Jazz had synthesized the cultural folkwaysof the peoples of the Americas. It reintroduced the Moorish Rhythmic pattern. This rhythmic pattern was presence in the Habanero and the Cakewalk dances. This was more acceptable to Europeans because the dances were reminiscent of the contradanza and aristocratic dances of Europe. But it was not played in the instruments of North America like the drum. The rhythmic pattern was too threatening as a mean of communication among the people and its potential to transmit messages of inspiration and/or rebellion. Hence,the rhythmic pattern could not be expressed in the spirituals, the Blues, or
By unifying folk art and infusing it with the Habanero Rhythmic pattern, Jazz gave the music viability. Black people had finally gotten their Rhythm Back. Syncopation, collective improvisation, and innovation made Jazz a cultural bubble of exuberance, enthusiasm, imagination, and originality. Jazz breathed life into the people. These living souls began to coalesce within a state of ethnogenesis in which individuals who had endured the shared trauma of American slavery and were experiencing Jim Crowism, lynching, and other indignities in their segregated social cocoons of America were forging a civilization. They were forming in their social isolation as a nation of souls with a shared heritage and a common hope for a fruitful future. Visionaries called this emerging nation of resourceful people the “New Negro.”
Jazz as a music art mirrored the cultural dynamics wrought in the century and half before its conception. It is a cumulative culture of the experiences, adversities, and triumphs of Black America. Jazz rose in the early 20thcentury as the manifestation of the New Negro Vision.
The New Negro Vision was seeded in the mid-1700s with the First Great Awakening. It propagated Christianity in the British Colonies and brought colonists from various ethnic churches together and consolidated them in new denominations of Methodism, Baptists, and Congregationalists. The movement associated freedom of religion with democratic principles. It was key to the formation of Black churches and the abolitionist movement. It brought Blacks into Christianity both free and enslaved. They began to associate Biblical stories with their lives. The religious movements brought Blacks from various religious backgrounds including
Islam, indigenous, African, Anglican, Lutheranism, Catholicism beliefs into the new Protestant beliefs. During the American Revolution, congregantsof the Anglican Church were no longer welcomed because the king of Great Britain was head of the Anglican Church. Those Englishmen left and went to the African church. Also, it brought adherents of the Dutch and German churches into the new denominations. The religious movements were pivotal in the ethnogenesis of Black America. They are essential in thedevelopment of religious folkways of spirituals, ring shouts, gospels, and preaching with call and response patterns and orations.
Absalom Jones, a former enslaved person became active in the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church.
Jones, along with Richard Allen,were ordained in the church. Because of racial discrimination in the church, they left and started their own church. They found the Free AfricanSociety in Philadelphia in 1791. Jones founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church of St. Thomas on July 17, 1794. In “The Causes and Motives for Establishing St. Thomas’s African Church of Philadelphia,” he wrote that they wanted “to arise out of the dust and shake ourselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained us up in.”
Similarly, Richard Allen founded the African MethodistEpiscopal Church denomination. On July 29, 1794, the denomination opened Bethel A.M.E. Church. These churches were on the front line of the anti-slavery movement. By giving oratories and anti-slavery sermons. They petitioned the government with regards to The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. They were active in the Underground Railroad. They supported the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves of 1807. The U.S. Constitution allowed for the importation of slaves into the country for twenty years. January 1, 1808.
The Second Great Awakening of the late 1790s and early 1800s held revival meetings in the South and other slave plantations. Christianity inspired slave rebellions. Gabriel Prosser, an enslaved blacksmith in Virginia plotted a rebellion in 1800. The rebellion was organized at a revival meeting but was discovered. Denmark Vesey, a freedman, was one of the founders of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1822, the slave rebellion that he was planning was revealed, Vesey was hang.
Nat Turner was an enslaved preacher who led a slave rebellion in August 1831. Turner rebellion in Southampton, Virginia. In response to the rebellion, Virginia law required that a white minister be present at all Black religious services and forbade the teaching of enslaved persons and free Blacks.
Free Blacks and “people of color” were presence throughout the Americas. Many had fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The English colonial Free Blacks in the Northern states were active in the abolitionist movement. Many free people of color refugees fleeingthe Haitian Revolution owned slaves. They lived in the Upper South and New Orleans.
Fraternal organizations were a source of developing organizational skills for advocacy against slavery. Prince Hall founded the African Grand Lodge of North America. Prince Hall lived in Boston and fought in the American Revolution on the side of the colonial Americans. Hall, as a free Black, worked for education of enslaved persons and held theatrical programs for cultural development. He was interested in freemasonry because of its emphasis on democratic liberties. He and other Blacks were denied initiation into the local lodge. They were initiated by British soldiers
into the Grand Lodge of Ireland during the American Revolutionary War. On September 29, 1784, they were issued a charter by the Grand Master of the Mother Grand Lodge of England. Their African Lodge No. 1. began to organized other lodges, as well based on African principles. The lodges operated a school and were politically active in combatting slavery. Hall was among the first to organize a Back-to-Africa movement. The lodge taught self-governance among Black people. Hall died in 1807 in the New Guinea communityi n Boston. There have been over 300,000 members of Prince Hall Freemason Lodges.
The Negro/Colored Convention Movement was central to the development of Black life in the United States. These conventions were places where discussions about issues crucial to the life and the future direction of Black America. Hezekiah Grice, a Baltimore native, was among the first to call for a national convention of colored people. This was partly in response to the 1829 Cincinnati Riots. Where Irish immigrants attacked native born free Blacks and former slaves in competitions for their jobs. Grice wrote letters to Black leaders to organize. Bishop Richard Allen hosted the first convention at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia from September 15 to 24 of 1830. The convention discussions focused on immigration of Blacks to Canada or the Back-to-Africa Movement. Also, the American Colonization Society was trying to force Blacks to move to Liberia. There were representatives from seven states. The representatives were both free and enslaved persons, businessowners, politicians, newspaper editors, and religious leaders. The Color Convention Movement became popular and were held in several states and locally. Pre-Civil War conventions were in Louisiana, Kansas, and California. After the Civil War there were regular conventions with representatives from 31 states. These conventions continued throughout the 1800s and into the 20th century. They led to the founding of trade unions and civic and political organizations.
The Black Women Club Movement was formidable. Before the Civil War, Black women had begun to organize themselves to take care of the social welfare of their communities. These self-help efforts were also a part of supporting churches. The Female Benevolent Society of Saint Thomas in Philadelphia organized in 1793. The Colored Female Religiousa nd Moral Society of Salem, Massachusetts in 1818. Black women found their own clubs when Black men refused them leadership positions. Literary clubs also became popular.
After the Civil War, the women clubs became very prolific. Literary clubs also became
popular. Black women in Indianapolis had over 500 clubs. Ida B. Wells found several anti-lynching clubs. This photograph of Black women in Montana shows the proliferation of clubs throughout the United States.
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin publisher of the Woman’s Era found the first newspaperpublished by and for Black women in 1894 in Boston. She was active in the women suffrage movement for the vote. She, along with Ida B. Wells was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The National Association of Colored Women Clubs was established in 1896 in Washington, D.C. It was a merger of several women organizations and federations.
During theReconstruction Era, the New Negro Vision was to bring a people up fromslavery to freedom and civilization. The strategy included an emphasis on education and industrial training, social development, and economic self-reliance which included landownership and
business development. These efforts were to lay the foundation of Blackgenerational wealth as an enduring wall against future subjugation.
The Black church was instrumental in this effort of education, the founding of schools, political involvement, and economic development. One such denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, was born out of the Great Awakening. In 1795, the congregation that would become the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church began meeting in New York City. The church was formally organized in 1820 and its Black ministers were ordained. The A.M.E. Zion denomination was active in voting rights, it supported the establishment of the Freedom’s Journal newspaper in 1827 and was active in the abolition of slavery campaign. Major Black figures were active in the church including Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, and Frederick Douglass, who was a minister of the church. In the post-Civil War era both the A.M.E. Zion and the A.M.E. along with other denominations started thousands of churches throughout the country. These churches started schools and colleges, gave social support to needy families, and had members who worked for the Freedmen’s Bureau.
Joseph Charles Price, a minister in the A.M.E. Zion church was considered the foremost Black leader of his day. Price is the founder of Livingstone College, in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Price was considered one of the best orators in the world. He was active inRepublican politics. President Grover Cleveland asked Price in 1888 to become U.S. Ambassador to Liberia. Price refused and rather chose to stay focus on his work at Livingstone College. Hed ied at age 39 in 1893. Booker T. Washington became a leading figure in wake of Price’s death. Washington had begun what became Tuskegee University in an A.M.E. Zion church in Alabama. Washington continued the legacy of shaping the “New Negro.”
During Reconstruction and afterwards,Blacks were very active in politics. Some serving in state legislatures and the U.S. Congress. They were U.S. diplomats in the Caribbean, LatinAmerica, and Africa, Blacks served in the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Many had become homesteaders in theWest and found new towns like Pap Singleton, who found Nicodemus, Kansas. Just as important, Black were landowners, and most cities had a Black Wall Street by the early 1900s. The most famous ofwhich was in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Everywhere Black people went their culture accompanied them. It was not just music, but literature was being published in newspapers, magazines, and books. Sermons and oratory were being published, too. Abolition writers and lectures were distributed. Black newspapers and magazines were being published. Slave narratives were written by FrederickDouglass and William Wells Brown. Brown also published Clotel, a novel about President Thomas Jefferson’sc hildren in 1853.
Also, Harriet Wilson published Our Nig: Sketches of the Life of a Free Black Woman in 1859.
CharlesChestnutt published literary works of the late 1800s were powerful stories of race and color in the United States among which were The Conjure Woman(1899) and The Marrow of Tradition (1901). Two of his books were made into silent films by filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Also, Paul Laurence Dunbar became well known. His first collection of poetry was Oak and Ivy and was published in 1893.
At the turn of the 20th centurythe term the “New Negro” was duplicitous. In 1900, Booker T. Washington published “A New Negro for a New Century: An Accurate and Up-To-Date Record of the Upward Struggles of the Negro Race.” The book was an extensive research compilation. It detailed that “…In the following pages the progressive life of the Afro-American people has been written in light of achievements that will be surprising to people who are ignorant of the enlarging life of these remarkable people.”
W.E.B. DuBois compiled 500 pictures and other materials displayed as a part of the American Negro Exhibit of the World’s Exposition in Paris, France in 1900.
DuBois’ aim was to dispel stereotypes of caricatures of Blacks and combat myths about the intelligence levels of Black people. The exhibition was the idea of Thomas Calloway, a Black lawyer and educator and Daniel Murray, assistant librarian at the Library of Congress. It included a statuette of Frederick Douglass and 400 patents, and photos of the faces showing the diversity of Black Americans, and photographs of Black educational institutions. It also included charts, graphs, and maps detailing the accomplishments of Black people in America. Millions of people viewed the exhibit between April and November. DuBois won a gold medal for the exhibition.
The vision for the race was realized despite adversities. The “New Negro Vision” witnessed many achievements. The rise of Black America in the late 19th century was nonpareil in world history. No people have ever risen to world renown without conquest or having been given privilege in a society.
Booker T. Washington had warned the American public that the images that they were being presented about Black America were false and deceptive. He said that the nation would be surprised and shocked when they wake up to the “NewNegro” and his achievements. Jazz was the testimony that a new Black identity had burst forward. It highlighted Black artforms on the national stage and became America’s classical music. Moreso, the globe embraced Jazz as a world culture.
Transforming Folkways into an Artform: Lieutenant James Reese Europe and the “New Negro” Identity
The essence of the vision was the development of the “New Negro” identity. This identity is the product of the moral authority that is embedded within a culture when it flowers from the shared heritage of a new formed people. The validation of Black life and the quality of self-worth that a people possess when they value their own culture can only be attained when that maintain the authenticity of their folkways. Lieutenant James Reese Europe was an example of a man who had faith in his God-given heritage that was forged in the fiery furnace of the Black American experience. Although he had been dead for decades before the Civil Rights Movement, Jazz great Eubie Blake referred to Europe as “the Martin Luther King of Music.”
Europe is a major historic figure in the formation of Jazz as an American artform and world culture. He was the leading Black bandleader in New York City in the 1910s. Later, he became an influential figure in the U.S. military and the military marching band tradition. He was a composer and arranger of a diversity of Black music styles. In 1910, he formed The Clef Club, an organization for Black musicians in New York. The club performed at Carnegie Hall several times between 1912 and 1915. There, they introduced a variety of Black music including spirituals, blues, ragtime, and an early form of jazz to an elite New York audience. The Clef Club was a large symphonic band of 125 members. This began the Big Band Era. They only played pieces by Black composers. After one of their performances, the New York Times article of March 12, 1914, read, “These composers are beginning to form an art of their own.”
In 1913-1914, they recorded for the Victor Talking Machine, but the music was not labeled as jazz. Europe was always insisting on playing Black music. He stated, “We have developed a kind of symphony music that, no matter what else you think, is different and distinctive, and that lends itself to the playing of the peculiar compositions of our race. … My success had come … from a realization of the advantages of sticking to the music of my own people.”
During World War I, Europe joined the New York Army National Guard. He was with the 369th Infantry better known as the “Harlem Hellfighters.” The Hellfighters were assigned with the French Army. They introduced ragtime music to France and “The Memphis Blues” by W.C. Handy. They recorded music while in France. Wherever he played Europe was insistent on maintaining the authenticity of Black music. Europe stated, “we colored people have our own music that is part of us. It’s the product of our souls, it’s been created by the sufferings and miseries of our race.”
Europe was the orchestra leader for Vernon and Irene Castle, the leading ballroom dancers of the day. Europe composed the Castle Walk fort he Castle’s, one-step dance. The Castle Walk was a part of the dance craze of the social ballroom dancing based on the Cakewalk and Ragtime music. The dance incorporated the one-step dance which includes the turn and the dip. The one-step was introduced into the Tango. The Foxtrot, another famous dance was developed by the Castles when Europe would play W.C. Handy’s “The Memphis Blues” to slowdown the music after playing fast Jazz-style music.
Europe was killed in 1919 while playing in Boston. He was key to supporting musicians and creating the future Harlem jazz scene that was present during the 1920s. Most significantly, Europe was adamant about the quality of the Black identity. He was key in preserving the integrity of the music in every genre from spirituals to ragtime to blues and the emerging music of jazz. He safeguarded these music arts for future generations so that people of Black heritage can say that we have “An Art of Our Own.”
Jazz and The New Negro Movement (Harlem Renaissance): The Rise of an Art and Social Movement
By the beginning of the 20thcentury, the United States had come of age as nation. The country had gone through a major civil war and had survived as one nation state. It had absorbed tens of millions of European immigrants which had changed the ethnic face of the land. It had expanded to cover a continent. The Panama Canal enhanced U.S. hegemonic standing with spheres of influence in both the Atlantic and Pacific regions. Because of the Spanish American War, the U.S. was a world power with new territories in the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands of the Philippines, Hawaii, and other islands, and it dominated the countries of Central and South America. By the end of World War I, the U.S. had become a world power with economic and industrial outputs greater than that of war-torn Europe. The new immigrants and the nations of the world began to consider American culture as the dominate world culture. Little did the domestic population, or the people of the world, perceive that the American culture that they so idolized was in actuality, Black American culture.
Wahs In espousing the concept of the “NewNegro,” Washington and his supporters contended that America was populated by Blacks who were educated, landowners, and businessowners. They noted that they had a rich culture, and their communities were supporting cultural, social, and political movements. They argued that what was in the American collective psyche was a stereotypical image of Black people. They concluded that those attitudes, were based on racial prejudice shaped by arguments supporting the enslavement of uncivilized and savage races like the Papal Bulls during the Age of Discovery or political contentions that Blacks are a social problem requiring government dependency and support from white liberals. The negative persona was reinforced by the entertainment industry and Woodrow Wilson’s administration policies. Film and vaudeville portrayals of plantation life,depictions of “pickaninny,” “coons,” and “Sambo” caricatures, and minstrels with white actors in Black faces were inundating the country. Jim Crow laws and practices were subjugating Blacks and lynchings were omnipresent. But, as was pointed out earlier in the concept note from “A New Negro for a New Century,” Washington stated that the country would be surprised when they realize "the enlarging life of these remarkable people.”
A heritage had materialized fromthe ethnogenesis of the Black people. Itwas becoming apparent that this was a national and international shared heritage of a new people. As the people migrated throughout the country and world that concentrated in social enclaves
of residential and business districts that were becoming sustainable and some were prosperous. These areas were known as Black Wall Streets. Newspapers carried information and literary works of poems and short stories. Schools and colleges were established for fundamental education and intellectual development and industrial education and training a generation during an industrial revolution. Thousands of churches had spread throughout the country. People were coordinated with their denominations.
Jazz musicians were travelling the nation and performing in Black Wall Streets, juke houses, and dance halls. As the country began to embrace ragtime and Jazz, Black people began to feel more empowered to know that it was their culture that was the dominate mass culture. The music arts became a unifying cultural strand. The upbeats of Jazz resembled the energetic lifestyle of the people. This led F.Scott Fitzgerald in 1922 to refer to the economic and social life of America during the Roaring 20s as “The Jazz Age.”
Jazz was a psychological confidence-building factor for Black people. It reinforced the belief in the vision that there was worth in this new people. It was the substance of things hoped for over the centuries and evidence of thingsnot yet seen or hoped for by “these remarkable people.” It was proof that there was something rich in the culture of Black people.
The cultural cumulative of spirituals, blues, ragtime, and jazz were unifying, empowering, and shaping a “New Negro Identity.” They were a cultural catalyst the inspired the “New Negro” Social Movement. The people were becoming intellectual in their thinking, strategic in their actions, and resilient in their collective attitudes. They were willing to take on the challenges of the day. They were willing to fight in the Race Riots of 1919. They were pushing anti-lynching legislation and policies. The Silent March in New York City in 1917 was the first march of the kind in the city. They were a part of the Labor Movement that was working for better wages and workers’ conditions. Women were active in the Suffrage Movement and celebrated the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote in 1919. They were on the move working through the Colored Conventions Movement, women clubs, fraternal orders,
churches, and educational institutions.
The people were economically industrious in building Black Wall Streets throughout
the country. They were maintaining independent farms and had established all-Black towns. Discussions were to bring Oklahoma into the Union as an all-Black state in 1907. The movement had a political component. Blacks were active in Republican Party Politics. Many held local federal appointments and government jobs until the Woodrow Wilson administration
resegregated the federal government in 1913. Still, some held federal jobs in limited areas. Blacks were appointed ambassadors to African nations of Liberia, Haiti, and Madagascar and served at American consulates in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
In addition, the movement was focused on international issues. Blacks were focusing internationally with Pan-American meetings. Blacks were hoping that Cuba and Puerto Rico would come into the union of the United States as Black majority states. The Pan-African Movement and Back-to-Africa Movement were very much apart of the New Negro Movement.
Alain Locke in his anthology The New Negro considered that the movement was the spiritual coming of Age of a people. It was the transcendence of the cultural achievements in America that brought about the racial awakening and quickened the spirit of a new people. Harlem was the spiritual Mecca of the Movement.
TheMaking of Harlem and the “New Negro” Movement
What has been called the Harlem Renaissance was a period of intellectual and literary activities based in Harlem in the 1920s. In fact, the Harlem Renaissance was a promotional campaign to solicit the patronage of white publishers and other supporters to sponsor the work of Black culturalists. The promotion was led by the National Urban League (NUL) through its newspaper Opportunity. The NUL, like several other organizations had, established offices in Harlem because it had become the center of the burgeoning national and international Black community. Harlem was not an isolated experience. It was a part of a larger social and cultural phenomenon since 1895 called the “New Negro.” Harlem was anchored to Black Wall Streets throughout the nation. However, New York City was the most populous and prosperous city in the emerging world power of the United States. This made Harlem the center of Black life of the larger “New Negro” national social movement.
Economic self-reliance through landownership and business development is a key principle
of building wealth for the Black community in the New Negro Initiative. Real estate magnet Phillip A. Payton use the principle to build Harlem into a Black sociocultural outlet. It became a bastion of wealth building and an economic stronghold. Payton, known as the “Father of Harlem,” purchased most of the property that housed Black residents and businesses. Payton was born in Massachusetts. His father was a friend of Joseph Charles Price, an early visionary of the “New Negro” and the most noted orator of the post-Reconstruction Era and founder of Livingston College. Payton attended Livingstone College and graduated in 1899. In 1900, he moved to New York City and got several jobs one of which was a porter for a real estate company. He and a partner determined that they could learn the business and start their own real estate company.
In 1904, there was a housing glut in Harlem and housing values dropped. That year, Payton now on his own, chartered the Afro-American Realty Company. He sold 50,000 shares for $10,00 a share mainly to other residents in Harlem. He purchased blocks of Harlem apartments and homes and moved Black tenants into them. Payton was adamant about fashioning an enclave for Black people. At one point, one of his competitors bought a building and evicted all the Black tenants. Payton, in turn, purchased another building and evicted all the white tenants and replaced them with the homeless Blacks.
John Bennet Nail was another real estatedeveloper in Harlem. The Nail family were longtime investors in Harlem. They owned a hotel and restaurant. Eventually, they owned 5 apartment complexes in Harlem. They were patrons of the cultural arts. He opened the opportunity in Harlem for many of the real estate owners who were active during the New Negro Movement oft he 1920s. By 1907, Black churches began to build sanctuaries in Harlem, while others purchased existing churches and buildings.
Harlem was a haven for Blacks fleeing race riots in other sections of New York City and throughout the country, migrants from the South and immigrants from the West Indies and the United States’ newly acquired territories in the Spanish American War. In the late 1800s, Blacks lived around 125th Street and 130th Street. By the early 1900s, 10,000 Blacks lived in Harlem. In 1910, 10 percent of Harlem was Black. In 1920, 32.43 percent of Harlem was Black. In 1930, 70.18 percent was Black. Then, Blacks lived as far south as Central Park.
In 1914, the Outlook magazine observed that “three quarters of the Black population of New York City live in Harlem and all prominent Black people live in Harlem.”
Harlem rose as the premiere Black enclave in the world. Its residents supported social development and cultural events. The social page of Harlem’s two major newspapers the New York Age and the New Amsterdam News were filled with meetings and social events of churches, schools, sports, social and fraternal clubs, and dancehalls. There were parades and funeral processions. Harlem attracted non-Blacks from around the world who were interested in partaking in Black culture. The Cotton Club was one the most notable segregated clubs where wealthy whites could enjoy Black entertainers.
Most importantly, it was Black people who were the patrons of the cultural movement in the
country. The Nails were among the many wealthy Blacks who were patrons of cultural arts, civil rights activities, and leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington. Grace Elizabeth Nail, daughter of John Bennett Nail, was a supporter of children literature. She was wife of James Weldon Johnson, an author among his works was the Black National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” These Black patrons were supporting the authenticity of the culture.
To the contrast, the Harlem Renaissance promoters were seeking white patrons for Black literary works. They were characterizing the literary and cultural attainment as a renaissance. They wanted Black writers to mimic white writers and change their literary pieces to be more palatable for white audiences. The name of the HarlemRenaissance has become popular, but it is a misnomer.
There has been a long history of Black cultural arts and movements since before the American Revolution. It continued through the Black church, fraternal organizations, the Colored Convention Movements, women clubs, and educational institutions. Black literary, works were published in Black-owned newspapers and sold in Black owned bookstores. They were distributed through literary societies, women clubs, churches, and similar channels.
Hubert Harrison and The New Negro Movement (Harlem Renaissance)
Harlem in the 1910s and 20s became a concentrated community for Black population. In the aftermath of the Spanish American War, the United States had become an imperialist power with territories and interest in the Western Hemisphere and around the globe. Puerto Rica, Hawaii, and the Philippines, and other Pacific islands became American territories. The U.S. purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark. It held sway over Cuba and other former Spanish colonies. The Panama Canal Project was initiated. At the conclusion of World War I in 1918, the U.S. emerged as a world power in the wake of a weaken Great Britain and France and the Bolsheviks takeover of Russia. The extensive reach of American world hegemony enshrined Harlem as the Black Mecca of not only the UnitedS tates but of the world.
Harlem was an entry point for a diverse group of immigrants. Also, it attracted a multiplicity of civic, political, social, and religious organizations espousing a variety of philosophies. Hence, Harlem became a battleground for competing ideologies. These ideologies went beyond the competing beliefs of DuBois’ “Talented Tenth” and Booker T. Washington’s industrial
education and social conservatism. They were European social philosophy and political economic social analysis methodology. Harlem in the early 1900s became the platform for free thought, intellectualism, and radicalism.
Hubert Harrison was the most influential person in Harlem in the 1920s. He is the founder of the “New NegroMovement” the term that he and the Black people of the era gave to the socio-cultural and political activities of the 1920s. Yet, he and the New Negro Movement have been eclipsed by the publicity campaign called the Harlem Renaissance. Harrison was an outspoken critic of the aims of the “Harlem Renaissance” campaign to gain support for Black culturalists among white publishers and patrons because the culturalists had to change their tone and style to fit white audiences.
Harrison was born in 1883 in St. Croix in the newly purchased U.S. Virgin Islands. He arrived in the United States in 1900 at the age of 17 to live with his sister. Upon his arrival, he immediately became active in the Harlem community. Harrison was an intellectual rooted in radical social change. He was a believer in freethought and critical thinking. In addition, he was an internationalist and had a great grasp of world politics. He was a mentor and financial supporters to most of the West Indian writers and activists in Harlem including J.A. Rogers, Countee Cullen, and Claude McKay. He taught them how to engage in critical thinking and to conduct research. J.A. Rogers referred to Harrison as “the foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” He credits Harrison with his research training and writing skills on the history of the Black peoples throughout the world. In 1920, Harrison was the principal editor of the Negro World, Marcus Garvey’s newspaper of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He was an early supporter of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, a novelist and one of the founders of the African National Congress (ANC). Harrison became an organizer for the Socialist Party of America in 1911. He became their leading organizer of Black people. He left the party in 1918 because of their organize among white groups first policy. He also was a labor movement organizer. Harrison wrote for the Messenger, a labor movement and socialist newspaper, edited by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen. Randolph called him “the father of Harlem radicalism.”
Harrison was a street orator at Harlem’s famous soapbox speakers’ corner of 7th and Lenox Avenue. He lectured to the masses and guided their reading materials and knowledge. From his street pulpit, Harrison began the New Negro Movement in Harlem. The movement was design to use culture to shape a new Black identity that was geared toward political consciousness and
In the summer of 1917, he published TheVoice, a newspaper of the New Negro Movement and in 1919, hepublished The New Negro Magazine in which he focused on international affairs. He guided the masses in supporting the theater, arts, literary works, and other cultural content of the Black community.
Harrison personally supported jazz musicians like Eubie Blake, one of the writers of the jazz play Shuffle Along, the first all-Black hit Broadway show. He published the early poetry of Andy Razaf in The Voice. Razaf wrote the lyrics for Fats Waller’s jazz standards Ain’t Misbehavin, Honeysuckle Rose, and (What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue. Razaf was the grandnephew of the Queen of Madagascar and the daughter of the Black U.S. diplomatic representative to the island nation. Razaf was also and editor and contributor to the UNIA Negro World newspaper. Charles Gilpin, who played Brutus Jones, in the premiere of the play EmperorJones and Augusta Savage, a Black woman sculptor were supported by Harrison, as well. Harrison died on the operating table of an appendicitis in 1927. His legacy lives on in the people and the literary works, historical studies, and cultural expressions that was the signature works of the New Negro Movement. His achievements have been ignored and references to the Harlem Renaissance has replaced the Black cultural connectiveness of the New Negro Movement.
Like Harrison, Alain Locke considered the New Negro as a person who was comfortable in,his or her own skin and whose creativity was an expression of one’s spiritual and natural self. He points out that Harlem was a center for the “flowering of a new race spirit.” Locke was chair of the Department of Philosophy at Howard University from 1928-1953 and the first Black Rhodes
scholar. He studied at Harvard University and the University of Berlin.
Locke edited an anthology “The New Negro: An Interpretation” in 1925. Locke published and anthology of Black writers and artists active in what he termed a “Negro Renaissance.” He wrote:
“There is ample evidence of a New Negro in the latest phases of social change and progress, but still more in the internal world of the Negro mind and spirit. He in the very heart of the folk-spirit are the essential forces, and folk interpretation truly vital and representative only in terms of these. Of all the voluminous literature on the Negro, so much is mere external view and commentary that we may warrantably say that nine-tenths of it is about the Negro rather than of him, so that it is the Negro problem rather that the Negro that is known and mooted in the general mind. We turn therefore in the other direction to the elements of truest social portraiture and discover in the artistic self-expression of the Negro today a new figure on the nation canvas and a new force in the foreground of affairs. Whoever wishes to see the Negro in his essential traits, in the full perspective of his achievement and possibilities, must seek the enlightenment of that self-portraiture which the present developments of Negro culture are offering. …We have … concentrated upon self-expression and the forces and motives of self-determination. So far as he is culturally articulate, we shall let the Negro speak for himself.”
The anthology included writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, W.E.B. DuBois, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, and Arna Bontemps.
The New Negro Identity was not a renaissance. It was the expressions of a new people that were formed in an ethnogenesis of a shared American experience of adversity and hardships. Amid the darkness that began to shape folkways and traditions that they fashion into an art of their own. This art is the component of a culture that bred elements of faith and hope in which a newly made people could place confidence. The New Negro Identitywas racially conscious, assertive
resourceful, self-reliant, and refined. The New Negro Identity remained during the Depression of the 1930s and World War II. It asserted itself more boldly during the FreedomMovement of the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the Black Power and Black Arts Movement of the mid-1960s and early 1970s. From the Spirituals, the Blues, Ragtime, and Jazz to Gospel, Rock and Roll, and Hip Hop, cultural artforms have always been the psychological anchor of the souls of Black folks.