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The Harlem Renaissance And The "New Negro"

1405 words - 6 pages

As white soldiers and soldiers of color returned home from the devastation of World War I, many African Americans thought that fighting for their country and the democracy it championed would finally win them total equality at home. However, they found themselves marching home to fight a “sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land” (Du Bois “Returning Soldiers”). They fought against atrocities abroad only to return to an even more horrifying day to day reality. Their children could not attend schools with white children, most were stripped of their right to vote, and racial violence by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were everyday occurrences. “In an era marked by race riots, a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and new brands of scientific racism, the New Negro of the Harlem Renaissance embraced black beauty, African roots, and African folk wisdom while projecting urban sophistication, celebrating the social and biological mixing of the races, and holding out for democratic practices that reflected democratic ideals” (Ferguson viii). What began in 1890 that became known as the Great Migration lured thousands of African Americans to the north, where they felt that they could reach a better life with more opportunity than by remaining in the south (“The Harlem Renaissance”). They found themselves excluded from society in the north as well, secluded to predominantly black communities like Harlem, New York. In these ever growing pockets of outcasted communities, an outburst of culture flourished off of the resentment, angst, and frustration of the citizens that resided there. The very country they had fought for, the fellow citizens that they would have died to protect, had shunned them, but they were no longer going to lie down and accept a world without change. They wanted to prove to the United States and the world that they were deserving of fair treatment, so they erupted in a sudden burst of culture, enticing black and white audiences alike. The Harlem Renaissance was the first major stepping stone in full racial equality in the United States, and the ripples of this tremendous event were felt well into the 1960s.

The Harlem Renaissance began with an idea, the unifying portrayal of the “New Negro.” “The New Negro demands political equality. The New Negro stands for universal suffrage. He stands for absolute and unequivocal ‘social equality’. He is tolerant. He would restore free speech, a free press, and freedom of assemblage” (Randolph and Owen, "The New Negro-What Is He?"). This picture of the ideal African American citizen, who “he” could be, was a perspective that was enticing to all black citizens during this time. The rights they were denied, the hardships and cruelties they suffered, their whole experience united them. By the template of the New Negro, Alain Locke wrote that “Harlem represents the Negro’s latest thrust towards democracy” by the “fusing of sentiment and experience” (Locke, "Harlem...

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