"We have not as yet secured for ourselves a character--reputation. We are but the immediate descendants of those who have been reared under all manner of depressing influences, in ignorance, in an ignorant section of the country, and Southern plantations; we have not had a fair trial; our position has been a stooping one. We are beginning to feel the necessity of standing erect."
We claim no affinity with Africa. This is our home. We have beheld no other sun save that piercing the clouds that tip our noble Alleghanies--which glistens on our own rolling Hudson, and gives vegetation and life to the green fields, where our fathers lie--"The land of our forefathers."
What more this to us than to all other Americans? Go ye "home to the places your fathers voluntarily left; our
forefathers were forced there; their sons will not be forced away." Further, we do not trace our ancestry to Africa alone. We trace it to Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotchmen; to Frenchmen; to the German; to the Asiatic as well as to Africa. "The best blood of Virginia courses through our veins." We sympathize deeply with poor benighted Africa. We wish her disenthralment from the deep superstition and idolatry in which she is sunk. We would see her regenerated--civilized. "We do not love Caesar less, but Rome more." We have been persecuted. Despite of it--despite of all that has been visited upon us by our fellow countrymen--we "love our country still." We would defend her honor while we mourn our shame. A fair destiny awaits her--a destiny shadowed in the landing of the pilgrim Fathers--our glorious Declaration of Independence--in the present times. We are not to be forced or enticed from our native land.
We have not as yet secured for ourselves a character--reputation. We are but the immediate descendants of those who have been reared under all manner of depressing influences, in ignorance, in an ignorant section of the country, and Southern plantations; we have not had a fair trial; our position has been a stooping one. We are beginning to feel the necessity of standing erect. We have too generally occupied menial positions, which has been urged against us. This must be changed; this is being changed. Our children--the children of those who occupy menial positions--are being educated to a more refined taste. Not however, to discard honorable labor. They will possess all the requisites to success and advancement. They inherit a spirit of endurance, a virtue necessary to success. They are sensitive, which creates perception. They have strength, being the descendants of muscular frames. They are being educated . They will be respected here socially and politically. Believing this and admiring the principles of our Government; believing that the country is by nature, blest with advantages far beyond those afforded in Africa, or anywhere else, how can anyone expect, even Horace Greeley himself, that the colored man will leave this country?
Excerpt from "The Equality of All Men Before the Law Claimed and Defended," 1865
I look over this country at the present time, and I see Educational Societies, Sanitary Commissions, Freedmen's Associations, and the like, --all very good: but in regard to the colored people there is always more that is benevolent, I perceive, than just, manifested towards us. What I ask for the negro is not benevolence, not pity, not sympathy, but simply justice. (Applause.) The American people have always been anxious to know what they shall do with us. Gen. Banks was distressed with solicitude as to what he should do with the negro. Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, "What shall we do with the negro?" I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm-eaten to the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature's plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, --don't disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner-table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot-box, let him alone,--don't disturb him! (Applause.) If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone, --your interference is doing him a positive injury . Let him fall if he cannot stand alone!
"In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress."
Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble effort at an exhibition of our progress, you must not expect overmuch. Starting thirty years ago with ownership here and there in a few quilts and pumpkins and chickens (gathered from miscellaneous sources), remember the path that has led from these to the inventions and production of agricultura limplements, buggies, steam-engines, newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, the management of drug-stores and banks, has not been trodden without contact with
thorns and thistlesWhile we take pride in what we exhibit as a result of our independent efforts, we do not for a moment forget that our part in this exhibition would fall far short of your expectations but for the constant help that has come to our educational life, not only from the Southern states, but especially from Northern philanthropists, who have made their gifts a constant stream of blessing and encouragement.
The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that the progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing. . . . The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera house .
I know coloured men who, through the encouragement, help, and advice of Southern white people, have accumulated thousands of dollars worth of property, but who, at the same time, would never think of going to those same persons for advice concerning the casting of their ballots. This, it seems to me, is unwise and unreasonable, and should cease. In saying this I do not mean that the Negro should truckle, or not vote from principle, for the instant he ceases to vote from principle he loses the confidence and respect of the Southern white man even.
NOTE: Washington's discussion in Up From Slavery on "The Secret of Success in Public Speaking" include his own account of this and other speeches and the responses they prompted. He also describes the beginnings of his career as a speaker on issues of race in the chapter entitled "Two Thousand Miles for a Five-Minute Speech."
"HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line."
...Mr. Washington is especially to be criticised. His doctrine has tended to make the whites, North and South, shift the burden of the Negro problem to the Negros shoulders and stand aside as critical and rather pessimistic spectators; when in fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.
The South ought to be led, by candid and honest criticism, to assert her better self and do her full duty to the race she has cruelly wronged and is still wronging. The Northher co-partner in
guiltcannot salve her conscience by plastering it with gold.We cannot settle this problem by diplomacy and suaveness, by policy alone. If worse come to worst, can the moral fibre of this country survive the slow throttling and murder of nine millions of men?
The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate,a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds,so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this,we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them The black men of America have a duty to perform, a duty stern and delicate, -a forward movement to oppose a part of the work of their greatest leader. So far as Mr. Washington preaches Thrift, Patience, and Industrial Training for the masses, we must hold up his hands and strive with him, rejoicing in his honors and glorying in the strength of this Joshua called of God and of man to lead the headless host. But so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North or South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions, and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds, -so far as he, the South, or the Nation, does this, -we must unceasingly and firmly oppose them. By every civilized and peaceful method we must strive for the rights which the world accords to men, clinging unwaveringly to those greatest words which the sons of the Fathers would fain forget: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
|The tallest tower
Can tumble down
If it be not rooted
In solid ground,
So, being a far-seeing
He said, Train your head,
Your heart, and your hand.
Your fate is hear
And not afar,
So let down your bucket
Where you are.
NOTE: After reading this poem, read the first draft and subsequent drafts of "The Ballad of Booker T." at the American Memory Site.
"Fire, like Mr. Hughes' poetry, was experimental. It was not interested in sociological problems or propaganda. It was purely artistic in intent and conception. Its contributorswent to the proletariat rather than to the bourgeois for characters and material. They were interested in people who still retained some individual race qualities and who were not totally white American in every respect save color of skin."
If you want to browse through the table of contents of FIRE!! A Publication Dedicated to Younger Negro Artists or you can read the whole premier issue.
"For the younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology; the new spirit is awake in the masses, and under the very eyes of the professional observers is transforming what has been a perennial problem into the progressive phases of contemporary Negro life."
IN the last decade something beyond the watch and guard of statistics has happened in the life of the American Negro and the three norns who have traditionally presided over the Negro problem have a changeling in their laps. The Sociologist, The Philanthropist, the Race-leader are not unaware of the New Negro but they are at a loss to account for him. He simply cannot be swathed in their formulae. For the younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology; the new spirit is awake in the masses, and under the very eyes of the professional observers is transforming what has been a perennial problem into the progressive phases of contemporary Negro life. Could such a metamorphosis have taken place as suddenly as it has appeared to? The answer is no; not because the New Negro is not here, but because the Old Negro had long become more of a myth than a man.
This is what, even more than any "most creditable record of fifty years of freedom," requires that the Negro of today be seen through other than the dusty spectacles of past controversy. The day of "aunties," "uncles" and "mammies" is equally gone. Uncle Tom and Sambo have passed on, and even the "Colonel" and "George" play barnstorm roles from which they escape with relief when the public spotlight is off. The popular melodrama has about played itself out, and it is time to scrap the fictions, garret the bogeys and settle down to a realistic facing of facts.
See also: Black History, American History: a collection of seminal essays on race that have appeared in the Atlantic.
How did the American conversation on race evolve in the time between the Reconstruction era following the Civil War and the "New Negro Movement" (now known as the Harlem Rennaisance) that took place just after WWI? Did the participants in the American "conversation" on race in the twentieth century echo the voices of their 19th century predecessors or develop new voices, new arguments, and new appeals? How would you explain the way this conversation changed over time?
Focused Questions for Reflection and Discussion:
- What national and international events affected the lives of African-Americans during these years, and how are those changes reflected in these texts?
- Who were these speakers and writers addressing, and why? What ideas did they seem to be communicating? What actions do you think these texts might inspire?
- Did the twentieth-century writers continue to use the same kinds of appeals and arguments that had been employed by Frederick Douglass and his contemporaries? What rhetorical strategies did they employ to address the heads' and hearts' of their audiences? What arguments did they offer, for example, d id they appeal to or argue against conventional American values and beliefs?
- What voices did these writers use, and were those voices consistent with the ideas, arguments, and appeals of the texts?
African American Mosaic Exhibit on Post-Emancipation Migrations
The African-American Odyssey Exhibit: The Booker T. Washington Era and WWI and the Depression
Overview of Harlem Renaissance at Africana.Com
The Harlem Renaissance
Professor John McClymer's Harlem Renaissance Page.
Poetry and Prose of the Harlem Renaissance
Role of Crisis Magazine in the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance: Life, Movement, Creativity, Revolution (includes painters)
Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance--a biography courtesy of the Smithsonian
The Harlem Renaissance - English Literature--courtesy of the Mining Co.
Music and Art:
Harlem Renaissance Art
Le Tumulte Noir: Paul Colin's Jazz Age Portfolio, Smithsonian Exhibit
Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance
Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Literature of the Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance Music Resources
A Commentary on the Rhetoric of the Harlem Renaissance:
An Annotated Bibliography of the Rhetoric of the New Negro, by Andy Cline
Bibliographical Resources on Harlem Renaissance Writers
PAL: Perspectives in American Literature: A Research and Reference Guide--Harlem Renaissance, 1919-1937
Recent Commentaries on the Ongoing Conversation on Race in America:
Black Creativity: On the Cutting Edge, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
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