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  当前位置:首页 >> 读书 >> From Savage to Negro:Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954 >> 正文
Chapter 6: The New Negro and Cultural Politics of Race

图书名称:From Savage to Negro:Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954
图书作者:Lee D. Baker    ISBN:
出版社:Berkeley: University of California Press    出版日期:1998年

The anthropological discourse on race between the world wars was not touted at world's fairs or in other vehicles of popular culture; nor was it congruent with wider currents of public discourse.[1] Yet anthropology played important roles in the process of racial formation on both sides of the color line. Holding onto its prestige as the "science" of race and culture, anthropology began to effectively counter dominant ideas about race articulated by people in the media, southern state legislatures, and all branches of the federal government. During the 1920s and 1930s artists and intellectuals of the New Negro Movement used anthropology to help form a new identity and validate African American culture. During the 1930s and 1940s, activists, educators, and lawyers appropriated the anthropology of race as scientific proof of racial equality in order to facilitate their attempts to desegregate the very institutions that fastidiously demarcated the color line.

Cultivating the New Negro

In 1927 Arthur Huff Fauset, a Philadelphia anthropologist and educator, explained that "the New Negro has been in America for a long time. Only, everyone was so used to seeing Negroes that practically no one discovered that differences were taking place under our very eyes." He recalled that it was not until Alain Locke "packed the evidence of these differences into one single volume, calling it 'The New Negro,' that people fully realized what had been taking place."[2]

Alain Locke's 1925 book was a snapshot of the intellectuals and artists who emerged during this period of rapid change. Although African American communities had existed in northern cities for centuries, the influx of massive numbers of southern immigrants who were willing to sell their labor for next to nothing transformed the United States. What has been referred to as the Great Migration consisted of 6 million African Americans moving from a rural sharecropping system in the agrarian South to become an urbanized proletariat in the industrial North. This was roughly half of the African American population at the time and one of the largest internal migrations ever.[3] No longer were there small enclaves of African Americans in northern cities and masses of exploited and disfranchised workers on the delta of the Mississippi, in the cotton fields of the Black Belt, or in the cypress swamps in Florida. New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, St. Louis, Washington, and Newark witnessed their African American populations explode after World War I. During World War II the migration intensified, and the Black population in the cities of Portland, Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles also increased rapidly. Racial tensions pervaded the everyday lives of residents in virtually every city and suburb; the large numbers of migrants transformed local and state politics, popular culture, residence patterns, labor markets—indeed, the very idea of what it meant to be an American.

African Americans began to forcefully contest how race was constructed and to assert their economic, political, and cultural power. Marcus Garvey and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, W. E. B. Du Bois and the NAACP, and Mary Church Terrell and the National Association of Colored Women, as well as a host of churches and a myriad other social, fraternal, and economic organizations, began to assert their collective power. Newspapers such as the Harlem Crusader depicted this movement by headlining "The Old Negro Goes," exclaiming, "His abject crawling and pleading have availed the Cause nothing." The Kansas City Call captured the movement by proclaiming "The NEW NEGRO, unlike the old time Negro 'does not fear the face of day.'"[4] With new jobs, access to high-quality education, and the development of new and varied forms of organizations, African Americans combined the strategies outlined by both Washington and Du Bois but were not limited to them. Self-determination and determined desegregation, organization and political participation, artistic and industrial production all emerged as ways of resisting the system of repression routinized by lynchings, sharecropping, and Jim Crow. But new forms of despair and oppression were found in the cities. Crime, overcrowding, disease, labor disputes, and citywide pogroms tempered the enthusiasm of the so-called New Negro.

These dramatic transformations in race and class relations created a milieu from which African American intellectuals and artists developed the New Negro Movement. Certain events quickened the pursuit of racial equality, while other events curtailed that challenge. Important events were occurring all over the world. To provide the needed context, I will provide only a cursory outline of this rich history.

The candidates for the presidential elections of 1912 offered African Americans little in substance and less in hope. African Americans generally did not trust the Republican incumbent, William Howard Taft. In addition, they were leery of Theodore Roosevelt and his newly formed Progressive Republican Party, especially in the wake of Roosevelt's blatant disregard for Blacks in 1906, when he dismissed without honor and without a proper trial a whole Negro battalion stationed at Fort Brown for allegedly shooting up the town of Brownsville, Texas. This issue notwithstanding, the NAACP drafted a plank for the platform of Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" Party. The NAACP plank asserted "that distinctions of race or class in political life have no place in democracy,"[5] denounced segregation, and demanded complete enfranchisement. Roosevelt, however, complied with the wishes of his southern supporters and rejected the plank. He even revoked seats won by African American delegates to the "Bull Moose" convention. This left Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, and Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist. A. Philip Randolph, a labor organizer and the editor of the Messenger , supported Debs. Du Bois, however, believed that he "could not let Negroes throw away votes" and subsequently threw his support behind Wilson.[6] Editorials in the Messenger began to paint Du Bois as an opportunist.[7] The NAACP and other Black organizations gave Wilson the nod, though each organization recognized the gravity of the situation. If Wilson were elected, "the Presidency, the Senate, the House of Representatives and, practically, the Supreme court … [would be in] the hands of the party which a half century ago fought desperately to keep black men as real estate in the eyes of the law."[8]

Although Wilson made some overtures to "absolute fair dealing" and "justice done to the colored people," Black voters did not fully embrace the Democratic Party. In a sense they voted for Wilson by default; the field simply lacked any viable candidate. However, the African American support of Wilson, and by default the Democratic Party, is a watershed in the history of electoral politics in the United States. It signaled the imminent shift of African American support from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party.[9]

Many African Americans found Wilson's rhetoric of a new freedom encouraging and were optimistic when Wilson won the election. The Crisis echoed this optimism in an open letter to Wilson on inauguration day. "It was a step toward political independence," stated Du Bois, "and it was helping to put into power a man who has to-day the power to become the greatest benefactor of his country since Abraham Lincoln."[10]

This optimism quickly waned. The Congress that convened with the Wilson administration introduced more Jim Crow legislation than had any other. At least twenty bills proposed laws to racially segregate public transportation in the District of Columbia, as well as rest rooms in federal office buildings. Other bills attempted to exclude the immigration of people of African descent; still others proposed the exclusion of African Americans from officer commissions in the military. Although most of this legislation died on the floor, Wilson viewed it as a clear mandate. Less than six months after coming to office he issued an executive order that segregated the bathrooms and cafeterias of federal agencies in the District. Simultaneously, he implemented a plan to systematically phase out African Americans from most federal and civil positions.[11] The NAACP Board of Directors issued a stern reproach and drew a subtle parallel between repression in the United States and repression in Europe which had led to the outbreak of war. This statement was distributed to the Associated Press on August 14, 1914. It stated, in part:

Never before has the Federal Government discriminated against its civilian employees on the ground of color. Every such act heretofore has been that of an individual State…. And wherever there are men who rob the Negroes of their votes, who exploit and degrade and insult and lynch those whom they call their inferiors, there [will be] this mistaken action of the Federal Government [which] will be cited as the warrant for new racial outrages that cry out to high Heaven for redress…. Who can deny that every act of discrimination the world over breeds fresh injustice?[12]

In 1915 most Americans were closely watching German submarines in the Atlantic, but African Americans were closely watching a retooled,

Figure 10.
The entertainment value of burning flesh. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

officially incorporated, and efficiently organized Ku Klux Klan (KKK) that was spreading throughout the nation. The ideological edict of the new KKK was decidedly broadened: in addition to Negroes, it now sought to persecute Jews, southern European immigrants, and Catholics. Even labor organizers and political radicals felt the wrath of the unscrupulous KKK.[13] It fueled a new surge of lynchings that reached almost a hundred that year. Tacked onto the number of African American lynchings were the murders of more than twenty-five European immigrants killed in a similar fashion.[14] Lynching via the public hanging or live burning emerged as a type of American pastime (Figure 10). In 1916, for example, there was the horrible public burning of Jesse Washington in Waco, Texas, before a mob of thousands of men, women, and children:

While a fire was being prepared of boxes, the naked boy was stabbed and the chain put over the tree. He tried to get away, but could not. He reached up to grab the chain and they cut off his fingers. The big man struck the boy on the back of the neck with a knife just as they were pulling him up on the tree. Mr.—thought that was practically the death blow. He was lowered into the fire several times by means of the chain around his neck.[15]

The birth of the revamped KKK was concurrent with the release of the first full-length feature film, The Birth of a Nation, produced by D. W. Griffith and based on Thomas Dixon's virulently racist book The Clansman (1905). The film followed the book and captured its leitmotiv. It heralded the triumphs of the KKK, which supposedly saved the South after the Civil War. Griffith's original title for the film mirrored that of the book, but he changed it to "match the picture's greatness."

Two overarching themes ran through the film: the first suggested that the KKK had been responsible for quelling the unrest in the South after the Civil War; the second suggested that African Americans had been the cause of all the problems in the United States. The film was effectively framed by the subtitle that introduced the prologue: "The bringing of the Africans to America planted the first seeds of disunion." This film emphasized repeatedly that the African presence in the United States served as the only barrier to a unified country. Du Bois observed that it "fed to the young of the nation and to the unthinking masses as well as to the world a story which twisted the emancipation and enfranchisement of the slave in great effort toward universal democracy, into an orgy of theft and degradation and wide rape of white women."[16]

Griffith's use of history paralleled Brinton's, McGee's, and Shaler's use of ethnology. The ethnologists reproduced popular images by cloaking the representation of Negro inferiority with the authority of scientific anthropology. Griffith reproduced the images by veiling the representation of Negro inferiority in the authority of documented history. In fact, he offered to contribute $10,000 to charity if the NAACP could "find a single incident in the play that was not historic."[17]

At key junctures in the plot, Griffith stopped the moving picture and inserted still photography underscored by subtitles from Woodrow Wilson's book A History of the American People (1902). These stills accompanied texts and were called "historic facsimiles." Ostensibly the film was authentic because it was framed by quotations from the historic record. By quoting the current president of the United States, Griffith invariably buttressed the authenticity and lent credibility to his story. Not only was Wilson president, he had academic credentials as a noted historian and as the former president of Princeton University.

Griffith's feature film functioned in the same way as Nathaniel Shaler's articles in fifteen-cent monthlies had some twenty years earlier. Both cast enduring racial stereotypes under the guise of an academic discourse within a popular medium. Griffith merely recycled the profitable images found in the Darktown comics, minstrel shows, popular fiction, advertising, cartoons, and the like. Compared with Shaler's texts, Griffith's moving picture had a far more pervasive impact on how Americans visualized ideas about racial inferiority. Griffith portrayed African American men as innately brutal, eternally sadistic, excessively drunken, lawless, and riotous—and perpetually lusting after White women. African American women, on the other hand, were depicted either as over-sexed mulattoes or as bossy, overprotective, and asexual mammies. Mythical Negroes—mostly played by White actors in blackface—were shown arrogantly abusing Whites in their attempt to take over the government of the Old South. Following scenes depicting the Negro's total inability to hold power, the film vividly exploited and solidified into so-called historic fact the alleged justification for lynching Black men: the degenerate Black brute always lusts shamelessly after and rapes White women. The pure white flower of southern womanhood, then, must be defended by the chivalrous and noble Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Members of the press and of Congress, as well as Woodrow Wilson himself, heralded the didactic value of the film. They also attested to its veracity. Columnist Dorothy Dix called the movie "history vitalized" and urged people to "go see it … for it will make better Americans of you." Booth Tarkington, a notable novelist, Claude Kitchin, a congressional representative from North Carolina, and other literary and political figures all allowed themselves to be quoted in advertisements proclaiming the educational value of the film.[18] One prominent preacher from the North publicly stated that "a boy can learn more true history and get more of the atmosphere of the period by sitting three hours before the film which Mr. Griffith has produced with such artistic skill than by weeks and months of study in the classroom."[19] After viewing it at the White House, Woodrow Wilson even chimed in and stated, "It's like writing history with lighting and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true."[20]

During the first decade and a half of the twentieth century, movie houses normally held a film for only a few days. Griffith's work shattered this standard. It ran for ten months in New York City and twenty-two weeks in Los Angeles. It enjoyed similar engagements in other markets. Contemporary estimates of the numbers of people who saw it during the first year alone range upward from 5 million.[21] The feature-film industry was launched with The Birth of a Nation and therefore born by profiting from odious images of Black people; furthermore, it fell right in line with the other vehicles of popular culture that produced images of African Americans which ultimately reinforced Jim Crow. Feature films were more powerful, more ubiquitous, and, in effect, more veracious than other media, however. Griffith seared images of degraded Negroes into the minds of millions. A whole new generation of consumers of American mass media was fed the same old stereotypes to shape images of African Americans. Although the NAACP led boycotts and tried to educate the public about the film's misrepresentation, there was a powerful synergistic relationship between its overwhelming popularity and the ideology that held firm to the belief in Negro inferiority.[22]

The NAACP became the organization that Black people looked to for leadership and direction in the struggle for civil rights. With the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915 the Tuskegee Machine waned. The NAACP waxed, especially in the leadership it began to shoulder in state and federal courts. It won its first cases before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1915 and 1917. The first case in which it participated was Guinn v. United States,[23] in which the Court found the "grandfather clause" in Maryland and Oklahoma statutes unconstitutional under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments. The NAACP was party to the case only as amicus curiae (friend of the court), but the powerful brief submitted by Moorfield Storey, the past president of the American Bar Association, an eminent Massachusetts jurist, and then-president of the NAACP, proved critical to the Court's decision.[24] In 1917 Storey won Buchanan v. Warley .[25] This case struck down a law passed by the Louisville, Kentucky, City Council that imposed residential racial segregation as part of a "de-uglification" project. It was an important case because similar statutes were springing up all over the country, especially in the wake of the rapid increase in African American migrants to the North and West. The Court found that the Louisville statute was in violation of the 1870 Civil Rights Act, which clearly stated that "all citizens of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property." These cases were important beginnings, but the precedents they set were quickly eroded or circumvented.[26]

In six years the NAACP developed from a small organization of radical agitators on the periphery to a national organization of staid lobbyists, lawyers, and organizers who moved quickly to the center. The organization was well established, well respected, and well organized, and it began to adopt a centrist position in order to better serve its broadening base of constituents. Thousands of people, Black and White, were incorporating local chapters across the nation. Charged with the mandate to advance colored people, the leadership of the organization became entwined in the complex web of racialized politics in the United States.[27]

When the United States joined the Allies in World War I, the NAACP was forced to come out in support of U.S. involvement. The NAACP was then forced to negotiate a contradictory position: although it could support the government's entry into the war to lead the people in the Western world to social justice, self-determination, and democracy, it could not support the federal government's consistent abrogation of democratic ideals on the home front. The federal government was party to oppressing Blacks with Jim Crow laws and disfranchisement while virtually condoning mob violence. Joel Spingarn, chair of the NAACP board, believed that the war effort would provide an opportunity for African Americans at home and abroad. He was a strong advocate of American intervention. This position, however, translated into the NAACP's begging the War Department to let Negroes die for the country—a country which offered African Americans little protection under the law. The NAACP was successful in pressuring the War Department into establishing a special, segregated officer-training camp and making Negro regiments combatant, as opposed to only service, personnel.

Du Bois was critical of the war effort and was, initially, a dissident on the NAACP board, which overwhelmingly supported U.S. involvement. Exercising the editorial freedom he had over the Crisis, he castigated the war effort when members of 24th Colored Infantry were summarily sentenced after being provoked and, arguably, defending themselves in a race riot in Houston, Texas. The War Department and the Committee on Public Information subsequently organized a mandatory meeting for all the editors of the Black press. The committee wanted to ensure a united front. It received only perfunctory compliance, but A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen kept true to the leftist tradition of the Messenger .

Ostensibly protected by the First Amendment, they wrote that a war between capitalists, exploiters, and colonizers was not a war for the colored citizens of the United States. Predictably, both were indicted and found guilty of seditious activity. They lost their second-class mailing privileges and received sentences that included incarceration.[28] When allegations surfaced that members of the NAACP were participating in seditious activities, agents from the War Department investigated its New York offices. In a curt retort to one of the agent's queries, Du Bois leaned back in his chair and responded smugly: "We are seeking to have the Constitution of the United States thoroughly and completely enforced."[29]

Du Bois eventually came out in support of the war after being pressured by the leadership of the organization. His support, however, could be seen as a concession to President Wilson, who broke his long silence on lynching and also began to commission Negro officers on a regular basis. Du Bois wrote a famous editorial, "Close Ranks," for the July 1918 issue of the Crisis . The piece was written in the midst of reports that kept coming over the wires extolling the gallantry of African American troops and the patriotic fervor that was roaring through the country. Du Bois wrote: "That which the German power represents today spells death to the aspirations of Negroes and all darker races for equality, freedom and democracy. Let us not hesitate. Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy."[30] What is political pragmatism for one is opportunism for another. Du Bois was quickly criticized for his position, and parallels were drawn by more radical writers between his position and the conciliatory positions of Booker T. Washington.[31]

The Black troops in the European theater were not concerned about the position of the NAACP regarding American intervention. They were more concerned with proving to the rest of the world that they could fight as well as or better than their White counterparts. African Americans served gallantly and courageously in combat and in service during the war. The 371st and 372d Infantry Regiments were welcomed and integrated into the French forces. Winning medals for distinguished service from the French as well as the American governments was commonplace for African American soldiers. Black soldiers were also awarded newfound freedom in Paris and other European cities.

Negro troops did not only win medals and appreciation. African Americans lost their lives in numbers disproportionate to those for White Americans. In addition, they endured humiliation on a daily basis and often worked and fought in the most squalid and dangerous situations. Black troops were also subjected to some of Germany's most intense propaganda schemes. For example, on September 12, 1918, the 92d Division was engaged in a campaign against the German forces. The German forces tried to persuade the Negro troops to desert their lines, lay down their weapons, and come to Germany, where they would be treated like "gentlemen." The lines were littered with circulars that stated, in part:


What is Democracy? Personal freedom, all citizens enjoying the same rights socially and before the law. Do you enjoy the same rights as the white people do in America, the land of Freedom and Democracy, or are you rather not treated over there as second-class citizens? Can you go into a restaurant where white people dine? Can you get a seat in the theater where white people sit? … Is lynching and the most horrible crimes connected therewith a lawful proceeding in a democratic country?[32]

None of the soldiers deserted. African Americans were also the subject of American propaganda directed at both French civilians and military personnel. For example, Secret Information concerning Black Troops was one of the many documents circulated widely in France. This document only reiterated the terse warning White American soldiers gave French civilians regarding their Black counterparts. It stated that the Negro troops must be segregated, lest the Negro assault and rape White women. Evidently, French soldiers, civilians, and officers ignored all of the reports, for they continued to welcome African Americans in their homes and establishments.[33]

One of the major stateside events during the war years was the great exodus of Black people from the South to the North. Although the Great Migration had begun several years earlier, hundreds of thousands of migrants were still flooding into the cities along the northeastern seaboard and up the Mississippi River to fill the industrial jobs created by the war. Most African Americans supported the war wholeheartedly. They bought war bonds and went to work in the war industries with a heightened pitch of patriotism. During the preceding years European immigration had been substantially curbed. This left a void in the labor market in the northern industrial cities. African American men and women enthusiastically filled the wage-labor shortage created by the war. Injustice in the southern courts, continued lynchings and pogroms, boll weevils that destroyed the cotton market, entrenched Jim Crow segregation, poor schools, disfranchisement, and the lose-lose cycle of tenant farming were all important reasons influencing African Americans to move North to "the Promised Land." These factors, as well as empty promises of wealth, prosperity, and security, were emphasized by agents of northern industrialists who were sent to the South to recruit workers by the thousands to fill the void left by the lack of immigrant labor.[34]

The pogroms continued. In 1917 more than 3,000 families in Tennessee responded to a newspaper advertisement to witness the public burning of a live Negro. Many children witnessed the event and were taught the entertainment value of pouring ten gallons of gasoline over an innocent man and then igniting it, while screams of helplessness and the smell of burning flesh filled the air. That same year East St. Louis exploded in race hatred. White workers in a plant that held government contracts protested the company's hiring of nonunion migrants. Notwithstanding the fact that the union did not accept Black members, their fellow laborers retaliated against the entire Black community of East St. Louis with mass destruction. One hundred and twenty-five African Americans were killed, and hundreds of others were maimed. Their homes were looted, then leveled. African Americans were shot, clubbed, stabbed, and hanged. A two-year-old child was shot and left for dead in a burning doorway.

In July 1917 the NAACP organized a march down New York's Fifth Avenue—a "Silent Protest" against the violence in East St. Louis and elsewhere. Some 15,000 Negroes marched silently to the cadence of somber drums, holding hands and placards that posed such haunting questions as "Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?" or "Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?"[35]

After the armistice the troops were welcomed home with pomp and circumstance. On February 17, 1919, New York's 15th Infantry Regiment, attached to the 369th and the first Negro regiment in the French army, returned home with medals of valor, distinction, and hard-won honor. The troops marched proudly up the avenues of Manhattan fully adorned in their finest regalia—the same avenues through which the NAACP had marched a year and a half earlier. Though diametrically opposed in tenor, the marchers offered an identical message: there was a New Negro who, collectively, was asserting and demanding social, political, and racial equality.

The New Negro: Changing Urban Space into Their Place

Congregated in densely populated urban spaces, African Americans were engaged in complex processes that sought to define their place in America's cultural landscape. In New York City they sought to create Black Manhattan, Harlem, Negro Metropolis, or simply Nigger Heaven.[36] Implicitly and explicitly, the New Negroes were engaged in constructing an empowered racial identity or a "race consciousness" and in shoring up their cultural moorings by looking to Africa to establish their cultural "heritage." Although it was happening in virtually every urban center, the residents of uptown Manhattan took the lead in raising race consciousness and validating their heritage for the rest of the country.

After World War I and the so-called Red Summer of 1919, when twenty-six race riots erupted, the African American voice took on a decidedly militant tone. Instead of knowing their place, uplifting the race, or fighting from being kept down, African Americans organized proactive institutions with increased vigor. The older and more established organizations began to reap benefits from years of agitation. The National Association for Colored Women, the NAACP, the National Urban League, the UNIA, and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters all became important associations that sought to effect change and affect lives. In concert, these organizations helped to redefine the role African Americans would play in the U.S. political landscape for the balance of the century. Although some of the African American organizations were antithetical to each other, many effectively built alliances or negotiated divisions of labor. The organizations garnered national and international support and began to transcend racial issues. Many of them built coalitions with White organizations around such key issues as women's suffrage, equal rights for women, poverty, and labor.

While the militant voice of the New Negro was heard in politics, it became deafening in the arts. The explosion of new and experimental forms of artistic expression by African Americans between the world wars redefined American art, particularly in the areas of prose, poetry, music, drama, and painting. American literature and poetry were transformed by writers like Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, Jessie Fauset, Anne Spencer, Arna Bontemps, Angelina Grimké, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Jean Toomer, and Countee Cullen, to name only a few. There were also playwrights, actors, sculptors, and painters. Jazz came of age during this era, and Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, and numerous others helped to redefine American music. Nonfiction was also an important genre that emerged alongside the arts. Magazines like the Crisis, Messenger, and Opportunity (the organ for the National Urban League) provided an important vehicle for both Black and White social scientists to read and write about critical issues regarding African American life and culture. In most cases African American social scientists were motivated by activism and the need to develop strategies to solve social problems.

In addition, they followed their artistic counterparts and ignored discipline-specific boundaries by blurring the lines that delineated them. In this respect the scholars who emerged during the New Negro Movement foreshadowed multidisciplinary approaches to research.

Although each engaged in research across discipline boundaries, Rayford Logan, Carter G. Woodson, and Arthur A. Schomburg were established historians, and Ralph Bunche was a trained political scientist. Ira De A. Reid, E. Franklin Frazier, Charles Johnson, Kelly Miller, and George Edmond Haynes were sociologists, while Zora Neale Hurston, Arthur H. Fauset, Irene Diggs, and Katherine Dunham were trained in cultural anthropology and folklore. Abram L. Harris, Allison Davis, and St. Clair Drake carefully pursued economics and social anthropology.

Without a doubt, the African American political, scientific, philosophical, and aesthetic movement of the interwar years changed the fabric of American culture. For the first time there was a concerted effort to challenge the derisive and stereotypical images of African Americans produced by blackface minstrelsy, magazine publishers, and racist science. Henry L. Gates, Jr. has pointed out that "to call the Harlem Renaissance a 'New Negro' movement is to describe exactly what its visual and verbal artists sought to create: a largely unregistered, unimagined image of the Noble Negro that would destroy forever the confusing, limited range of black stereotypes that every artist had to confront."[37]

The New Negro Movement was, at times, conscripted and audaciously promoted by the very intellectuals who saw themselves emerging from it. These intellectuals (far from elite, but not working in factories or keeping someone's house) were attempting to make a racial identity out of an American racial order that still shut them out. This construction was undertaken largely in cultural terms and largely for sociopolitical reasons. However, attempts to raise race consciousness led to a paradox that traumatized Du Bois and perplexed many others. What many African Americans (save for the followers of the UNIA) were struggling for was integration, equality, and, above all, to be Americans. However, in order to reach this end, the NAACP and other organizations had to mobilize people and foster a sense of us-versus-them. So, on the one hand, they espoused the rhetoric that race does not matter; but on the other hand, to reach the goal of integration, they had to promote the significance of race.[38]

To reconcile this paradox and anchor their mobilization efforts, many Black intellectuals looked to African American culture. In effect, they strove to transform a racial identity into an ethnic identity. However, there were various tensions between the artists, shapers of public opinion, and organizers. A. Phillip Randolph, W. A. Domingo, and other labor leaders focused on quelling the exploitation of the working class across racial lines, Du Bois and the NAACP focused on ensuring full civil and political rights, and Marcus Garvey focused on securing Africa for the Africans. And, as Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. notes, the literary artists actually "transformed the militancy associated with the trope [of a New Negro] and translated this into an apolitical movement of the arts."[39] Although Gates looks to writers like the novelist Jessie Fauset to help explain how certain writers diluted Black vernacular oral traditions by "imitating those they least resembled," other writers like her sibling Arthur embellished African American culture by promoting and accentuating its African origins. Producing studies on Negro folklore emerged as an effective way to advance this particular agenda. Far from imitating Whites, Zora Neale Hurston did not even bother to collect folklore from African Americans when she deemed its origins inappropriate. From the field, she reported to Franz Boas: "I thought you might be interested in the Bahamas. The Negroes there are more African, [they] actually know the tribes from which their ancestors came…. Now in the stories, I have omitted all Pat and Mike [Irish] stories. It is obvious that these are not negroid, but very casual borrowings. The same goes for the Jewish and Italian stories."[40]

Collecting folklore did not necessarily reconcile but perhaps magnified the paradox of whether race mattered. Nathan Huggins, writing in the early 1970s, suggested that this paradox "crippled the art" of the movement because it led to "a provincialism which forever limits [the] possibility of achieving good art; but without it the perplexities of identity are exacerbated by confusion of a legitimate heritage."[41] Although he unabashedly stated that "good art" transcends universal themes, he argued that the Harlem Renaissance failed because integral aspects of Negro identity formation was contingent on White patrons who desired a new type of minstrel show which depicted Negro culture as exotic and primitive.[42] And although Harold Cruse indicted the New Negro Movement for "evading the issue of nationalism and its economic imperatives for the Negro community," Houston Baker identified the tricksterlike agency of the movement's promoters who "thought of black expressive culture as a reservoir from which a quintessentially Afro-American spirit flowed."[43] It is obviously difficult to generalize about the New Negro Movement, because it was as multifarious as its many histories. One of the histories that has not been explored is the relationship between members of the American Folk-Lore Society (AFLS) and the promoters of the New Negro Movement, who together advanced an important cultural project during the interwar years.


1. Pole, Pursuit of Equality, 299. For example, we have seen that Boas's attempts to popularize the "new" anthropology were thwarted.

2. Arthur Huff Fauset, For Freedom: A Biographical Sketch of the American Negro (Philadelphia: Franklin Publishing and Supply, 1927), 79.

3. Nicholas Lemann, The Promised Land (New York: Knopf, 1991), 6; Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 291, 294.

4. David Levering Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue (New York: Knopf, 1981), 24.

5. Du Bois, "Dusk of Dawn," 725.

6. Du Bois was forced to resign from New York Local No. 1 of the Socialist Party because he did not publicly support the Debs ticket (ibid., 726).

7. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 34.

8. W. E. B. Du Bois, "An Open Letter to Woodrow Wilson," Crisis 5 (1913): 236.

9. Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 334; Du Bois, "Open Letter to Woodrow Wilson," 236; Du Bois, "Dusk of Dawn," 726; Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 31.

10. Du Bois, "Open Letter to Woodrow Wilson," 236.

11. Herbert Aptheker, ed., A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States: From the N.A.A.C.P. to the New Deal (New York: Citadel Press, 1990 [1973]), 65; Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 334.

12. Aptheker, Documentary History, 65.

13. See Arnold S. Rice and John A. Krout, United States History from 1865 (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 209; John B. Kirby, Black Americans in the Roosevelt Era: Liberalism and Race (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980), 4.

14. Du Bois, "Dusk of Dawn," 730.

15. Ibid., 731.

16. Ibid., 729.

17. Daniel J. Leab, From Sambo to Superspade (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), 23-27.

18. Ibid., 36.

19. Ibid.

20. Aptheker, Documentary History, 87; Lewis Jacobs, The Rise of American Film (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1939), 175; Donald Bogle, Toms, Coans, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks (New York: Bantam Books, 1974), 11.

21. Leab, From Sambo to Superspade, 34.

22. There were wide dimensions to this film. White women were depicted as helpless, irrational, and hopeless; African American women were depicted in a different but similarly sexist way. Women's suffrage was being debated at this juncture in American history, and these portrayals of women on both sides of the color line effectively framed the notion that women were not competent to vote. The NAACP vigorously fought, protested, and launched a boycott of the movie. However, they were caught in the sticky dilemma between racist representation and censorship.

23. 238 US 347 (1915).

24. Kluger, Simple Justice, 104.

25. 245 US 60 (1917).

26. Kluger, Simple Justice, 109.

27. Toni Morrison, ed., Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), ix.

28. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 38.

29. Du Bois, "Dusk of Dawn," 734.

30. W. E. B. Du Bois, "Close Ranks," in W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader, edited by David Levering Lewis (New York: Henry Holt, 1995 [1918]), 697.

31. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 34. In 1944 Du Bois reflected on this admittedly "crazy" position in "My Evolving Program for Negro Freedom," first published in Rayford Logan's What the Negro Wants (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944):

The struggle was bitter: I was fighting to let the Negroes fight; I, who for a generation had been a professional pacifist; I was fighting for a separate training camp for Negro officers; I, who was devoting a career to opposing race segregation; I was seeing the Germany which taught me the human brotherhood of white and black, pitted against America which was for me the essence of Jim Crow; and yet I was "rooting" for America; and I had to, even before my own conscience, so utterly crazy had the whole world become and I with it.

(W. E. B. Du Bois, "My Evolving Program for Negro Freedom," in Writings by W. E. B. Du Bois in Non-Periodical Literature Edited by Others, ed. Herbert Aptheker [Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus-Thomson Organization, 1982 (1944)], 234).

32. Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 344.

33. Ibid., 346; Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 54.

34. Sadie Tanner Mossell, "The Standard of Living among One Hundred Negro Migrant Families in Philadelphia," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 98 (1921): 173.

35. Du Bois, "Dusk of Dawn," 738; Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom, 352; James Weldon Johnson, Black Manhattan (New York: Knopf, 1930), 237; Roscoe E. Lewis, "The Role of Pressure Groups in Maintaining Morale among Negroes," Journal of Negro Education 12 (1943): 464.

36. Numerous authors attempted to document this process of carving out a "New Negro" from the urban landscape: Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (New York: Atheneum, 1968 [1925]); Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968 [1940]); Johnson, Black Manhattan; Carl Van Vechten, Nigger Heaven (New York: Knopf, 1926). This idea is gleaned from Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991) and Akhil Gupta and James Ferguson, "Beyond 'Culture': Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference," Cultural Anthropology 7 (1992): 6-23. I think Anderson's notion of how groups invent imagined communities to foster a sense of nationhood was what "the promoters" or Black intellectuals were doing in Harlem during the 1920s, when they were trying to foster "race consciousness" for political purposes.

37. Henry Lewis Gates Jr., "New Negroes, Migration, and Cultural Exchange," in Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, ed. Elizabeth H. Turner (Washington, D.C.: Rappahannock Press, 1993), 20.

38. Appiah, In My Father's House, 30.

39. Henry Lewis Gates Jr., "The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black," Representations 24 (1988): 147.

40. Hurston to Boas, October 20, 1929, APS.

41. Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 308.

42. Ibid., 124-133.

43. Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual: A Historical Analysis of the Failure of Black Leadership (New York: Quill, 1967 [1984]), 25; Houston A. Baker Jr., Afro-American Poetics: Revisions of Harlem and the Black Aesthetic (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 5.

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