time to water. 

MAMA: I'm gonna shut the door so this cooking won't scent up the house. You two boys just set right there in the front room and talk. Dinner'll be ready directly. I know Vincent wants to talk to his big brother anyhow.

(Sound: door closing.)

VINCENT: Big brother, nothing! I'm twenty-one now, Charlie. 

CHARLIE: Grown up, huh, Vince? 

VINCENT: Three times seven and hip, Jack.

CHARLIE: How come you ain't enlisted? 

VINCENT: Enlisted? 

CHARLIE: We're in a war, you know. 

VINCENT: I registered. My draft number's up ...

CHARLIE: You don't feel no call to go sooner? 

VINCENT: Not as long as old Jim Crow's a captain in the army. 

CHARLIE: You must not have been listening to the President's speeches. 

VINCENT: I heard him on the air -- but what's that got to do with it?

CHARLIE: Did you hear what he said about the Four Freedoms? 

VINCENT: I heard him. 

CHARLIE: Then I reckon you know if Jim Crow's a captain. The President's the Commander in Chief -- and he don't believe in Jim Crow. 

VINCENT: I hope he don't. 

CHARLIE: I know he don't. He sent his voice all over the world -- I heard him a thousand miles out in the sea -- people everywhere heard him talking through the air about those Four Freedoms -- freedom to talk, to express yourself; freedom to worship the Lord; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. Everywhere in the world, he said. People everywhere in the world heard him. And that's the kind of freedom people mean to have! 

VINCENT: Colored people, too?

CHARLIE: That's what I mean to have, and I'm colored. 

VINCENT: How're you gonna get it? 

CHARLIE: By joining up with the folks who are fighting for it. Why do you think I'm steering that boat through submarines and mines and taking chances on dive bombers? Just for fun? No! I'm shipping out again tomorrow 'cause I want to get food and machine tools and ammunition to the places where we need 'em to fight Hitler and build bases against him and everybody like him. 

VINCENT: We don't have any Hitlers here in America, I suppose. 

CHARLIE: Sure, we got some little Hitlers here. But there's no use letting big Hitler get get across the ocean to help 'em. For every fifth-columnist we've got with a lynch rope and a Jim Crow car to back him up, Hitler's got a thousand with tanks and dive bombers trying to get over here to help make things worse. 

VINCENT: I guess I hadn't thought about it that way. 

CHARLIE: Why, Hitler'd make a double-barreled padlocked ghetto out of Harlem so quick you couldn't say Flat Foot Floogie. If he ever got over here, a colored man would have to have a pass to get down to Times Square. And that's why you better get in the army, boy, and start gunning for him. 

VINCENT: Hitler's against all kinds of freedoms, ain't he?

CHARLIE: Could we be here talking like this if the Gestapo was around? 

VINCENT: You might be here, but I wouldn't. 

CHARLIE: Then you better stop taking it easy, brother. I know you've got some arguments on your side: America's not perfect -- Jim Crow enough to tickle Hitler to death, the Red Cross segregating black blood, and half the defense industries not employing Negro workers. Sure, things are not perfect, not by a long shot, but listen, Vincent, if you let your hands drop, you're just helping all those people who believe in the same ugliness Hitler believes in -- force, and race hatred, and segregation -- that old iron heel he's got on the neck of the Poles and the Norwegians and the Danes and lots of other folks who ain't even colored. We're fourteen million people -- we Negro Americans -- we can give the Fascists a mighty blow. Or we can just take it easy and let 'em bring over the Gestapo to back up the Ku Klux Klan. Do you get me, old man? 

VINCENT: I get you, Charlie. Do you want to go with me to enlist tomorrow?

CHARLIE: Sure, I'll go with you, man, on my way to the boat. 

VINCENT: 'Cause I want to fan them Four Freedoms with my fist. 

CHARLIE: Till they sweep like the Four Winds all over the world. 

VINCENT: And I want to kick them Nazis so hard Hitler and all his local brothers'll feel it in the seat of their Jim Crow pants. 

CHARLIE: You're talking now, brother. Say, --

(Sound: door opens.)

MAMA: Vincent! Charlie! bring your chairs and come on to dinner.

CHARLIE: WHee-ee-ooo! Coming. Do them biscuits smell good. Butter me a dozen. 

(Sound: scuffle of chairs and feet making for the table.)

CHARLIE: Just looky here what Mama's got -- fried chicken and gravy! Good old corn pudding! Sweet potatoes! Okra! Tapioca! And chocolate cake! Um-hum-mm!

MAMA: You know, I would've made you a home-made cake, son, but sugar's scarce. 

CHARLIE: Who cares about sugar, Mom, when we're gonna be free? 


MAMA: Yes, Vincent? 

VINCENT: Tomorrow, I'm joining the army. Charlie's straightened me out on a thing or two. 

MAMA: I'm proud of you, son. I kinder thought Charlie could help you think things through. I tried, but I reckon I didn't explain it good enough. All I could say was I know we's Americans, and this here is our country -- and we got to beat the pants off Hitler! That's why little as I got, I'm buying War Bonds, and old as I am, I done gone back to school to learn how to put out them incinderary bombs. 

CHARLIE: Mom, you always was O.K. with me.

MAMA: Sons, bow your heads and let's we bless this table ... You Charlie, stop eyeing that chicken! I ain't gonna say no long blessing ... Lord, I thank you for this food. And I thank you for bringing my boys together with me here tonight. And I thank you for a country, Lord, by name America, where me and my boys can turn our hands to help make the whole world free. I don't ask you for no special blessings, Lord. I just ask you to help us to help ourselves. Amen. 

(Music: triumphant. Beethoven's Fifth) 

ANNOUNCER: You have just heard "BROTHERS", a radio play by Langston Hughes. It was produced by (INSERT NAME OF ORGANIZATION) with a cast including (INSERT CAST CREDITS)