East North Central
West North Central
East South Central
West South Central
Source: Numbers tabulated from census studies by James G. Maddox, E. E. Liebhafsky, Vivian W. Henderson and Herbert M. Hamlin (1967), The Advancing South: Manpower Prospects and Problems.
Source: Numbers tabulated from census studies by James G. Maddox, E. E. Liebhafsky, Vivian W. Henderson and Herbert M. Hamlin (1967), The Advancing South: Manpower Prospects and Problems.
Note that the South Atlantic and East South Central states are the only ones experiencing losses in African American population and note the substantial gains in the Middle Atlantic, East North Central and West South Central states.
Another set of numbers further demonstrates the nature of the population shifts which fed the New Negro Movement and its aesthetic climax, the Harlem Renaissance. Census data record that Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania received the largest number of migrants. Of urban areas with African American populations over 100,000 at the end of the 1920s, New York City experienced a 114 per cent increase in African American population, Chicago a 113 per cent increase, Detroit a whopping 194 per cent increase, Los Angeles a 150 per cent increase and Philadelphia a 64 per cent increase. The Great Migration, fully understood, is not simply a movement from the South to the North, but also a movement from rural to urban sites. In the period 1900-10 the following southern cities experienced gains in African American populations: Birmingham (215.6 per cent), Fort Worth (212.5 per cent), Jackson (137.3 per cent); African American populations in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Richmond and Shreveport grew from 45-99 per cent (Henri, 1976).
The Great Migration was the result of a series of influences constituting both push forces (those conditions which drove African Americans away from the South) and pull forces (those conditions which attracted the migrants to the cities and the North). Among the push forces, one must consider resistance to black ownership of land and to free movement by blacks; growth in membership of the Ku-Klux-Klan (1920 membership was approximately four million); the Mississippi floods of 1912-13 (powerfully recorded in 'Backwater Blues'); the boll weevil epidemic of 1915-16 (note 'Boll Weevil Blues'); Jim Crow; lynching (1920 and 1921 were terrible years); segregated facilities; technological change and the horrors of sharecropping. Among the pull forces were superior housing and living conditions in the North; letters home and letters in papers like the Chicago Defender; curtailed European migration and the rise in the power of unions (both of which increased the need for labour); stepped-up war industries and the possibility of land ownership; the enthusiastic stories about the paradise of 'Phillameyork' and other great urban sites; link migration and the dream of starting anew. The new music - blues, gospel and jazz, but particularly blues - drew its themes and a sense of musical alienation from earlier forms, from the push-pull forces of the migration and the effects of those forces on the migrant. One could argue quite comfortably that blues were the true historical record of the migration, since they record not only events during that movement, but also emotional responses to the migration. Other records also exist. Paul Laurence Dunbar in The Sport of the Gods (1902) presents a powerful picture of the dream of the city and the corrupting effect of that space on the innocent migrant. J. W. Johnson's Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) is an excellent repository of the turn-of-the-century cultural scene in Harlem. In more recent times artists like Ishmael Reed in Mumbo Jumbo and Toni Morrison in Jazz (1992) anchor their narratives in the experience of the Great Migration. These works - even though the earliest to the most recent are divided by almost a century - include paeans to the city and the wonder it represented to the migrant. They also share a conviction that music and dance were central to the individual and group expression of the migrant.
That the Great Migration would be the source of cultural creativity, solidarity but also a sense of alienation should not be surprising, especially if we pay any attention to the analyses of social scientists like Robert E. Park. 'Civilization', wrote Park in Human Migration and the Marginal Man, 'is a consequence of contact and connection. The forces which have been decisive in the history of mankind are those which have brought men together in fruitful competition, conflict, and cooperation' (Park, p. 346). Park saw migration as something more than a simple 'change of residence and the breaking of home ties' (ibid., p. 55). He was interested in the particular type of personality which it produced and the way in which migration emancipated the individual:
Energies that were formerly controlled by custom and tradition are released. The individual is free for new adventure. (Ibid., p. 350)
It [migration] had loosened local bonds, destroyed the culture of the tribe and folk, and substituted for the local loyalties the freedom of the cities, for the sacred order of tribal, the rational organization which we call civilization. (Ibid., pp. 352—3)
The newly emancipated becomes in a certain sense a cosmopolitan, a stranger to the world in which he or she was born, 'a world which is now viewed with something of the detachment of a stranger' (ibid., p. 351). Looking at the United States from the vantage point of the 1920s, Park notes that the effects of the migration can be found in the cities to which the migrants came. He describes them as 'vast melting-pots of races and cultures, the metropolitan city' (ibid., p. 352).
The migrant becomes acculturated to and assimilated into the new cultural space, a cultural space made possible by the dynamic effects of cultural clash and combination. Park is very clear, however, that this is not always the case, since both acculturation and assimilation occur at different rates, particularly when groups in contact are of different races or widely different cultures. In such instances the progress towards cultural blending may be slow or resisted altogether; the new migrant, blocked from full participation and too changed to return home, experiences mar-ginality. This marginal person may choose as a mode of spiritual survival to create those institutions which Farah Jasmine Griffin calls 'safe havens', those spaces in which the 'lost' home may be instantiated in the new surroundings. These spaces may be both physical and spiritual; they may be the store-front church or the juke joints. They may be the healing and shaping power of the blues, the vitality of jazz or the release of new forms of energetic dance. They may be that figure labelled 'the ancestor' by Toni Morrison and present in so much of the literature of the first few decades of the twentieth century, a figure who represents both a real and symbolic mother-life of the migrant; connection rather than loss. It is in response to frustrated assimilation and acculturation that Park introduces 'marginal man', Georg Simmel's 'stranger' adapted to fit the realities of urban America and the migration. More recently 'hybridity' might be the term used by scholars like Homi Bhabha to describe such a figure.
As a result of the migrant participating in the cultural life of the people among whom he lived, there appeared a new type of personality. Namely, a cultural hybrid, or man living and sharing intimately in the cultural life and traditions of two distinct peoples; never quite willing to break, even if he were permitted to do so, with his past and his traditions, and not quite accepted, because of racial prejudice, in the new society. . . . He was a man on the margin of two cultures and two societies which never completely interpenetrated and fused. (Ibid., p. 354)
This marginal man of Park may well represent that victim of 'double consciousness', of whom W. E. B. DuBois spoke in Souls of Black Folk. His is the inward war of Cullen's 'Heritage' or, one might say, of the entire oeuvre of Countee Cullen. He is a central figure not only in the New Negro Movement but also in the Harlem Renaissance when we view both as cultural phenomena of the Great Migration. The crisis of marginality which Park describes as a temporary experience of all migrants is a relatively permanent condition of the marginal man.
As should be obvious from the above, Park's marginal man is central to my reading of the New Negro Movement and its importance will deepen as we look at representative writers of the period. One other influence should be given equal attention: that of Johann Gottfried Herder. Detailed studies of the influence of Herder's ideas on DuBois are not readily available in the literature on DuBois's The Souls of Black Folk, but I would like to argue here that DuBois's masterful creation can and ought to be read as an application of Herderian ideas of culture. Its influence on and its central-ity to twentieth-century black thought needs careful examination. Such an examination will also reveal why — other than their shared occupation of the bottom rung of the prestige ladder with the Irish — the New Negroes saw the Irish revival of the early twentieth century as a model of and justification for their own efforts.
Herder flourished in the late eighteenth century and exerted a powerful influence on late nineteenth-century developments in Romanticism. He is also specifically labelled as the father of Slavic nationalism, of the Sturm und Drang school of literature and certainly — given his theories of folk art — of a kind of cultural racialism. DuBois studied in Germany (1892—4) when Herderian notions of culture were powerful. This partially explains DuBois's referencing of Johann Christophe von Schiller and other German romantics in The Souls of Black Folk, the closing of chapter 1 with 'the Sturm und Drang' and 'dreams of a credulous race-childhood', and the very title of the work, all clear evocations of Herder. As with Park, we need to ask what there might be in Herder's thought that would make it useful in a reading of DuBois and the New Negro Movement. Most useful in Herder's extensive oeuvre are those works which deal specifically with history, language and culture; to place a more particular reading on it, those works which deal with the relationship of modern theories of racial and ethnic sensibilities to folk literature, folklore and folk arts. How does Herder link folk culture with nationhood in such a way as to earn the name 'father of Slavic nationalism' and, by association, of a number of cultural and nationalistic movements including the distortion of his ideas by the Nazis? Far too many readers focus on these distortions as if they were the actual work of Herder and not corruptions of his ideas.
Central to Herder's thought is the notion of volkgeist. The 'soul of the folk' is produced by the indigenous cultural development of each nation and expressed in its art and literature. In order to make manifest the volkgeist of a people one must look to the art and literature produced in the childhood of that people: their folk art and literature. It follows, Herder argues, that there are no superior or inferior people; each possesses a volkgeist unique to its history and equal to that of all others.
There is but one and the same species of man throughout the whole of our earth . . . the ape she has divided into as many species and varieties as possible, and extended these as far as she could: but thou, O man, honour thyself; neither the pongo nor the gibbon is thy brother; the American and the Negro are: these therefore thou shouldst not oppress, or murder, or steal; for they are men, like thee; with the ape thou canst not enter into fraternity. ('Reflections', Herder, 1986)
For humanity has not one form, but many, and these forms find expression in the host of societies and nations that populate the historical scene. . . . Herder in general maintained that every known society, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and so on, had grown and developed in a distinctive manner and in response to the combination of environmental conditions presented by its particular time and place. (Gardner, 1967, p. 489)
In conformity with the above view, Herder's song collection Volkslieder 1778—9 was a project initiated to prove that the volkgeist of a people retained its distinctiveness despite their migration to other areas. The nation is defined here not as a particular geographical entity, but as an agglomeration of shared cultural traits. Henry E. Krehbiel's 1925 Afro-American Folksongs (Krehbiel, 1962), following Herder's method, subjected black folk music to 'scientific observation', analysing scales and rhythm patterns and comparing them with African music. DuBois had made an earlier study of the spirituals in The Souls of Black Folk and his use of citations to the spirituals to introduce each section of that work represents a clear Herderian effort and further clarifies for us the aim of his study: to do for the New Negro what Herder and his followers had done for the Slavs and other 'migrant' or stateless people; to parallel their efforts at nation-building and freedom from oppression with similar efforts on the part of Irish struggles against English cultural and political dominance. The central documents of the New Negro Movement make clear the relationship to Herder outlined above.
Given such patterns for reading culture, it should be clear that artists like Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Sterling Brown were much closer to the Herderian pattern than were artists like Countee Cullen, William Stanley Braithwaite or George Samuel Schuyler. Hurston's extensive research in folk custom, language and literature, Hughes's devotion to indigenous black music, and Brown's study and mastery of folk poetry and legend distinguish them from those contemporaries who saw assimilation and acculturation as both desirable and possible. Certainly the Herderian group has experienced a longer life with readers. The desire to become part of a 'universal' artistic and cultural community was doomed to failure given the realities of race in the United States. This racism model provides as accurate an explanation of their relative invisibility in the present day as the dominance of themes of tragedy, bathos and loss in the nineteenth-century models they chose. Such themes, prominent in the poetry of Cullen and his cohort, and an outdated nineteenth-century poetic diction, eventually doom them to irrelevance in the search for cultural uniqueness as opposed to universality. No one today seems to be attempting a Cullen revival or a new reading of Georgia Douglas Johnson or the poetry of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. One exception might be Gloria Hull's Color, Sex and Poetry (1987), which deals with Johnson, DunbarNelson and Angelina Weld Grimke. They are interesting as figures in literary and women's history rather than the art of poetry. Far more interesting as a subject of revival is Mae Cowdrey who, unlike her closeted sisters, resisted the highly coded pastoral laments and faced in both her life and her poetry the reality of her lesbian life and called on others to join her. 'The Young Voice Cries' may well be one of the first 'outings' in African American literature, for in that poem she calls on her older sister poet Alice Dunbar-Nelson to do her duty and support young lesbian poets. No response to the poem by Dunbar-Nelson is recorded. Cowdrey, in her suits, bow ties and slicked-back hair, died a suicide. Why is she not a part of the record of the Renaissance? Could it be that scholars forgot that the poems in her book (We Lift Our Voices and Other Poems, 1936) were all written during the 1920s at the height of the Renaissance? Did they forget that she was published in the established journals of that movement (Crisis and Opportunity) and that Hughes, Cullen and Braithwaite praised her work? Being published was difficult for a woman in the period; it was almost impossible for an out-of-the-closet lesbian or for an out-of-the-closet gay man. Bruce Nugent, who was quite publicly a gay man, received more attention than did Cowdrey. The result has been that, with a few exceptions (Cowdrey prominent among them), gay and lesbian life of the period was presented either in highly coded and evasive language or completely silenced. The biographical note for Alice DunbarNelson in Maureen Honey's Shadowed Dreams (1989) illustrates the latter condition. The editor refers to Dunbar-Nelson's 'unconventional love life, marriage and domestic arrangements' (ibid., p. 227). Ironically, the book is dedicated to the memory of Mae V. Cowdrey. Cowdrey forcefully speaks to such silencing in the poem addressed to Alice Dunbar-Nelson:
Can you not hear us?
Or are you deaf
Can you not see us?
And when we look To see the naked loveliness Of things
There is only a barren cliff Veiled in ugly mists Of dogmas and fear. (Lewis, 1995, pp. 238-9)
In the defining document of the New Negro Movement, Alain Locke in his introductory essay 'The New Negro' links the movement to other nationalistic movements based on Herderian ideas:
It must be admitted that American Negroes have been a race more in name than in fact, or to be exact, more in sentiment than in experience. . . . In Harlem, Negro life is seizing upon its first chances for group expression and self-determination. It is - or promises to be - a race capital. That is why our comparison is taken with those nascent centres of folk-expression and self-determination which are playing a creative part in the world today. Without pretense to their political significance, Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland or Prague for the New Czechoslovakia. (Locke, 1997, p. 7)
In his essay in the anthology Negro Youth Speaks Locke returns to the same theme and point of comparison. He adds here another flourish. The new art will not be marked by the 'cautious moralism' or 'guarded idealizations' which marked the old art. Like those movements with which it should be compared, it will ruffle feathers and disturb older ways of making art and defining its mission.
Just as with the Irish Renaissance, there were riots and controversies over Synge's folk plays and other frank realisms of the younger school, so we are having and will have turbulent discussion and dissatisfaction with the stories, plays and poems of the younger Negro group. (Locke, 1997, p. 50)
These views are clearly linked to earlier statements by James Weldon Johnson. Note the following from Johnson's preface to his 1922 Book of American Negro Poetry.
What the colored poet in the United States needs to do is something like what Synge did for the Irish; he needs to find a form that will express the racial spirit by symbols from within rather than by symbols from without, such as the mere mutilation of English spelling and pronunciation. He needs a form that is freer and larger than dialect, but which will still hold the racial flavor; a form expressing the imagery, the idioms, the peculiar turns of thought and the distinctive humor and pathos, too, of the Negro. (Johnson, 1969, pp. 41—2)
Johnson divides the New Negro poets into three groups. The first he calls the Dunbar school, which constituted the dominant group up through the First World War. The dialect, stereotypes, sentimentality and supplicatory character of this school were rejected by the second group, which arose from the experience of the war. This second group focused upon the disillusionment and despair which marked American and British poetry after the Battle of the Somme. Theirs was a poetry 'of protest, rebellion and despair'. The third group, in their avoidance of 'propaganda', in their objectivity and their focus on the art as opposed to the ideology of poetry, clearly positioned themselves in the modernist revolt. For Johnson, 'the pre-eminent figures in this younger group [were] Countee Cullen, who published his first volume, Color, in 1925 and Langston Hughes, who published his first volume, The Weary Blues, in 1926' (Johnson, 1969, p. 5).
Because Cullen and Hughes are so frequently grouped together as the brightest lights of Renaissance poetry, a reader may be led to reduce both them and the Renaissance to a sameness which neither their work nor their statements on art and the role of the artist will support. A discussion of the two will offer a brief glimpse at the contrasting faces of the Harlem Renaissance.
The first volume of Langston Hughes's autobiography The Big Sea begins with the author on the ship the S. S. Malone heading for Africa. His actions are interesting in their break with a longstanding tradition in African American letters. Beginning with the 'talking book' trope of Olaudah Equiano's 1792 narrative, we can trace what is almost an obsession with the centrality of books in the construction of African American identity. Note in the opening words of The Big Sea the different relationship of Hughes to the books he has with him:
Melodramatic maybe, it seems to me now. But then it was like throwing a million bricks out of my heart when I threw the books into the water. ... I leaned over the rail . . . and threw the books as far as I could out into the sea — all the books I had had at Columbia, and all the books I had lately bought to read. (Hughes, 1940, p. 3)
The epigraph to the autobiography is 'Life is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pull.' The closing words continue the analogy: 'I'm still pulling'. What is quite clear here is his determination, as he answers his calling as artist, that his art will be drawn not from books but from life. He will not force that life to fit any of the readily available moulds. In this regard, Whitman was a vital and important model for Hughes, not because Hughes borrowed a style from him, but because he borrowed an attitude towards poetry. In the opening sections of 'Song of Myself' Whitman models the poet who, keeping 'creeds and schools' in abeyance, permits life to express itself through him. He becomes a vessel for many voices, even those voices that are contradictory. This is essentially the role of the bard who is concerned with 'life, traditions, and ideals of the community' and is 'far removed from the personal, lyric emotionalism connected with the term' in more recent times ('Bard', 1965, p. 65). Hughes pays homage to this model in a poem that signals something far less formal than the usual relationship between younger and older poets. His title is 'Old Walt'.
Old Walt Whitman Went finding and seeking. Finding less than sought Seeking more than found. Every detail minding Of the seeking and the finding. Pleasuring equally In seeking as in finding. Each detail minding, Old Walt went seeking And finding.
Cullen's poems to that poet he named as his predecessor reveal a very different relationship. Note the closing lines of 'To John Keats, Poet. At Spring Time', from Color:
'John Keats is dead,' they say, but I Who hear your full insistent cry In bud and blossom, leaf and tree, Know John Keats still writes poetry. And while my head is earthward bowed To read new life sprung from your shroud, Folks seeing me must think it strange That merely spring could so derange My mind. They do not know that you John Keats, keep revel with me, too.
Also in Color (Cullen's first book) can be found a second Keats poem: 'For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty'. Images of 'singing lips', 'cold death kissed' and 'Sweet lyric throat' witness again Cullen's determination to place his poetry outside African American discourse.
Unlike Hughes, Cullen seems to see Keats as an object of reverence, a model of perfection which must be imitated if one wishes to become a poet of what Cullen calls 'the sublime'. The poets differ not only in their choice of and attitude towards earlier poets. Hughes does not want to become another Whitman. He finds in Whitman a method rather than a model. The sea in which he fishes will require a poet closer to its own soul, one that will mirror that soul rather than shame it into elevation.
The function of the poet, Cullen argues, has nothing to do with race. Given this view, it is ironic that the poems for which Cullen is still known are those dealing with race. In the 10 February 1921 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle Margaret Sperry published an article on Cullen: 'Countee P. Cullen, Negro Boy Poet, Tells His Story'. In the article she quotes freely from her interviews with the poet. One statement demonstrates how clearly Cullen and Hughes, although representative of a substantial portion of the black reading public, disagreed sharply.
If I am going to be a poet at all, I am going to be POET and not NEGRO POET. That is what has hindered the development of artists among us. Their one note has been the concern with their race ... I shall not write of Negro subjects for the purpose of propaganda. That is not what a poet is concerned with. Of course, when the emotion rising out of the fact that I am a Negro is strong, I express it. But that is another matter.
Whitman, who had written for the Brooklyn Eagle in the nineteenth century, would have been shocked. So was Langston Hughes. Hughes was asked in 1926 to reply to George Schuyler's dismissal of a distinct 'Negro' art. Schuyler's essay, 'The Negro Art Hokum', appeared in Nation, which journal invited Hughes to reply. 'The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain' was more than a reply to Schuyler; it was something of an aesthetic declaration of independence for the younger artists of the Renaissance and it marks Hughes's assumption of the position of major poet of that period, a position then held by Cullen. Hughes's opening lines, lines in which he sets up his adversary, clearly call to mind Cullen's words as quoted in the Brooklyn Eagle.
One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, 'I want to be a poet - not a Negro poet,' meaning subconsciously, 'I would like to be a white poet'; meaning behind that, 'I would like to be white.' And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. (Hill, 1998, p. 899)
Hughes defines himself and the sources of his art in radically different ways: 'Most of my poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz' (ibid., p. 901). Here he is very clear that he does not wish to sound like either the romantic, the sentimental or the local colour poet. He is seeking the sound of the 'Negro' people and on finding that sound is determined to use it as the structuring pattern for his poetry:
Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tomtom beating in the Negro soul — the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile . . . the blare of Negro jazz bands and the bellowing of Bessie Smith singing Blues penetrate the closed ears of the colored near-intellectuals until they listen and perhaps understand . . . the tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. (Ibid., pp. 901—2)
It is important to note that the future of which Hughes spoke did hear him. In 1971 when Addison Gayle, Jr. published the anthology The Black Aesthetic, he intended to do for the Black Arts Movement what Locke in The New Negro had done for the earlier cultural arts movement. Hughes's 1926 essay opened the section on poetry. Locke and DuBois were declared by their inclusion to be still relevant to the Black Arts Movement. How ironic that Hughes, reviled like Whitman by the guardians of the genteel, should, again like Whitman, be singled out for such a signal honour by a later period.
Such was not the case during the Renaissance. While Hughes was a rival to Cullen and, later in the decade, the object of more studied attention, he was not considered by many to be Cullen's equal in his art or his taste. Note Arnold Rampersad's summary of comments that greeted the publication of Hughes's best book of poetry, Fine Clothes to the Jew (sales of which were very disappointing.)
Under a headline proclaiming Hughes a 'SEWER DWELLER,' William M. Kelley of the New York Amsterdam News, who once had sought out his work, denounced Fine Clothes to the Jew as 'about 100 pages of trash ... it reeks of the gutter and sewer'. The regular review of the Philadelphia Tribune adamantly refused to publicize it; Eustace Gay confessed that Fine Clothes to the Jew 'disgusts me.' In the Pittsburgh Courier, historian J. A. Rogers called it 'piffling trash' that left him 'positively sick.' The Chicago Whip sneered at the dedication to Van Vechten, 'a literary gutter rat' who perhaps alone 'will revel in the lecherous, lust-reeking characters that Hughes finds time to poeticize about. . . .
These poems are unsanitary, insipid and repulsing [sic].' Hughes was the 'poet low-rate of Harlem.' The following week, refining its position, the Tribune lamented Langston's 'obsession for the more degenerate elements' of black life; the book was 'a study in the perversions of the Negro.' (Rampersad, 1986, p. 140)
The Cullen—Hughes rivalry points to a sharp division of opinion as to what constituted good poetry during the Renaissance. Cullen's review of Hughes's The Weary Blues, while not marked by the vitriol of the above statements, makes very clear the difference in his and Hughes's aesthetic. The review first appeared in Opportunity in February 1926. Cullen argues that the jazz poems of the first part of the book were
Interlopers in the company of the truly beautiful poems in other sections of the book. . . . Taken as a group the selections in this book seem one-sided to me. They tend to hurl this poet into the gaping pit that lies before all Negro writers, in the confines of which they become racial artists instead of artists pure and simple. There is too much emphasis here on strictly Negro themes; and this is probably an added reason for my coldness toward the jazz poems.
Fire!! appeared later in the same year as Cullen's review. This ill-fated journal (only one issue was published) was an aesthetic call to arms by 'the younger Negro artists'. Fire!! was privately printed, accepted no wealthy white patrons and was edited by the brilliant Wallace Thurman. Hughes, with Bruce Nugent, Gwendolyn Bennett, Aaron Douglas, John Preston Davis and Zora Neale Hurston, constituted the board of editors. Now that copies of that original edition are available it is clear that the editors saw themselves as creating something new. The patrons were not the usual New Negro patrons. Listed were many names not seen before and home addresses in Minneapolis, Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Baltimore. The cover of the magazine features Aaron Douglas's depiction of a sphinx at centre that becomes, as we take in the entire page, the head of a black man. This pan-African image, like the contents of the magazine, signalled something other than a dream of assimilation or universality.
What many of Hughes's most negative critics seem not to note is the way in which he exploits highly intricate Western European prosody, but does so by always reworking such seemingly antithetical approaches in such a way that they seem to fit seamlessly into a black aesthetic. Note the following observations on Hughes's sequence 'Lenox Avenue Mural', a study of the Great Migration.
In 'Lenox Avenue Mural' Langston Hughes turns to one of the oldest literary genres in the European tradition. His poem belongs to that group of works we label ekphrastic, works that are constructed as literary versions of graphic images. Keats' 'Ode on a Grecian Urn,' Ashbery's 'Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror,' Yeats' 'Lapis Lazuli,' and Tolson's 'A gallery of Harlem Portraits' all aspire to the condition of ekphrasis. The latter text, written by an African American poet, deals however with a gallery and with paintings that exist only in the imagination of the poet. In describing such texts, John Hollander coined the term 'notional ekphrasis.' The popularity of notional ekphrasis with African American writers during the early part of this century may be attributed to their conception of an erased past; there are no 'images,' at least none they would wish to acknowledge as representative of their lives, to be found in the galleries of America. Hence the need to imagine that which is absent. (Cook, 1996, p. 40)
In adapting this classical European approach in his poetry, Hughes does not imitate the language or the cultural cues usually found in such work. His theft is so skilful that not a single print of the owner's hand remains. His prize-winning 'The Weary Blues' is not as flat and derivative as Cullen's 'To One Who Said Me Nay'.
To side with Hughes or Cullen during the Renaissance was not only to choose that poet as exemplary of artistic excellence; it was also to adopt a position in relation to the black masses, to white America and to questions of black identity and special-ness. That the choices were clear and sharply defined can be witnessed in the awarding of the 1925 Opportunity prize in poetry and the Crisis prize of the same year. The choices were the perfect model of decisions marked by indecision; warring and conflicted standards. Hughes was awarded first place in the Opportunity contest for 'The Weary Blues' and Cullen won second place for 'To One Who Said Me Nay'. Any student of black poetry knows without a doubt which poem survived. In the Crisis contest Cullen won first prize and Hughes was awarded third place. This rivalry and the two careers point powerfully to the 'double consciousness' very much alive in the arts of the Renaissance and in the New Negro Movement. Cullen's finest poem, 'Heritage', brilliantly captures the agony of that struggle in spite of his determination not to write 'Negro' poems.
In The Harlem Renaissance Remembered the editor Arna Bontemps (1972) attempts to complicate our view of that particular moment in history.
What made their decade memorable, of course, was not simply an influx of black migrants from the South and West Indies in that post-World War I era. . . . But an upsurge of Negro creativity, such as New York's Harlem was beginning to detect, to produce, and to foster, required more than a single source. It demanded an array of factors, a favorable conjunction.
The above discussion has been an attempt to rethink the movement and to suggest some directions which that reconsideration is and ought to be taking. Warrington Hudlin, who is given the last word in Bontemps's book, argues that the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance is its art, its artists and its ideas (ibid., p. 276). Its activity, though political, could hardly be considered political in contemporary terms, just as some of the cultural products praised so highly in that period may not stand up to contemporary standards of excellence. Hudlin describes the Harlem Renaissance as 'a point in the evolution of Afro-American literature'. As such its achievements should be placed in perspective to compute its significance. 'It opened the door for the black writing of today' (ibid., p. 277). Larry Neal in 'Any Day Now: Black Art and Black Liberation' links the efforts of the Harlem Renaissance to his own Black Arts
Movement struggle. He singles out DuBois, Hughes and musicians for special mention, but Hughes is the strongest link:
In the history of Black America, the current ideas of the Black Arts Movement can be said to have their roots in the so-called Negro Renaissance of the 1920s. . . . There was the ascendency of the hip, blues-talking, Langston Hughes . . . Hughes best personifies the Black artist who is clearly intent upon developing a style of poetry which springs forcefully and recognizably from a Black life style. (King and Anthony, 1972, p. 151)
Neal is clear on the gift of which he speaks: 'This is the death of the white lie that our ancestors prophesied. This is the death of the double consciousness' (ibid., p. 164). There is still a great deal of work to be done before we will have exhausted the richness left us.
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