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The Harlem Renaissance
Transcript of The Harlem Renaissance
University of East Anglia
Week 1) Introduction to the Harlem Renaissance and the ‘New Negro’
"Zip Coon, a Favorite Comic Song." Sung by Mr. G. W. Dixon. Sheet music cover, 1834.
Sambo: "A Water-melon Feast." From Edward King's The Great South, 1875.
"'Mammy' and Her Pet." From James T. Haley's Afro-American Encyclopedia, 1895.
Lois Mailou Jones, The Ascent of Ethiopia (1932)
Melvin Gray Johnson, Postman (1934)
James Van Der Zee, Couple, Harlem (1932)
Aaron Douglas, Aspiration (1936)
Archibald Motley, Blues (1929)
“So far as he is culturally articulate, we shall let the Negro speak for himself…[The] New Negro must be seen in the perspective of a New World, and especially of a New America.”
“We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter.”
"Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!"
The Harlem Hellfighters of the 369th Infantry
The 369th Infantry march up Fifth Avenue, home to Harlem
World War I
We return from fighting.
We return fighting.
Make way for Democracy! We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.
W.E.B. Du Bois (1919)
1919 Red Scare
"All art is propaganda"
W. E. B. Du Bois
Week 3: Claude McKay's Home to Harlem
Class and Respectability
"I consider Home to Harlem a real proletarian novel...about proletarian life...truthfully, realistically and artistically portrayed."
Quoted in Stephens, Black Empire, p. 133
"Whole chapters here and there...are on the same dirty subject. As a picture of Harlem life or of Negro life anywhere, it is, of course nonsence. Untrue, not so much as on account of its facts, but on account of its emphasis and glaring colors...Home to Harlem ... for the most part nauseates me, and after the dirtier parts of its filth I feel distinctly like taking a bath."
W.E.B. Du Bois (1928)
"Our race, within recent years, has developed a new group of writers who have been prostituting their intelligence under direction of the white man, to bring out and show the worst traits of our people...And as for the morals of Harlem, we are shocked only when we begin to reflect that there aren't any morals there at all."
Marcus Garvey on Home to Harlem (1928)
“Jake was used to the lowest and hardest sort of life.” (p. 2)
Ray on civilization – “You and I were born in the midst of the illness of this age and have lived through its agony…Keep your fine feelings, indeed, but don’t try to make a virtue of them. You’ll lose them, then. They’ll become all hollow inside, false and dry as civilization itself. And civilization is rotten. We are all rotten who are touched by it.” (p. 243)
"Going away from Harlem..Harlem! How terribly Ray could hate it sometimes. Its brutality, gang rowdyism, promiscuous thickness. Its hot desires. But, oh, the rich-blood red color of it! The warm accent of its composite race, the fruitiness of its laughter, the trailing rhythm of its “blues” and the improvised surprises of its Jazz.” (p. 267)
Home to Harlem Quotes:
Gender and Sexuality
"It was two years since he had left Harlem. Fifth Avenue, Lenox Avenue, and One Hundred and Thirty-fifth Street, with their chocolate-brown and walnut-brown girls, were calling." (p. 8)
“Men working on a train have something of the spirit of men working on a ship. They are, perforce, bound together in comradeship of a sort in that close atmosphere.” (p. 208)
Zeddy – “That plug-ugly woman is ornery as hell. I ain’t gonna let her bridle and ride me…You ain’t in no pickle that with Rose, is you?” (p. 84)
Zeddy a figure of ridicule – “It was known that he was living sweet. But his buddies talked about his lady riding him with a cruel bit.” (p. 87)
Billy Biase – “Billy the Wolf” – “Billy boasted that he had no time for women. Black women, or the whole diversified world of sex were all the same to him.” (p. 88)
“But why wolf?”…”Causen he eats his own kind.” (p. 92
The Global Harlem Renaissance?
“The Congo a real throbbing little Africa in New York...The Congo was African in spirit and color.” (p. 29-30)
“Black lovers of life caught up in their own free nature rhythm, threaded to a remote source – remembered past, celebrating the midnight hours in themselves, for themselves, of themselves, in a house in Fifteenth St, Philadelphia.” (p. 197)
“Jake was very American in spirit and shared a little of that comfortable Yankee contempt for poor foreigners. And as an American Negro he looked askew at foreign niggers. Africa was a jungle, and Africans bush niggers, cannibals. And West Indians were monkey chasers. But now he felt like a boy who stands with the map of the world n colors before him, and feels the wonder of the world.” (p. 134)
“Races and nations were things like skunks whose smells poisoned the air of life.” (p. 153-154)
Week 4: African American Poetry: Politics and Aesthetics
Langston Hughes, 'The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain' (1926)
What does Hughes think it takes to be a great poet?
Where is ‘authentic black culture’ located for Hughes?
In Hughes's opinion, what is special about the “low-down folks”?
How does Hughes characterize his own poetry?
In the 1920s, at the time of the poem’s writing, African-American intellectuals recognized the Congo as the subject of the most brutal extremes of European colonialism. The Congo wasn't just a metaphor for the African continent, it was the centre of a massive international human rights campaign.
Belgian colonialism in the Congo was covered widely in the black press (especially 'The Crisis'), and the significance of the region as a site of anticolonial resistance would have been clear to many African Americans.
The Euphrates represented the site of an ancient civilization that had a distinct African presence.
It was also a battleground for the ant-imperial struggle when Hughes was writing. Britain and France had offered Iraq independence in exchange for support in the Allies campaign against the ottoman Empire in WW1.
When the European powers reneged on their promise in 1919, the Kurds rebelled and were crushed by the British. League of Nations support for the British occupation in 1920 prompted further conflict in 1920.
Hughes’s own account of the poem’s composition indicates that he wrote it three weeks after the start of the revolution, which spread quickly throughout the Euphrates valley.
Voice of Congo, Crisis, March 1917
Hughes utilizes the Nile valley as he does the Euphrates, by deploying the location of an active anticolonial struggle for poetic purposes.
The March 1919 exile of Saad Zaghloul, the Egyptian nationalist leader of the Wafd Party, resulted in mass resistance throughout much of Egypt and widespread attacks on British military personnel.
There was extensive coverage of the Egyptian Revolution in 'The Crisis', including the Jessie Fauset article 'Nationalism in Egypt' in April 1920 - "“Who doubts that Egypt is really speaking for the whole dark world? Thus is the scene being staged for the greatest and most lasting conflict of peoples”
Hughes references a popular story about how Abraham Lincoln had made a trip down the Mississippi on a raft to New Orleans, on which he he witnessed slavery at its worst.
Mississippi and the former slave owning states were often referred to as the"American Congo" by African American activists at the time.
For example, W.E.B. Du Bois, in 1919 describes “the Mississippi Valley, from Memphis to New Orleans. . .[as] a region whose history is as foul a blot on American civilization as Congo is a blot on Belgium and Europe.”
Ira Dworkin, “‘Near the Congo’: Langston Hughes and the Geopolitics of Internationalist Poetry,” American Literary History 24, no. 4 (December 1, 2012): 631–657.
The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes
Week 2 - 'Black' Organizations and Political Writing
Marcus Garvey - Black Emperor
UNIA Parades, Conventions and the Black Star Line
Gender and Performance
Black Cross Nurses
'The UNIA Family'
Born April 27, 1883, in Concordia, St. Croix, Danish West Indies, Hubert H. Harrison was an influential writer, orator and political activist in Harlem during the early decades of the 20th century
Labor and civil rights activist A. Philip Randolph described him as "the father of Harlem radicalism" and historian Joel A. Rogers considered him "the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time" and "one of America's greatest minds."
Harrison pioneered the tradition of Harlem soap-box oratory, which was subsequently carried on by Randolph, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and others.
In 1917 Harrison founded the first organization (The Liberty League) and the first newspaper ("The Voice") of the New Negro Movement
In 1919 Harrison served as editor of the New Negro magazine and then, in 1920, he became the principal editor of Marcus Garvey's "Negro World"
By August of 1920 Harrison was highly critical of Garvey's methods, claims, and actions and he ceased serving as managing editor of the "Negro World", though he continued to write articles and editorials for the paper into 1922.
Hubert Harrison and Black Activism in Harlem
"Let us go back to the days of true manhood when women truly reverenced us and without any condescension on our part, for all true women will admire and respect a real man: therefore let us again place our women upon the pedestal from whence they have been forced into the cortex of the seething world of business...We would have many more mothers, many more virtuous wives, many more amiable and loveable daughters if man would play his part as he should."
Negro World - 9 June , 1923
Week 5: Nella Larsen's 'Quicksand' and 'Passing'
The 'Tragic Mulatta'
• The stereotype of the ‘tragic mulatto’ was/is often portrayed as distressed, unbalanced or even suicidal, because they fail to fit neatly within the categories of ‘white’ or ‘black’.
• The "tragic mulatta" figure is a woman of mixed race heritage that often figured in white abolitionist literature in the mid to late nineteenth century.
• Characteristics often associated with the 'tragic mulatta' figure are self-hatred, depression, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and suicidal tendencies caused by a feeling of being trapped between two worlds.
• The "Tragic mulatta" was typically used to critique racism by inspiring pity. But a pitiful character seldom becomes a fully formed protagonist.
- How do the characters in Passing talk about race? What are the discernible costs and benefits of passing?
- In what ways (and with what consequences) do these female characters manipulate white America's obsession with color, hue, and racial distinction?
- Clare is described as someone with "a having way." What role does desire play in the text?
- Is Larsen critiquing these characters as representatives of the black middle class
Passing Extract - Questions
Quicksand Extract - Questions
- Is it significant that Axel Olsen is painting Helga?
- What does she represent to him? How is Helga represented in the painting?
- Why is Helga displeased with Olsen? Why does she want to return to the US?
- What does Helga's rejection of Olsen symbolise?
- Why does Olsen think Helga is a contradiction?
- How does Larsen use the character of the ‘mulatta’ to explore ideas about race, gender and class?
Week 7) African American Visual Art
Old Negro Stereotypes
Sheet music (1901)
1890 Advertisement for Baker's Bone and Nerve Liniment
1906 Postcard 'No more old time niggers. All up to date or try to be.'
Henry Louis Gates, “The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black,” Representations no. 24 (October 1, 1988): 129–155.
In his article 'Public Opinion and the Negro' Charles S. Johnson describes the dangers of:
"time-saving generalizations, stereotypes, myths, conventions, dogma. Jokes about Negroes, news stories, anecdotes, gossip, the stage, the motion pictures, the Octavus Roy Cohen, Hugh Wiley and Irvin S. Cobb type of humorous fiction repeated with unvarying out line have helped to build up and crystallize a fictitious being unlike any Negro. Usually one of two things happens when a Negro fails to reflect this type: Either he is considered an exception or he is 'out of his place'."
Charles S. Johnson 'Public Opinion and the Negro', Opportunity (July, 1923)
Read the extracts from Du Bois’s ‘Criteria for Negro Art’ and Locke’s ‘Art or Propaganda’?
• How do both men see the role of black produced art?
• What are the main differences in their arguments? Are there any similarities?
• Who are you more inclined to agree with?
Du Bois vs. Locke Debate
Class Discussion: Themes in Harlem Renaissance Visual Art
African ‘Primitivism’ and Harlem Renaissance Art?
What does Africa represent for Locke?
Why is African art important?
Alain Locke’s ‘The Legacy of the Ancestral Arts’ (1925)
Aspects of Negro Life: The Negro in an African Setting (1934)
Into Bondage (1936)
"Your problem, Langston, my problem, no our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black.... Let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic."
Aaron Douglas to Langston Hughes (Dec, 1926)
• What images does Douglas use to represent Africa?
• To what extent does this reinforce ideas of African/black primitivism?
Fire!! (1926) and the ‘Younger Negro Artists’
“We are all under thirty. We have no get-rich-quick complexes. We espouse no new theories of racial advancement, socially economically or politically. We have no axes to grind. [...] We are primarily and intensely devoted to art.”
“to express themselves freely and independently–without interference from old heads, white or Negro… to provide… an outlet for publishing not existing in the hospitable but limited pages of The Crisis or Opportunity.”
“go to the proletariat rather than to the bourgeoisie for characters and material… [to those] who still retained some individual race qualities and who were not totally white American in every respect save color of skin.”
Wallace Thurman - the aim of Fire!! was to:
Langston Hughes - the creators of Fire!! wanted:
Aaron Douglas's manifesto for Fire!!:
Aaron Douglas, From Slavery to Reconstruction (1934)
Augusta Savage, Lift Every Voice and Sing
Week 8: George Schuyler's Black No More
Schuyler’s ‘The Negro Art Hokum’ (1926)
How does Schuyler’s argument differ from that of Hughes?
What are the potential dangers of trying to create a specifically racialised form of artistic expression?
Is Schuyler simply an assimilationist?
Close Reading: Life as A White Man and the Knights of Nordica
• How significant has Max's rejection in the cabaret been in informing his view of race?
• Why might businessmen have been opposed to Black-No-More Inc.?
• How does class shape Max’s view of race? Is this a novel about class rather than race?
• What role does capitalism play in shaping race discrimination?
Close Reading: Anti-White Racism
• What is Schuyler trying to say about the nature of racism in the United States?
• According to the text, what is the driving force behind racism?
• How does this extract help inform our ideas of race as a political, cultural and social category?
Week 9: Jazz and the Blues
The ‘Jazz’ and ‘Blues’ Age
J. A. Rogers and Langston Hughes:
How do they describe these musical styles and its qualities?
What potential power do these musical forms have?
What do they believe jazz and the blues music say about/can do for African Americans?
Music and Politics – Du Bois’s Sorrow Songs
From The Souls of Black Folk (1903):
"The Negro folk song - the rhythmic cry of the slave - stands today not simply as the sole of American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas…What are these songs, and what do they mean? I know little of music and can say nothing in technical phrase, but I know something of men, and knowing them, I know that these songs are the articulate message of the slave to the world…They are the music of an unhappy people, of the children of disappointment; they tell of death and suffering and unvoiced longing toward a truer world, of misty wanderings and hidden ways…Through all the sorrow of the Sorrow songs there breathes a hope - a faith in the ultimate hustle of things. The minor cadences of despair change often to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in life, sometimes faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that sometime somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not by their skins. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?"
Black Blues Women – Gender, Sexuality and Resistance
Ma Rainey 'Traveling Blues'
Ma Rainey 'Prove It On Me Blues'
Week 10) African American Drama
Minstrelsy and Blackface Performance
• What were the problems with minstrel performance?
• What can blackface minstrelsy tell us about the white relationship to black art?
• What opportunities might minstrel performances have provided African Americans?
"The Company is said to be composed entirely of colored people; and it may be so. We observed, however, that they, too had recourse to the burnt cork and lamp black, the better to express their characters, and to produce uniformity of complexion...We are not sure that our readers will approve of our mention of those persons, so strong must be their dislike of everything that seems to feed the flame of American prejudice against colored people; and in this they might be right; but we think otherwise. It is something gained, when the colored man in any form can appear before a white audience; and we think that even in this company with industry, application, and a proper cultivation of their taste, may yet be instrumental in removing the prejudice against our race."
Frederick Douglass, The North Star (1849)
Building a ‘Negro' Theatre
David Krasner, A Beautiful Pageant - "At the turn of the century, black actors, forced to assume the role created by minstrel caricature, often perpetuated a common misconception. Much of the Harlem Renaissance drama sought ways of reversing this problem." (p. 208)
Du Bois’s ‘Krigwa Players Little Negro Theatre: The Story of a Little Movement’
• What does Du Bois think should be the key principles of ‘Negro’ theatre?
• What are the main problems facing black dramatists?
• What does Locke say about “Negro Drama” in ‘Steps Toward the Negro Theatre’.
African American Actors: Agency in Performance?
Gilpin on how the play changed over time:
"My performance of Brutus Jones today is vastly different from my interpretation given when the play opened. My understanding of the character has developed as I have worked with it and new meanings are constantly unfolding. Mr. O'Neill has been very kind in this respect, giving me the liberty of changing the lines to suit the characterization."
Gilpin on the Brutus Jones role:
"It is the educated black that criticizes me most harshly. They ask why I should take the role of a thief, murderer, and ignoramus. Of course, Brutus Jones isn't much of a criminal - that is, his crimes are treated in a friendly way and the audience takes them lightly...But I tell my friends who protest against Brutus Jones that stage characters are mere stage characters. You take them as you find them. I ask them to consider that the worthy presentation of a character by a negro actor is a credit to our race, even though the character itself is unworthy."
Emperor Jones and Black Masculinity
Paul Robeson in The Emperor Jones
Week 11 - Zora Neale Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God
What do you know about Zora Neale Hurston?
Why has she come to be seen as a key Harlem Renaissance writer?
Why were/are African American women writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison drawn to Zora and Their Eyes Were Watching God?
Alice Walker on Hurston
Hurston and the African American Folktale
Read and discuss Richard Wright’s review of 'Their Eyes':
• Why is Wright critical of the novel?
• Do you agree with his comments on the folk and black dialect?
What is the importance of talking in African American folk culture?
Close Reading (p. 23-27)
How does Hurston use folk language in this passage?
What issues and experiences does she address?
Does the folk form enable her to address marginalised subjects?
Their Eyes Were Watching God – A Love Story?
Class Question – Is 'Their Eyes Were Watching God' a love story?
Close Reading (p. 196-198)
Tea Cake beats Janie
. How does Tea Cake talk about Janie? Does Janie privilege heterosexual relationships? Would she be better off not pursuing love and being happy with life as her own person?
Close Reading (p. 256 – 259)
Closing the Novel
. Does Janie really gain her voice through her relationship with Tea Cake or at the end of the novel? – Why is she still critical of the community who judges her? Why do the community judge her?
“It is, however, not mere men who oppress in this novel but ideology—the ponderous presence of an overarching system of patriarchal domination”
Ann DuCille, The Coupling Convention (p. 120).
Week 12 - Legacies of the Harlem Renaissance
Was the Harlem Renaissance a success or failure?
Identifying Key Themes
Great Migration and WW1
Transnational Harlem Renaissance
Art vs. Propaganda
Integration vs. Separatism
The Folk and the Blues
Class Tensions and Respectability
Group Work: Exam Question Planning
Nella Larsen’s novels Quicksand and Passing cannot be considered authentic representations of African American life during the Harlem Renaissance. Discuss.
In small groups plan how you would answer the following question:
Archibold Motley, Cocktails (1928)
James Van Der Zee Photography
Archibold Motley, The Octoroon Girl (1925)
Lois Mailou Jones, The Ascent of Ethiopia (1932)
The Great Migration
Between 1910 and 1970 a total of 6 million African Americans left the South