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Harlem Renaissance Essay, Research Paper

During the Harlem Renaissance a new feeling of racial pride emerged in the Black Intelligencia. The Black Intelligencia consisted of African-American writers, poets, philosophers, historians, and artists whose expertise conveyed five central themes according to Sterling Brown, a writer of that time: ?1) Africa as a source of race pride, 2) Black American heroes 3) racial political propaganda, 4) the ?Black folk? tradition, and 5) candid self-revelation.? Two of the main people responsible for this new consciousness were W.E.B. Du Bois and Alain Locke. Du Bois laid a foundation for this dawn of racial pride in his essays. Locke took Du Bois? initial idea one step further with his writings and aiding younger writers and artists that appeared during the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes was one of the writers that Locke mentored. Hughes was a devote believer of exhibiting pride in the Black race; this theme was often exhibited in his writing. These three men have each contributed and advanced the sentiment of racial pride in their own unique way during the Harlem Renaissance.

In order to fully understand the contributions of W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and Langston Hughes it is imperative to know their backgrounds. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23rd, 1868, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He enrolled at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee where he was an editor for the school newspaper. Du Bois was admitted to Harvard in 1888, and in 1891 he received his M.A. in History. After Harvard, Du Bois traveled to Europe and studied in Berlin for a year. In 1894, he went to Wilberforce University and worked as a Professor of Classics. In 1895, Du Bois acquired his Ph.D. from Harvard thus becoming the first African-American to earn a doctorate. The following year Du Bois married Nina Gomer. In 1897, unable to find an academic position anywhere in the North, Du Bois and his new wife moved to Georgia where Du Bois taught at Atlanta University for over a decade. They had two children together: a son named Burghardt Gomer, who died when he was two years old, and a daughter, NinaYolande. Between the years of 1897 and 1914 while Du Bois was a professor at Atlanta University he published sixteen research monographs analyzing the sociological conditions of African-Americans in America. He also published The Philadelphia Negro, a Sociological Study in 1899, the first case study done in the United States about an African-American community. Du Bois began focusing more on African-American life in 1899 after he witnessed the lynching of an African-American male. He wrote letters and petitions against discrimination in travel facilities and schools. In 1900, Du Bois went to the Paris Exposition and Pan-African Congress in London. Du Bois? most recognized work, The Souls of Black Folk, was published in 1903. He gained critical acclaim as well as national fame with that publication. In that same year ?The Talented Tenth?, an essay in the anthology The Negro Problem was published.

Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter formed the Niagara Movement in 1905. The organization scattered in five years, and in 1909 Du Bois, with several other eminent African-American and Caucasian men and women, formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP). Du Bois became the Director of Publications and Research for the NAACP based in New York. For the next twenty-four years Du Bois was the editor of its journal, The Crisis.

By the first ten years The Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races was in circulation it had achieved a monthly gross of one hundred-thousand dollars. Needless to say it was a very influential journal in the Black community. Du Bois said in his editorials ??[it was] a critical time for the advancement of men? and that ??tolerance, reason and forbearance can today make the world-old dream of human brotherhood approach realization?.? Du Bois wanted The Crisis to be a magazine of great substance that published issues related to the Caucasian and African-American public, but he had a special interest in African-American racial problems and their solutions. In his editorial ?Agitation,? Du Bois stated that this agitation, this raising consciousness of racial issues in America, was necessary in order to point out the problems in the nation. He knew that this agitation would cause disruption in American society, but Du Bois believed this disruption was essential in order to find the solution to race discrimination and prejudice. The Crisis also reviewed and supported African-American literature and art, giving the African-American public a forthright piece of literature that spoke about problems and issues that plagued them. This magazine was also influential because it exhibited pieces of literature by young African-American writers who wrote about racial pride. The Crisis was an excellent way to boost African-Americans? sense of self-regard because they saw people of their own race writing distinguished and important articles that related to their plight and accomplishments as a race.

It was during this time that Du Bois was furthering the development of racial pride in the African-American community. In his essay ?The Talented Tenth? Du Bois stressed the importance of education amongst the Black race. He believed that the most promising African-Americans (roughly 10% of the population), which he called ?The Talented Tenth,? should be educated in order to guide and teach the uneducated Blacks; ?The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the mass away from the contamination and the death of the Worst, in their own and other races.? This essay rose awareness about the need for higher education of African-Americans, the importance of Black role models, and the concept of self-motivation for the African-American race. Du Bois believed that the African-Americans who exhibited the best abilities needed to be educated to uplift the Black race as a whole.

Alain Locke is an example of this educated African-American Du Bois talked of. Locke agreed with Du Bois? ideas about education and racial pride and reapplied them to African-American artists in his book The New Negro. Alain Locke was born on September 13, 1886 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his undergraduate degree in Philosophy from Harvard in 1907 and became the first African-American Rhodes Scholar. He studied at Oxford from 1907 to 1910 and then at the University of Berlin from 1910 to 1911. Locke became the head of the Philosophy Department at Howard University in 1912; meanwhile, he earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1918. He edited a number of volumes including Four Negro Poets (1927), Plays of Negro Life (1927), Negro Art: Past and Present (1936), and The Negro and His Music (1936). His most renowned work is The New Negro (1927), an anthology consisting of poetry, essays, drama, and fiction.

Locke stimulated and guided artistic activities and promoted the recognition and respect of Blacks by the total American community. ?Having studied African culture and traced its influences upon Western civilization, he urged Black painters, sculptors, and musicians to look to African sources for identity and to discover materials and techniques for their work.? He encouraged Black authors to seek subjects in Black life and to set high artistic standards for themselves.

Locke started the novel The New Negro by editing Harlem Edition of Survey Graphic (March 1925) entitled ?Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro,? which introduced American readers to the Harlem Renaissance. He then expanded the theme of The New Negro which included works by a stately collection of new artists like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Rudolph Fisher, Jean Tommer, and others; it also featured established writers like James Weldon Johnson, Claude Mckay, and W.E.B. Du Bois. In The New Negro Locke displayed works by writers who did not ?sugar coat? their situations as minorities in a racist country. These writers spoke about the grim realities of racism and poverty that Black people faced daily and encouraged their audiences to take pride and empower themselves. This indeed was the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance and the continuation and expansion of racial pride.

In Locke?s essay The New Negro, he spoke of a new generation of African-Americans that had ??a more positive self-respect and self reliance?.? This ?new Negro? was educated and communicated the idea of race pride and high self-esteem through their art. African-Americans no longer needed to wallow in self-pity, the ?new Negro? was not ashamed of where s/he came from, and in fact was proud of his/her heritage. Now the African-American race had role models who not only understood their sufferings but rejoiced in the knowledge they had learned. ?Therefore the Negro today wishes to be known for what he is, even in his faults and shortcomings, and scorns a craven and precarious survival at the price of seeming to be what he is not.? Locke advanced Du Bois? ideas for education and role models for the African-American community by also stressing African-American?s need to be more self-motivated, self-aware, and self-sufficient. He spoke about the ascent from social disenchantment to self-respect, from the feeling of societal obligation to giving back to society, and offsetting the conformity of segregated conditions to the belief in utmost esteem and acknowledgement. Locke, like Du Bois, wanted African-Americans to believe in themselves and realize how beautiful and intelligent they were. He did not want this realization to come from faults of other races: ?We wish our race pride to be a healthier, more positive achievement than a feeling based upon a realization of the shortcomings of others.? Locke informed the masses, both Black and white, about the importance of taking pride in your race and the importance self-expression via education and art. Du Bois and his contemporaries had not rose this awareness to whites. As stated in the Black Reference Library:

Renaissance self-expression had emerged in a large measure because the moralizing writings of Blacks prior to this era had failed to reach white consciences and abate racism. Much of this writing by Douglass, Du Bois, and James Weldon Johnson was of excellent caliber and truly reflected the experience of Blacks. However, it remained for Alain Locke to stress to Blacks of post-World War I America that whites were not really paying much attention, and that the time had come for Blacks to cease propagandizing and reach into themselves to express their suffering throughout art rather than pamphleteering.

For African-Americans, the awareness of the importance of racial pride did not stop with Alain Locke and his volume The New Negro. It continued to be supported and promoted throughout the Black Intelligencia. Du Bois continued to support this sentiment of racial pride through his editorials in the magazine The Crisis while Locke continued his patronage by nurturing up and coming African-American artists.

Alain Locke sponsored and promoted several African-American artists in the Black Intelligencia by featuring them in his tomes and by supporting and encouraging them. An example of one of these artists is Langston Hughes. Born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes spent his childhood years with his grandmother living in Lawrence, Kansas. He moved all over the country with is mother, including Cleveland, Detroit and Topeka. His first poems and short stories were written during his high school years. Hughes went to live with his father in Mexico for two years before decided to move to Harlem. He enrolled in Columbia University in 1921, and left after one unhappy and unsuccessful year. Hughes then went on a four-year trip around the world working as a seaman. One of the stops on the boat was Africa and after his exciting visit there he finished his first major poem, ?The Negro Speaks of Rivers?, which was published in The Crisis. Hughes returned in 1925 and enrolled at Lincoln University. During his summer breaks he would spend time in New York. It was in New York that Hughes met Locke and several other artists who helped and encouraged him. Locke introduced Hughes to Charlotte Mason, a rich white patron of African-American artists during that time. Hughes looked up to Mason and referred to her affectionately as ?Godmother,? and she viewed him as one of her ?Godchildren?. Mason helped Hughes focus on writing literature that would uplift the African-American race and supplied him with more than enough money, clothes, and writing materials to accomplish this task.

An example of the uplifting literature that Hughes wrote is the article ?The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,? which appeared in The Nation in 1926. In this article, Hughes talked about the ?racial mountains? that African-American artist must climb in order to be liberated within. Hughes believed that Black middle and upper classes tried to assimilate to the Caucasian race. They turned their noses up to anything distinctly African and loved everything distinctly white. Their children did not like being classified as African-American and tried their best to not identify with their heritage. These thoughts were understandable considering that these middle-to-upper class parents instilled these beliefs in these children since birth; Hughes writes, ??this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire as much American as possible.? Hughes then praised the lower class for displaying most cultural and self-awareness. Individuals of the lower class were not afraid of being themselves even when faced with the official standard of Caucasian America. These were people, in Hughes? opinion, that would produce great African-American artists. A great artist cannot be afraid of who they are or from where they came. An artist must overcome the mountain of racial denial and race rejection to be truly great within him/herself. They must stand alone clothed only in their brilliance and pride, pride in their race and pride in themselves, for that is the only way that they can become a true artist; ?We younger Negro artists who create now intended to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are please we are glad. If they are not, it doesn?t matter. We know we are beautiful.?

Du Bois laid a foundation by starting the consciousness of racial ride, beginning with education for African-Americans, role models for African-Americans, and the idea of giving back to the African-American community. Locke advanced this idea further by applying the sentiment of racial pride to arts like writing, painting, poetry, song, dance, etc. which brought artists like Langston Hughes into the public sphere which in turn rose awareness to all of American society, Black and white, about the importance of racial pride. These three men all have contributed immensely to the increase of consciouness of racial pride during the Harlem Renaissance.


Davis, Charles T. and Daniel Walden. Being Black: Writings by Afro-Americans from

Frederick Douglass to the Present. (Greenwich: 1970). pp. 23-33, 128-188.

Locke, Alain. The New Negro. (New York: 1925).

Merriam-Webster?s Encyclopedia of Literature. (Springfield: 1995). pp. 690-693.

Mullane, Deirdre, ed. Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-

American Writing. (New York: 1993). pp. 366-489.

Reference Library of Black America. (New York: 1990). pp. 976-978.

Watson, Steve. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture 1920-30.

(New York: 1995). pp. 1-20, 44-76, 140-164.

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