Marcus Bruce Christian was born in 1900 in Mechanicsville, now part of Houma,
a small town south of New Orleans, Louisiana. Although from agricultural roots,
Christian was among those who moved to urban centers after World War I in search
of a better life. Orphaned by the age of thirteen, Christian moved with his
sibling to New Orleans, where he worked odd jobs to support them while attending
night school to complete his high-school training. Despite receiving little
formal education, Christian was already highly literate due to his father's
love of reading to his children. He never received a college degree but went on
to teach poetry and history at the University of New Orleans for the ten years
preceding his death.
A prolific writer, Christian published numerous poems and essays, many in Crisis
and Opportunity magazines. Through the assistance of his friend, Lyle
Saxon, Christian was able to obtain a position with the Negro Unit of the
Federal Writers Project at Dillard University, a Depression-era, federally
funded project that hired blacks to write the African American history of
Louisiana. Christian greatly enjoyed collecting folktales and was soon an
authority on folklore. He spent many years working on his History of the
Negro in Louisiana. Despite his exhaustive research and dedication, it
remained unfinished at his death. In addition to gathering folktales, Christian
also enjoyed sharing them with others and would often recite them to his
Christian's knowledge of the African American history of Louisiana is
apparent in Negro Ironworkers of Louisiana, 1718-1900.
Conducting the first in-depth study of the sophisticated blacksmith skills
possessed by black ironworkers, Christian sheds light on an often
under-appreciated metalsmithing tradition. He examines the development of
metallurgical technology in Africa, the ironworkers' journey to the New World,
and their role in New Orleans's development.
Considered the unofficial poet laureate of the New Orleans African American
community, Christian received the Crisis Outstanding Book Award for his The
Common People Manifesto. He also received the Sesquicentennial Commission of
the Battle of New Orleans bronze medal and was the writer-in-residence at the
University of New Orleans. His collection of work is housed in New Orleans
University's Earl K. Long library.