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When African American intellectuals announced the birth of the "New Negro" around the turn of the twentieth century, they were attempting through a bold act of renaming to change the way blacks were depicted and perceived in America. By challenging stereotypes of the Old Negro, and declaring that the New Negro was capable of high achievement, black writers tried to revolutionize how whites viewed blacks—and how blacks viewed themselves. Nothing less than a strategy to re-create the public face of "the race," the New Negro became a dominant figure of racial uplift between Reconstruction and World War II, as well as a central idea of the Harlem, or New Negro, Renaissance. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Gene Andrew Jarrett, The New Negro collects more than one hundred canonical and lesser-known essays published between 1892 and 1938 that examine the issues of race and representation in African American culture.
These readings—by writers including W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Alain Locke, Carl Van Vechten, Zora Neale Hurston, and Richard Wright—discuss the trope of the New Negro, and the milieu in which this figure existed, from almost every conceivable angle. Political essays are joined by essays on African American fiction, poetry, drama, music, painting, and sculpture. More than fascinating historical documents, these essays remain essential to the way African American identity and history are still understood today.
"Recent years have seen an explosion of writings on the so-called new Negro. . . . Now Gates and Jarrett lend their considerable voices to the discussion. Including an excellent introduction that situates the debate, this anthology collects some 100 essays on the trope of the new Negro between 1892 and 1938, years that broadly encompass the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. . . . The book covers not only literature but also music, theater, and the fine arts and convincingly links them with social and political happenings of the period. . . . [O]verall this is a masterful piece of work."—L. J. Parascandola, Long Island University, for CHOICE
"The New Negro is a valuable collection of essays that is accessible to scholars, teachers, and those generally interested in African-American history. When placed within the context of recent New Negro scholarship, the anthology reinforces the need to expand the depth and breadth of research into Post-Reconstruction representations of race in African-American culture."—Gabriel A. Briggs, Callaloo
These readings, edited by professors Gates and Jarrett, examine the transition of blacks from colored to Negro between Reconstruction and World War II, with notables like Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Anna Julia Cooper, and Zora Neale Hurston reflecting on such themes as education, literature, art, poetry, music, and much more.
We are at the commencement of a "negroid" renaissance ... that will have in time as much importance in literary history as the much spoken of and much praised Celtic and Canadian renaissance. -William Stanley Braithwaite (1901) ... Rough hewn from the jungle and the desert's sands, Slavery was the chisel that fashioned him to form, And gave him all the arts and sciences had won. The lyncher, mob, and stake have been his emery wheel, TO MAKE A POLISHED MAN of strength and power. In him, the latest birth of freedom, God hath again made all things new. Europe and Asia with ebbing tides recede, America's unfinished arch of freedom waits, Till he, the corner stone of strength Is lifted into place and power. Behold him! dauntless and unafraid he stands. He comes with laden arms, Bearing rich gifts to science, religion, poetry and song ... -Reverend Reverdy C. Ransom, "The New Negro" (1923)
The three epigraphs tell the classic story of the American Negro's symbolic transition from "Old" to "New" betweenReconstruction and World War II. During this period, the Old Negro was a trope that depicted the African diaspora as an inferior race. Allegedly, Negro uncles, mammies, and chillun' dressed, talked, behaved, and thought in ways that lacked the kind of sophistication and refinement generally attributed to Anglo America. Such caricatures oversimplified black subjectivity and experiences, while ridiculing the idea of black assimilability to American civilization. African American discourses of the New Negro, however, emerged to contest degrading black stereotypes. Literature, photographs, illustrations, theater, and speeches were but a few of the contexts in which African Americans declared that the race could be morally, intellectually, and culturally elevated to civilization.
In the wake of recent scholarship that has examined the remarkable history of the New Negro, this anthology hopes to flesh it out even further, showing why the New Negro was one of the most compelling stories of racial uplift that circulated throughout U.S. intellectual society, culture, and politics. By reprinting approximately one hundred canonical and lesser-known essays written or published between 1892 and 1938, we lay the groundwork for scholars, teachers, students, and general readers to learn more about the political interconnection of race, representation, and African American culture. Racial representation, we argue, functioned as an ideological or philosophical bridge between the cultural politics and the political culture of African America. Culture politics-or the politics of culture-mainly refers to how people acquire, understand, and apply power in their relationships to one another. Such power relations, in turn, underwrite the formation of certain patterns of human values, discourses, attitudes, actions, or artifacts. By contrast, political culture-or the culture of politics-emphasizes how cultural patterns inform the institutions, organizations, and interest groups of public policy or governmental activity. With these two preliminary definitions in mind, this anthology aims to show that the New Negro was a major discursive cornerstone of racial representation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. What is more, this discourse helped to generate the terms by which we describe and understand African American culture today.
The tropes, politics, and discourses of racial uplift that we intend to explain in this introduction outline the parameters of what could be thought of as "New Negro criticism." This tradition comprises not only essays that explicitly mention the term "New Negro," but also those involved in a wider critical conversation on race, representation, and African American culture-a conversation of which the trope of a New Negro was, of course, an original, defining feature. For this anthology, we have chosen a vast array of essays written by sophisticated critics, historians, and thinkers interested in anchoring the meanings of art, culture, and politics to racial Representation.
The Trope of a New Negro
Frederick Douglass, the great nineteenth-century writer and orator, was widely advertised during his lifetime as "the representative colored man of the United States." It was a designation that Douglass liked; indeed, he seemed to have encouraged its use. What a curious manner by which to be known, or by which to be recalled: the representative colored man of these United States. But in what sense was Frederick Douglass "representative"? In the sense of mode, or mean, or median? Certainly not Frederick Douglass, a man of learning, an author of three masterful autobiographies as well as hundreds of speeches and essays. Douglass could not be mistaken for the mean, the mode, or the median of the African American community of the nineteenth century. Clearly, another sense of representation obtains here, one that we tend to forget.
Douglass was the representative colored man in the United States because he was the most presentable. And he was the most presentable because of the presence he had established as a master of voice. When Douglass spoke or wrote, he did so "for" the Negro, in a relation of part for whole. He spoke to recreate the public face of the race. Douglass, then, was the most representative colored man both because he represented black people most eloquently and elegantly, and because he was the race's great opportunity to re-present itself in the court of racist public opinion. African Americans sought to re-present their public selves in order to reconstruct their public, reproducible images.
The word "reconstruction" and the concepts that it connotes are so familiar to American historians and to scholars of African American studies that we tend to forget the word's etymology and its complex layers of signification. The dictionary states that to reconstruct means "to construct anew in the mind; to restore [something past] mentally." "Reconstruction," it tells us, consists of "the action or process of reconstructing," or "an instance or example of this; a thing reconstructed." "Reconstruction" is also the proper name for "the process by which after the Civil War the States which had seceded were restored to the rights and privileges of the Union." This period, we know, commenced officially with the passage (over President Andrew Johnson's veto) of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, and ended with what is known popularly as the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877. Reconstruction, then, endured officially for a mere ten years, to be replaced by a dark period in American history known as Redemption, which Sterling Brown once said lasted in the South from roughly 1876 "to yesterday"! By the turn of the century, Southern Redemption had become fused with black disenfranchisement and the rise of the white supremacist movement, led by the Ku Klux Klan.
Moreover, the dictionary defines "construction" as the process of putting "a specified interpretation on." "Construction" also means "the action of framing, devising, or forming, by the putting together of parts." "Construction" signifies as well "the manner in which a thing is artificially constructed or naturally formed; structure, conformation, disposition." "Construction," finally, is "a thing constructed; a material structure; a formation of the mind or genius." Here, of greatest concern are the latter two definitions: the manner in which a thing is artificially formed, and the structure of a formation of the mind and the imagination. Of greatest concern, more specifically, are two antithetical figures of the black-the curious heritage of the New Negro, and the white figure of the black as Sambo- and the complex relation that obtains between them.
These two figures bear an antithetical relation to each other, and function in a relation of reversal. Whereas the image of a "New Negro" has served various generations of black intellectuals as a sign of plenitude, regeneration, or a truly reconstructed presence, the image of the black in what could be thought of as "Sambo Art" has served various generations of racists as a sign of lack, degeneration, or a truly negated absence. The two sets of figures can also be said to have a certain cause-and-effect relation. The fiction of an American Negro who is "now" somehow "new" or different from an "Old Negro" was sought to counter the image in the popular American imagination of the black as devoid of all the characteristics that supposedly separated the lower forms of human life from the higher forms.
In an accurate, if humorous, sense, blacks have felt the need to attempt to "reconstruct" their image probably since that dreadful day in 1619, when the first boatload of Africans disembarked in Virginia. Africans and their descendants commenced their cultural lives in this hemisphere as veritable deconstructions of all that the West so ardently wished itself to be. Almost as soon as blacks could write, it seems, they set out to redefine-against already received racist stereotypes-who and what a black person was, and how unlike the racist stereotype the black original could actually be. To counter these racist stereotypes, white and black writers erred on the side of nobility, and posited equally fictitious black archetypes, from Oroonoko in 1688 to Kunta Kinte in more recent times. If various Western cultures constructed blackness as an absence, then various generations of black authors have attempted to reconstruct blackness as a presence.
Reconstruction, of course, is a broad concept that, in regard to the Negro in America, spans a period longer than the decade separating the Reconstruction Act and the Hayes-Tilden Compromise. Indeed, black intellectual reconstruction commenced in the antebellum slave narratives, published mainly between the 1830s and the early 1860s, and ended (if indeed it has ended) in the decade after the New Negro, or Harlem, Renaissance of the 1920s. And the trope of reconstruction was the trope of the New Negro in African American discourse between Reconstruction and World War II. This long period, rather than the short one between 1867 and 1877, was the crux of the period of black intellectual reconstruction. For the literary critic, there is little choice. Between 1866 and 1877, for example, black people published as books only two novels, one in 1867 and one in 1871. Between 1892 and 1938, however, African American writers published close to seventy-five novels.
While a dramatic upsurge of energy in the American body politic had characterized the period known as Reconstruction, the corpus of African American literature and culture, on the other hand, enjoyed no such apparent vitalization. On the contrary, blacks published more novels between 1853 and 1865, when they were fighting slavery, than they did when they were at least nominally free, the freest that blacks had been since the day before they set sail for Virginia in 1619. It is as if the great and terrible subject of African American literature-slavery-found no immediate counterpart when blacks were freed. Once Redemption had established itself as a new form of enslavement for African Americans, they regained a public voice, louder and more strident than it had been even during slavery.
This stands as a paradox of our intellectual history. One of the most important contributions to African American literature between 1866 and 1877 was written not by a black person at all but by Mark Twain. His 1874 short story, "A True Story," purports to be "Aunt Rachel's" oral narration of her own enslavement, rendered entirely in what we call "dialect." In other words, Reconstruction was not a time of a great renaissance of African American letters, but the period between this moment and World War II was the era of the myth of a New Negro, a New Negro in search of a cultural renaissance capable of accommodating it.
The "New Negro," of course, was only a metaphor, a trope. The paradox of this claim was inherent in the trope itself, combining as it did a concern with time, antecedents, and heritage, on the one hand, with that for a cleared space, the public face of the race, on the other. The figure, moreover, combined implicitly both an eighteenth-century vision of utopia with a nineteenth-century idea of progress to form a black fin-de-siècle dream of an unbroken, unhabituated, neological self-signified by the upper case in "Negro" and the belated adjective "New." A paradox of this sort of self-willed beginning was that its "success" depended fundamentally upon self-negation, a turning away from the "Old Negro" and the labyrinthine memory of black enslavement and toward the register of a "New Negro," an irresistible, spontaneously generated black and sufficient self.
Perhaps a more profound paradox of this form of neological utopia was that this willed, ideal state of being and renewal could exist only in what Michel Foucault has called "the non-place of language," precisely because it was mainly a rhetorical or discursive figure. And, just as utopia signifies "no-place," so did "New Negro" signify a "black person who lives at no place," and at no time. It was a bold and audacious act of language, signifying the will to power, to dare to recreate a race by renaming it, despite the dubiousness of the venture. It was this kind of racial-historical fiction-the weary black dream of a perfect state of being, with no history in particular detail, rather than the search for a group of black and especial historical entities-which contemporary literary scholars must historicize.
Frank E. and Fritzie P. Manuel, writing in Utopian Thought in the Western World (1979), have aptly characterized the latent content of all utopic thought thusly: "The great utopia startles and yet is recognized as conceivable. It is not a sleeping or bizarre vision but one that satisfies a hunger or stimulates the mind and the body to the recognition of a new potentiality [...]. It can be studied as a reflection of the specific crises that it presumes to resolve [...]. It may capture the anguish of an epoch in a striking metaphor." The weary dream of a perfected state of being, with no history, the dream of naming a second, new self, was emblematic of the anguish in African American history. This naming ritual, in short, was prefigured in the autobiographical texts of the ex-slaves published before 1865. Frederick Douglass called himself by three surnames before he stumbled upon "Douglass." Sojourner Truth, in her own autobiographical narrative, strongly recalls the naming of her newly freed self, and attributes that art to the grace of God:
My name was Isabella; but when I left the house of bondage, I left everything behind. I wan't goin' to keep nothin' of Egypt on me, an' so I went to the Lord an' asked him to give me a new name. An' the Lord give me Sojourner, because I was to travel up an' down the land, showin' the people their sins, an' bein' a sign unto them. Afterward I told de Lord I wanted another name, 'cause everybody else had two names; an de' Lord give me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to de people.
In Up from Slavery (1901), Booker T. Washington, the Negro self as endowed institution, confirms Truth's declaration of the name as a "sign" of the self, even if a less natural relationship prevailed between the sign and its referent for most Negroes than it did for her: "After the coming of freedom there were two points upon which practically all the people on our place were agreed, and I find that this was generally true throughout the South: that they must change their names, and that they must leave the old plantation for at least a few days or weeks in order that they might really feel that they were free."
Excerpted from The New Negro
Copyright © 2007 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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NOTE: For essays originally published without thematic titles, we have provided them in brackets.
Introduction by Gates and Jarrett 1
The Trope of a New Negro 2
New Negro Politics 6
New Negro Uplift 10
Race, Representation, and African American Culture 14
CHAPTER I: THE NEW NEGRO
"The New Negro" by Rev. W.E.C. Wright 23
"An Appeal to the King" by J.W.E. Bowen 26
"Afro-American Education" by Booker T. Washington 33
"Heroes and Martyrs" by N.B. Wood 36
"The Club Movement among Colored Women of America" by Fannie Barrier Williams 54
"The Intellectual Progress of the Colored Women of the United States since the Emancipation Proclamation" 59
"Rough Sketches: A Study of the Features of the New Negro Woman" by by John Henry Adams, Jr. 66
"Rough Sketches: The New Negro Man" 67
"An Ostracised Race in Ferment: The Conflict of Negro Parties and Negro Leaders Over Methods of Dealing with Their Own Problem" by Ray Stannard Baker 69
"The New Negro" by William Pickens 79
"Returning Soldiers" by W.E.B. Du Bois 85
"The New Negro and the U.N.I.A." by Marcus Garvey 92
As to "'The New Negro'" by Anonymous 96
"The New Negro" by Geroid Robinson 97
"The New Politics" by Hubert H. Harrison 101
"Education and the Race" 107
"The New Negro" by Alain Locke 112
"Sterling Brown: The New Negro Folk-Poet" 119
"The New Negro Hokum" by Gustavus Adolphus Stewart 123
"Who Is the New Negro, and Why?" by J.A. Rogers 129
"The New Negro as Revealed in His Poetry" by Charlotte E. Taussig 131
"La Bourgeoisie Noire" E. Franklin Frazier 137
"The New Negro in Paris" by Claude McKay 141
"The Rise of the Black Internationale" by George S. Schuyler 149
CHAPTER II: HOW SHOULD ART PORTRAY THE NEGRO?
"One Phase of American Literature" by Anna Julia Cooper 157
["Negro in Literature"] by Paul Laurence Dunbar 172
"The Negro in Books" by Charles W. Chesnutt 173
"The Negro in Literature" by William Stanley Braithwaite 182
"The Negro in Art: How Shall He Be Portrayed" The Crisis Symposium 190
"Some Aspects of the Negro Interpreted in Contemporary American and European Literature" by John Frederick Matheus 204
"The Negro in Recent American Literature" by Eugene Clay 211
CHAPTER III: THE RENAISSANCE
"The Younger Literary Movement" by W.E.B. Du Bois 219
"Negro Youth Speaks" by Alain Locke 220
"Uncle Tom's Mansion" by Carl van Vechten 223
"The Aframerican: New Style" by H.L. Mencken 227
"The Negro Renaissance" by Carl van Doren 229
"The Negro Renaissance" by Walter White 231
"The Negro Literary Renaissance" by Benjamin Brawley 233
"The Negro'Renaissance'" by Lloyd Morris 237
"The Negro Renaissance" by Martha Gruening 240
"Our Negro'Intellectuals'" by Allison Davis 246
"For a Negro Magazine" by Claude McKay 251
CHAPTER IV: ART OR PROPAGANDA?
"Art and Propaganda" by Eric Walrond 255
"Propaganda in the Theatre" by Willis Richardson 255
"Criteria of Negro Art" by W.E.B. du Bois 257
"Art or Propaganda?" by Alain Locke 260
"Propaganda—or Poetry?" 261
"Blueprint for Negro Writing" by Richard Wright 268
CHAPTER V: LITERATURE: HISTORY AND THEORY
"Afro-American Women and Their Work" by Katherine Tillman 277
"The Value of Race Literature" by Victoria Earle Matthews 287
"The Writing of a Novel" by Charles W. Chesnutt 297
"The Negro in Literature and Art" by W.E.B. du Bois 299
"Negro Literature for Negro Pupils" by Alice Dunbar-Nelson 302
"Negro Race Consciousness as Reflected in Race Literature" by Robert E. Park 305
"Colored Authors and Their Contributions to the World's Literature" by Irene M. Gaines 315
"A Point of View (An Opportunity Dinner Reaction)" by Brenda Ray Moryck 321???
"The Negro Digs Up His Past" by Arthur A. Schomburg 326
"A Note on the Sociology of Negro Literature" by Fred Dearmond 330
"Negro Art, Past and Present" by Albert C. Barnes 333
"Survey of Negro Literature, 1760-1926" by Thomas L.G. Oxley 337
"Race Prejudice and the Negro Artist" by James Weldon Johnson 343
"Negro Literature" by Walter White 350
"Characteristics of Negro Expression" by Zora Neale Hurston 355
"The Negro Genius" by Benjamin Brawley 364
CHAPTER VI: LITERATURE:THE LITERARY PROFESSION AND THE MARKETPLACE
"On a Certain Condescension in White Publishers" by Hubert H. Harrison 373
"The Negro Audience" by Willis Richardson 375
"Negro Authors Must Eat" by George W. Jacobs (George S. Schuyler) 376
"The Dilemma of the Negro Author" by James Weldon Johnson 378
"Negro Authors and White Publishers" 382
"Our Literary Audience" by Sterling A. Brown 384
"A Negro Writer to His Critics" by Claude McKay 390
"Problems Facing the Negro Writer Today" by Eugene C. Holmes 394
CHAPTER VII: LITERATURE: POETRY
"Some Contemporary Poets of the Negro Race" by William Stanley Braithwaite 401
"Dunbar's Poetry in Literary English" by Charles Eaton Burch 407
"The Negro in Poetry" by John Edward Bruce 410
"Old School of Negro'Critics'Hard on Paul Laurence Dunbar" by Thomas Millard Henry 413
"Negro Poets and Their Poetry" by Wallace Thurman 415
"The Negro Poets of the United States" by Alain Locke 422
"Mr. Garvey as a Poet" by T. Thomas Fortune 426
"Preface (from The Book of American Negro Poetry)" by James Weldon Johnson 426
CHAPTER VIII: MUSIC:SPIRITUALS
"Negro Music" by Paul Laurence Dunbar 447
"The Sorrow Songs" by W.E.B. du Bois 448
"Negro Folk Song" by John W. Work 453
"The Negro Spirituals" by Alain Locke 457
"The Negro Spirituals and American Art" by Laurence Buermeyer 464
"Self-Portraiture and Social Criticism in Negro Folk-Song" by B.A. Botkin 467
"Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals" by Zora Neale Hurston 473
CHAPTER IX: MUSIC: JAZZ
"Whence Comes Jass?" by Walter Kingsley 479
"That Mysterious'Jazz'" by Grenville Vernon 480
"Jazzing Away Prejudice" by Anonymous 481
"Where The Etude Stands on Jazz" 482
"Jazz at Home" by J.A. Rogers 492
"From The Appeal of Jazz" by R.W.S. Mendl 496
"Hot Jazz" by Robert Goffin 499
"From Swing That Music" by Louis Armstrong 501
CHAPTER X: THEATER
"The Negro in Drama" by Rollin Lynde Hartt 507
"Reflections on O'Neill's Plays" by Paul Robeson 510
"The Drama of Negro Life" by Montgomery Gregory 511
"The Gift of Laughter" by Jessie Fauset 515
"Same Old Blues" by Theophilus Lewis 518
"The Drama of Negro Life" by Alain Locke 521
"The Negro in the Field of Drama" by Rowena Woodham Jelliffe 524
"Has the Negro a Place in the Theatre?" by Jules Bledsoe 526
"A Criticism of the Negro Drama as It Relates to the Negro Dramatist and Artist" by Eulalie Spence 527
"From Black Manhattan" by James Weldon Johnson 528
"The Negro Theatre—A Dodo Bird" by Ralph Matthews 532
CHAPTER XI: THE FINE ARTS
"A Note on African Art" by Alain Locke 537
"The American Negro as Artist" 541
"African Art: Classic Style" 546
jessie fauset "Henry Ossawa Tanner" 549
"African Plastic in Contemporary Art" by Harry Alan Potamkin 551
"The Negro Artist and Modern Art" by Romare Bearden 554
Bibliography of Primary Sources 559
Suggested Futher Reading 563