This is the second issue of the research and creative edition of the Southern University Bulletin. As it is released from the press, Southern University wishes to acknowledge, with deepest thanks, appreciation for the manner in which the previous issue was received. This reception thoroughly justified our original qualms with reference to the need and appreciation of such an undertaking. In fact we have been somewhat embarrassed because we could not supply the number of bulletins requested. Naturally, we should prefer this condition rather than the opposite.
Our point of view at Southern is that the quality of research or creative effort is not measured by abstractness, distance from immediate problems and the extent to which there has been pursuit by particular individuals. To us, an unsolved significant problem, and ability, are the main requisites. Thus, in this current issue are presented some thoughts which we think are relatively new but which are definitely related to the local scene. At the same time, their ramifications do transcend this area. Also, we have the good fortune to give our readers the benefit of contributions coming from those outside the Southern University faculty. We believe that this additional exploration in content and method is a distinct contribution to our original effort.
Finally, it is the hope of Southern University that the present National Emergency will not necessitate the curtailment of further publications. If the threat does arise every effort will be made, wisely to find a way out.
FELTON G. CLARK,
President, Southern University
CREATIVE AND RESEARCH ISSUE 5
Head, Social Science Department, Southern University
Wilhelm Windelband concluded his History of Philosophy with the following summary statement:
“The history of philosophy presents the process in which European humanity has embodied in scientific conceptions its view of the world and judgment of human life.”
The Negro of the United States has not as yet attained this high level of intellectual expression. Faint traces, however, are on the horizon, as one can detect in the thoroughgoing naturalistic, Weltanschauung of Ernest Just’s Biology of the Cell Surface and in the philosophical principles underlying the psychological, valuational, and sociological teachings of Richard Wright’s Native Son. Recency of entrance into Western civilization as a free individual has been the deterring factor in prevention of a systematic and scientific statement of the feelings, attitudes, reflections, and plans of action of the American Negro.
The clearest and. completest expression of the mind and thought of the Negro is not found in his philosophy but in his imaginative literature. Philosophical literature is practically non-existent. The oratory of race leaders, too, is inadequate since it is inclined to emphasize the point of view of the orator and, in most instances, has been altered in the interest of policy. Imaginative literature (the poems, novels, and poetic prose of Negro writers) embodies both the feelings of these writers as the vanguard of racial thinking as well as those of the various strata typified in the characters. The writings of white literary artists, too, may depict the mind and thought of the Negro, but in confining interpretation largely to Negro authors the subject matter is directly the concrete and total expression of a Negro. If it is subjective to the extreme, it is, never-
theless the defensive thought of a Negro; if relatively true to life then that, too is the thought of the Negro.
The historical development of the mind and thought of the Negro is one of the neglected fields in the study of race relations. Truly some few writers have touched upon it. Anthologies like those by Cromwell, Turner and Dites, and Woodson’s Negro Orators and their Orations are valuable sources; but the major emphasis is upon style, the oration, the poem, or the story as an art form. DuBois suggested in The Souls of Black Folk a dialectical development (sociological, not logical and a priori) of Negro thought: revenge (Cato and the Danish blacks), adjustment (Phyllis Wheatley), self realization despite environing opinion (Vesey, Turner, Allen, Wells, Brown, Douglass). Such an interpretation is interesting but suffers from insufficient explanation and elaboration by means of abundant evidence. The author mentions it cursorily, and the instances cited to describe the mind and thought of an entire age are applicable only to a few individuals. Belief in a special talent, a Negro genius, blinds interpreters like the late Benjamin Brawley to the determinative effect of social factors upon the Negro mind and his thought. Having begun with the psychological hypothesis of a race soul or mind they see all Negro thought and action as the unfolding of an inner gift for the artistic, the expressive, or the dramatic. They see no connection between tension resulting from social pressure and the Negro’s laughter, his imagery, and his rich, volatile emotions. Moton’s What the Negro Thinks is not specific in pointing out just what Negro the author has in mind. It suffers, too, from the fact that it reveals no clear understanding of the meaning of mind and thought’ it merely states the “beliefs” of Negroes. The profounder aspects of psychic activity so fundamental to the interpretation of the thinking of oppressed minority groups, such as, the dominant wish, the time-historical perspective, hierarchy of values, and self-consciousness, are unappreciated. It is true for the Negro more so than for any other American group that the social situation enters into the very constitution of his mind, veritably makes his mind and determines the origin and development of his attitudes, feelings, and plans of action.
It is a curious commentary upon the culturally-deadening effects of slavery that the first truly great American Negro writer appeared during the generation immediately after Emancipation. The works of Paul Laurence Dunbar stand out because of their quality rather than because the author was a Negro. Because his was the first significant expression in imaginative literature by a Negro in the United States, because he was born just four years before the restoration of “white home rule” to the South, and because his poetry
in a very profound, yea, subtle manner portrays the mind and thought of the Negro during the last quarter of the nineteenth century his works become the starting point from which to trace the development of the mind and thought of the Negro of today. From the times of Dunbar the subject will be extended to 1940.
Since the end of Reconstruction and the emergence of the Negro into American life as self-dependent minority rather than as “wards of the government” the thought of the race has passed thru three stages and entered a fourth: (1) The Disillusioned Freedman 1876-98; a Co-worker in the Kingdom of Culture, 1898-1914; The New Negro or Black Dionysus 1914-30; and Native Son 1930-40. Dates are always arbitrary, for one period invariably overlaps another but they serve, at least, to mark the general tendencies of the times. It is understood, however, that the date of publication of a poem or novel is no indication of the period to which the characters belong. Turpin’s These Low Grounds, e. g., covers the period from 1860 to the thirties of the next century.
Over the span of some sixty-four years there appear certain indices to the type of mentality possessed by the Negro and to the direction of development of his thought. These are as follows: (1) Opposition of Negroes to the restrictive practices of American democracy; to the “ideological” element of American democracy preventing actualization of its egalitarian principles; (2) social philosophies propounded by the apologists of groups similarly circumstanced; (3) the development of Negro education, its changing values, status, and personnel; (4) population shifts of the Negro from rural to urban environments; and from South to North; (5) class mobility within the race; (6) the relative power of the church in the Negro community and its competition with other institutions for control of the Negro mind.
Opposition to the “ideological” element within American democracy has given the Negro mind the counter-thought pattern, Utopian. The dominant wish of the emancipated Negro has been and remains Equality just as that of the old slave was Freedom, an emotive rather than a concretely understood concept but charged with greater reality because of that very fact. Even when the idea of Equality is not being openly promulgated as such it is present all the while, and manifestly so, in the compromises, dissimulations, yearnings, and strivings of the Negro. Whether imitating the white world thru color preferences, whether lauding vocational or liberal education, whether lauding things black and the appearance of a New Negro, or whether coming face to face with the problem that he, as other
men, is a product of historical and socio-economic forces, the one concept reconciling all the contradictory likes and dislikes of the various classes of Negroes is the dominant wish, Equality. In the words of G. W. Allport it is the cardinal trait enabling the arrangement of the behavior of the individuals, of each and of all strata of Negroes within a teleonomic continuum. The history of the thought of the Negro is in a sense, the history of his struggle for equality: from the brooding disillusioned years of the eighties and nineties to the awakening at the turn of the century in organized efforts to attain political and civil rights; from the praise of intrinsic racial values, self-expression and expanse in the New Negro era to the conception of self as one more of the exploited unfortunate of the American and world order during the decade of the Great Depression.
THE DISILLUSIONED FREEDMAN, 1876-1898
During the approximate quarter century, 1876-98, the status of the Negro in the American social order declined. In the year, 1876 the South was yielded “White Home Rule.” The Supreme Court of the United States declared the Civil Rights Bill unconstitutional in 1883 and by 1890 systematic disfranchisement of the Negro in the South was underway. Economically the United States leaped to the forefront as the world’s leading producer but the Negro worker sank to a position even below that of the newly arriving immigrants of Europe. The triumph of the American Federation of Labor over the Knights of Labor meant the victory of craft unionism over industrial brotherhood and business unionism over egalitarianism. Negro skilled workers were eliminated by more advantageously situated white men supported by all-white trade unions. Between 1880-90 thirty strikes against employment of Negroes were staged. The black worker in the major industries had to accept the casual employment of a “strikebreaker”. In agriculture he became largely a peon in a vicious system of farm tenancy. Race confIict was unprecedentedly great. The Ku Klux Klan spread terror by its secrecy, its incendarism, and mass murders. In 1892 the number of Negroes lynched reached 155. As if science conspired to make the lot of the Negro harder the Darwinian theory of evolution popularized the idea of the prowess of the strong; it also made plausible the idea of a hierarchization of peoples and cultures according to the degree of their convergence on the primitive. In literature Thomas Nelson Page glorified the “Old South” and drew pictures of slaves contented and happy with their lot.
Before this deluge of political, economic, scientific and literary opprobrium the freedman was powerless. Fight back, if he would,
his efforts were unavailing. Greener, “Pap” Singleton, and Adams advised flight from the South. The great Douglass advocated remaining in the Southland and reconstruction of the Republican Party. Price preached “the balm of consistent religion”. Booker T. Washington realized, (and his social philosophy was an effort to make adjustment to) the desperate state of the times. In the famous Atlanta address he pictured the South and the Negro particularly, as a “ship at sea” in need of water. His policy of appeasement was based upon an appreciation of the dire realities of the time, realities that could be edged away only by a long time policy of assimilation. The majority of Negroes remained in the South, resigned to their fate rather than attempt the North and competition of white workers.
It is the feelings, attitudes, reflections, and plans of action, the experiences of the disillusioned freedman newly emancipated from two and one-half centuries of grueling slavery, permitted to taste briefly of the plums of public office and then thrust back into the dirt of peonage and poverty, that one comes to know in the mind and writings of Dunbar. “But”, you say, “Dunbar is a comic poet, full of laughter”. Truly, but Dunbar’s laughter wears a mask behind which there are, as he himself says “tortured souls”. Also much of Dunbar’s poetry is not humorous and discloses much about the man, his mind and the characters he created.
The type of a mentality and the nature of its thought are revealed in attitudes, reflections, feelings and actions. These phases of psychic activity, which include not only reflective but pre-reflective experience, are generated from a dominant wish. This last named factor is no original biological force, as, e. g., Nietzsche’s “Will to Power” but the product of the interaction of a plastic human nature with its social environment. The “social situation” is for the vast majority of individuals the determinative factor in making their attitudes, feelings, and reflections what they are. The dominant wish stamps the mentality of in its own image; it permeates experience and is the final tribunal of all meaning. It is the very essence of the individual’s sense of time, his evaluations, and his conception of self. It is the cardinal trait having both stylistic and motivational significance for the thought of Negro people.
The longing for equality is not always overtly expressed in Dunbar. In Ode to Ethiopia it must be sensed in the wishful thinking of the poet, not in the unfactual picture of Negro life that he presents. His exaggerated picture of the status of the Negro during the era of decline is an example of the wish for equality in the mind of the poet. In a period of unprecedented lynching, disfranchisement, and disillusionment, Dunbar pictures the Negro as a proud race, standing beside his fairer neighbor, equal in labor, honor, po-
litical power, moral character, song, frank expression, and truth. Since this belies historic fact the wish is father of the thought.
In the poem, My Sort o’ Man, the poet speaks of the pride one feels to know that one’s own strength:
Has cleaved fur you the way
To heights to which you were not born”.
He is thinking of an individual who raises himself above barriers of race or one who rises above any limited social status.
The Conquerors, a poem of Negro soldiers envisions an acceptance of the Negro that “thru the cycle of the years” shall come “from voices now muffled and dumb with fear”.
In the Colored Soldiers the idea is advanced that slavery’s blot has been erased by blood shed by Negro soldiers in the Civil War. During the War all were comrades and brothers.
“Are they more or less today?”
The manner in which the members of a group experience time, their conception of the past, present, future, and the supra-temporal is definitely related to the dominant wish. For the disillusioned freedman, the present is a time of gloom, confusion, and frustration. Dunbar calls it repeatedly “the unrelenting years”, a time of “pluggin’ away”. The race moves Slow thru the Dark. It faces “a tempest of dispraise”. For Du Bois the present is the dire time of days as country teacher, of experiences with The Meaning of Progress, the dark faced Josie, and hearts full of sorrow balancing meager bushels of wheat.
Dunbar’s poem—To the South: On It's New Slavery, contrasts the tenant system of the post Reconstruction period with the alternate joys and sorrows of the ante-bellum era. The contemporary Negro is
“A bondsman whom the greed of men has made
ALMOST too brutish to deplore his plight”.
Slavery despite its evil
“Held in some joys to alternate with pain”.
The past is for Dunbar an escape, a flight of necessity from the harsh age of the 80’s and 90’s. Such nostalgic yearning for the times and scenes of old was only natural for persons whose lives had been bound up with the soil and soul of the Old South; not that they preferred it as such but that it was a relief besides the hooded terror, murder and insult of their present existence. No less a mind than Douglass advised the Negro to remain in the South for he was
Southern born and of Southern temperament. In The Voice of the Banjo Dunbar portrays the Negro as saying
“Let the future still be sweetened
With the honey of. the past”.
The disillusioned freedman sobs over The Deserted Plantation
“Fu I fin hyeah in de memory dat follers
ALL dat loved me and dat I loved in de pas”.
The future is black and barren. It holds no near hope of realization of the dominant wish. It is “a wide and sunless plain”, “a devious way thru dim uncertain light”. Ethiopia,
“. . . .rising from beneath the chastening rod
She stretches forth her bleeding hands to God”.
The supra-temporal world is the truly real. It is the world above the unrelenting kingdom of becoming
“. . . .realms of bliss
Untrammeled, pure, divinely free
Above all earth’s anxiety”.
Valuations too have their source in the dominant wish. They are not postulated out of nothing but are related to the social situation by way of the dominant wish.
The disillusioned freedman believes in God and religion as is evidenced by the growth in the number of churches, in church organization, and in the power of the church in the Negro community. In Turpin’s These Low Grounds, a Sunday sermon by the pastor is sufficient to cause a veritable boycott of Joe’s gambling place. Turpin stresses, as does James Weldon Johnson in Black Manhattan, the fact that the church has long been a major integrating force in the Negro community. While Dunbar is generally a believer in the after life and in God, agnosticism, fatalism, and even the right of suicide are not absent from his poetry. In the poems Mortality and Mare Rubrum his agnosticism is based upon inability to find adequate manifestations of Providence in human affairs. Fatalism and resignation appear in the feeling that life is a “peck of trouble”, even though a man ought to “keep a-pluggin’ away”.
Adversity has never crushed the humor, laughter and joy of the Negro. In fact the social misfortune of the Negro fosters these qualities. The humor, laughter, and joy of the disillusioned freedman is social in its origin and serves a social function In the first place
both the art-form and the subject matter of Dunbar’s dialect poetry reflect the low social status of the Negro. His dialect is “an expres sion of the folk symbol from without, “a wilful distortion of language to suit the stereotype of a fun-poking public. Dunbar himself laments that it is “a jingle in a broken tongue” that his public praises. In this poetry he deals largely with the “get happy” “ ‘ligion struck”, possum-loving, watermelon-eating datky, the creature appropos of the marginal status forced upon the race as a whole. The Negro also uses humor and laughter to hide his inner misery (We Wear the Mask). It may be, too, just the polar opposite of meanness and hate, the attempt to fight hatred by creating genuine laughter for one’s self and the haughty oppressor (In the Mornin’; Drizzle; Des a Noddin by de Fiah). Laughter is finally self-ridicule, an art of dissimulation. It is a technique of racial adjustment designed to win the smiles of the prevailing group, lessening its tension, fear, and sense of racial conflict (A Letter; Speakin’ at de Cou’t House; A Preference).
Positive valuation of industry and thrift is not inconsistent with the deep feeling of frustration characteristic of the disillusioned freedman. Some Negroes, despairing of the possibility of organized resistance to prejudice turn to exploitation of the economic resources within the race. Jim Prince of Turpin’s These Low Grounds is a per fect example. Prince rushes up to a group of Negroes in order to rally them against a lynching. Upon refusal he shouts in disgust that he will go himself. Before he can turn about, however, the crowd, presumably for his own good, swarm upon him and strike him unconscious. From this moment on Prince changes his entire outlook on life. He becomes a ruthless schemer and amasser of wealth, merciless in foreclosure, an exploiter of stranger and kin alike.
The freedmen are eager for an education. One follows with sympathy and sorrow the longing of Carrie Prince (These Low Grounds) for the education she is never able to obtain. Similarly some of the most touching passages of the Souls of Black Folk are about the back world [sic] folk of Tennessee, so eager to learn and with so little opportunity.
The inner feeling of a frustrated existence focuses the attention of the freedman upon his plight and upon that of his brother in their kingdom of sorrow. However, this subjective brooding remains only that, a self consciousness that sees itself subjectively as a frustrated, unavailing existence. Its crime rates, death rates, incidence to diseases, loose morals,, ignorance, poverty, and defenselessness are its own being. Thus the empirical self is the “awful self” appearing in solitude, the historical individual (Ere Sleep Comes Down to Close
the Weary Eyes). There is no escape in race consciousness at this early age for the freedman has no knowledge of intrinsic racial values, of Africa, nor of the latent abilities of the Negro people. The sole recourse is the age-old path of all Platonists, the positing of a transcendental self. For Dunbar this takes the form of “an inner sense which neither cheats nor lies”. Conception of the self as having positive worth in this world is lost in social frustration. Only as a transcendental self, a brother in the sight of God, does the freedman see himself as the equal of others. Self consciousness is not yet filled with the rich content of racial achievement. Race consciousness in the sense of pride in things Negro and group unity in facing common problems is very slight in Dunbar (see Ode to Ethiopia; We Wear the Mask; The Conquerors; Slow thru the Dark; Douglass; Dely).
Negro thought of the last quarter of the nineteenth century remained largely in the realm of feeling. Oppression was so overwhelmingly severe that overt action to change the status quo dwindled to nothing. The disillusioned freedman could only brood over his misery. The next era, however, saw the beginning of organized efforts to attain realization of his pent up wishes and aspirations.
In economic life, Negroes made creditable gains against great odds. Between 1900-10 the number in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits increased from 275,116 to 552,815; about 100 percent. In trade and transport the increase was 43.4 percent. Ownership of homes and land prevented a striking contrast to the racial poverty of the 70’s and 80’s. The Negro was also learning how to bargain with capital. Black longshoremen of New Orleans went on a strike. Above the threats of employers they were able to make a bargain with white labor, whereby future work would be divided between them on a fifty-fifty basis. Between 1899-1907, a foothold was gained on the New York waterfront. Negro strike-breakers in the coal industry began to organize. Milton Reed, a Kansas miner, pointed out the advantages of unionism to his fellow workers. In steel the Amalgamated Association, a union that excluded Negroes, was outmaneuvered, though only by playing into the hands of the company (U. S. Steel). In the stockyards and meat packing industry Michael Donnelly was forced to acknowledge inclusion of the Negro as essential to the rise of white labor. To secure and maintain the economic stake of the Negro worker, the Urban League was founded in
1910. The organization of capital was begun in 1900 with the establishment of the National Negro Business League by Booker T. Washington.
Politically there was an outburst of agitation and effort for rights as a voter and citizen. The Populist fusion in North Carolina sent a Negro to Congress. Booker T. Washington’s relinquishment of political rights was openly attacked by the radicals of Niagara and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came into being.
Social tension and conflict were high; only for a brief period toward the end of the sixteen-year span did they subside. In 1901, one hundred eight Negroes were lynched, the largest number since 1897; the number dropped to sixty by 1905 but mounted to ninety-two in 1908. The Negro press of Atlanta later grew militant and a great riot forced an editor to flee for his life. Negro soldiers shot up the town of Brownsville. Eventually friction began to wane. White philanthropy invested great sums of money in Negro education. In 1912 the Southern Sociological Congress was in process of formation.
An outstanding development of the period was the production of an effective counter-literature by Negro scholars. The “Negro Academy” and others attacked all thought and action tending to bolster the status quo; they would “burst existent reality”, were Utopian as opposed to Ideological, the type of mind and thought that would perpetuate the existing social order. Opposition was voiced to Carrols’ The Negro, A Beast, to Dixon’s The Clansmen, The Leopard’s Spots; and to Bean’s anthropometric studies. Outstanding in this activity were Du Bois, Kelly Miller, the Grimkes, Monroe Trotter, and the novelist, Charles W. Chesnutt.
The outstanding writer in the field of imaginative literature as such was Charles W. Chesnutt. Mr. Chesnutt’s Marrow of Tradition is a novel vividly describing the period of transition between the passing of the disillusioned freedman and the appearance of the Negro of the first decade of the twentieth century. Thus one observes the humble and loyal Mammy Jane, family nurse of the Carterets yielding place to the younger nurse whose attitude resembles a race in the “chip on the shoulder stage”. The humble, cowardly petty rogue, and “White Folks Nigger”, Jerry, as well as the black Southern gentleman, Sandy are obsolescent figures. Attorney Watson is a new figure, an open protagonist for the rights of Negroes. Josh Green, ignorant, pugnacious, and. scorning death, dies at the hands of the
mob, but the renowned Negro surgeon, Dr. Miller, realizing the futility of violence, preserves and consecrates his life to the building up of the health of the Southern Negro.
Equality is the dominant wish of Chesnutt’s characters. Dr. Miller believes that demonstration of “character” and “power” by the race will win the acceptance of white America. He becomes depressed when he discovers that the famous white surgeon and former teacher, Dr. Burns, has yielded to the South and consented to exclude him from assisting at the operation on the Carteret baby; he feels deeply the insult to his estimate of self and to his own ability which the words of Dr. Burns, himself, have praised. Similarly, the profound contempt, the attitudes and feelings of Mrs. Miller for Mrs. Carteret are based upon her knowledge that both (the colored and the white woman) are legitimate daughters of the same father, yet Mrs. Carteret looks down upon her colored sister as an inferior.
The Marrow of Tradition reveals a sensitiveness to progress, to time and change. Events do not move as for Dunbar, “Slow Thru the Dark”. Nor is there escape in the past; tradition is not a romantic past longed for nostalgically, it is a stark reality to be overcome. The past is a diabolic stream of tradition, a contemptible set of institutions and behavior patterns dominating the minds of most whites and a certain type of obsolescent Negro. The future offers hope; ability will break Southern intransigeance, it will rouse Northern indifference. When the Negro has made himself essential to the American commonwealth even such squeamish Negrophobes as Mrs. Carteret will be forced to employ their talents. The goal is to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, an essential and equal constituent in the American Commonwealth.
Mammy Jane, Sandy and Jerry are not self-conscious. They move thru the novel like puppets of tradition. On the other hand, reflection, conscious deliberation upon the possibilities of altering tradition; is a preoccupation of Mrs. Miller, of Dr. Miller, and of Attorney Watson. Mammy Jane, Sandy and Jerry are creatures; Miller and Watson would be creators. Jerry, the obsolescent “White Folks’ Nigger”, achieves the nadir of futility, when without the slightest effort to improve his status, he, slowly, but with all sincerity, mumbles to himself
“I wish ter Gawd I wuz wite”.
Miller, to the contrary, believes the Negro has a glorious destiny: the race is older than the Anglo-Saxon; it has the potentialities of a great people,
As an expression of the mind of the author the novel reveals advance in “seeing ourselves as others see us, i. e., self-consciousness
Chesnutt repudiates the conventional conception of “me”; it is the spurious creation of the white world. Jerry is truly a “White Folks’ Nigger”; he is a “me”, a conventional self. The cakewalk is not a Negro dance; the Negro is not a natural born dancer; Tom Delamere, disguised as a Negro, wins the contest. Crime is not peculiar to the Negro; the race is no criminal breed. Tom Delamere is the real murderer of Mrs. Ochiltree, but Sandy, the Negro servant receives the blame. Chestnutt assumes the attitude of the “other” and realizes that the “me”, the conventional conception of the Negro as well as the attitudes of the “other” are products of the same forces. Frequently tradition, the generative force of attitudes, is related to economic forces but the idea that the mentality and customs of a people are rooted in an economic basis is not the essential teaching. Chesnutt gives a fuller explanation of the mind of the Southern white and the obsolescent Negro types than of the casually touched Northern whites and the newer Negroes. Chesnutt’s great contribution is to condemn the “me” of public opinion and to introduce the “I” to which Du Bois and Weldon Johnson impart a richer and more meaningful content.
In the year of the century’s birth James Weldon Johnson wrote the words to the Negro National Anthem. This was but a symbol of the awakening which had definitely been in evidence since the revival of the Afro-American Council in 1898. Not long after Du Bois wrote of the new century as the century “for the duty and the deed”. In the poetic prose of Du Bois and the poetry of James Weldon Johnson appears much that tells of the mind and thought of Negroes of the times.
Equality is the dominant wish. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois cites the implications of social inferiority as one of the most dangerous aspects of the social philosophy of Booker T. Washington. The magnificently pathetic essay, Of the Coming of John pictures the poor Negro family and community, how their hopes have become centered in the boy, John, one of their own number, who is going off to school to return and lead them up. It tells of John’s rural playfulness, his inability of sustained application, of his first failure and his eventual triumph over the rigors of study. It shows how, with the development of his education, life takes on an ironic caste; his manner of speaking becomes bitter; he learns painfully of the shadow of the veil of color. And yet when in the presence of great music
“A DEEP LONGING SWELLED IN ALL HIS HEART TO RISE WITH THAT CLEAR MUSIC OUT OF THE DIRT AND DUST OF THAT LOW LIFE THAT HELD HIM PRESERVED AND BEFOULED”.
The longing of John, of his family, and of the little community to rise out of the dust and dirt of low life is an eloquent expression
of the dominant wish for equality. Equality is never a concrete, and carefully delineated conception, for it, as T. V. Smith has said is an “emotive concept”"; but the wish is ever there coloring the feelings, attitudes, reflections, and plans of action of America’s Negro minority. In the poem, Fifty Years, James Weldon Johnson contends that the Negro has “won a rightful sonship” in the American culture.
Time is now filled with opportunity. Dunbar’s “slow thru the dark” attitude has completely passed. The present is a time for doing, for the organization of leadership to reverse the defeats of the past quarter century. It is a time for thrift, for industry, for academic achievement for leadership of a talented tenth. Nor is the past of the Negro all tears and slavery; the race has an African background, a history filled with the glory and pomp of African kingdoms. The future holds a special mission, a “God given destiny” for the black people.
Waters Turpin’s These Low Grounds depicts the church as the focal point of the Negro community at the turn of the century. The preacher considers the century’s birth an opportune time for convergence upon the powers of evil within the town. He sets out to win from the devil the five great sinners of the community. Though he fails to convert Carrie Prince, and though some of the others require a rather lengthy purge yet the throngs of shouting Christians attest to the great power of religion in the lives of Negroes. Still there are many disinclined to make religion the supreme valuation of their lives. For Jim Prince, making and saving a dollar is more important than laying up “treasures in heaven”. For Deacon Grundy superstition is as powerful as the gospel of the Church, and, too, the golden brown body of the sinner, Carrie Prince, is more alluring than the prestige attaching to ecclesiastical office. Cap’n Ham refuses to join the church and Bentley asks the entreating devotees to let him go home and think it over. Religion is still powerful but the basis of doubt is present. Among the intellectuals this doubt is more pronounced. After the great riot of Atlanta, Du Bois implores a God who remains silent, asks God, Himself whether He may be white “a cold and bloodless thing”, and God, gives forth no answer, remaining only an ironic, “grim-bearded”, silent God (Littany at Atlanta). It must be emphasized, however, that the vast majority of Negroes felt rather with James Weldon Johnson
GOD OF OUR WEARY YEARS, GOD OF, OUR SILENT TEARS
THRU WHO HAST BROUGHT US THUS FAR ON OUR WAY.
The desire to get an education has always been a positive valuation in the lives of Negro people. Many who have despaired of it themselves have sacrificed that their children might have the privi-
lege. Martha, of Turpin’s These Low Grounds wants so much to educate her child. The dark-faced Josie, John, and the simple folk even of the backworld [sic] communities of the 80’s and 90’s want to know because they have faith in the socially and morally elevating effects of education.
Between 1900-10 the number of Negro teachers increased from 21,267 to 29,432, the number of physicians from 1,734 to 3,409. The Negro college president and professor made their appearance, some 242 in number. There were in 1900, fifteen librarians, 220 writers, editors, and reporters. There were 915 lawyers, judges and justices.
Attainment of knowledge not only gave a means of livelihood; it afforded status. It gave one standing in the Negro community, and more than that, it inspired the feeling that in mastering the arts of learning, the Negro was the equal of any people. Also the truths of learning were a solace from the great problem of race; “so wed with Truth” DuBois dwells “above the Veil”. Expression in and appreciation of the great creative masterpieces of the ages raised one above the artificial limitations of race. The Negro could become a world famous preacher, physician, teacher, editor, writer, singer! He could be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture.
Negroes of the times were quite confident of their talents for art of all forms. The number of actors and showmen increased from 2,020 in 1900 to 3088 in 1914. Light musical comedy was replacing minstrelsy. Ernest Hogan, Cole and Johnson, and Williams and Walker were prominent in the transition. The success of Sissieretta Jones as a singer was but a continuation of this gift of the. Negro that had appeared earlier in the voices of Flora Batson, Anna Hyer, and in the twenty seven note range of Elizabeth Greenfield. In the field of painting Henry O. Tanner won outstanding prizes in 1897, 1900, 1901, 1904, 1906, and 1907. In 1903, The Wretched, a work by Meta Warrick Fuller, the sculptor, was exhibited in the Salon. The year 1900 saw the presentation of the first part of the world-renowned Coleridge-Taylor’s trilogy, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast” at the Royal College. It is little wonder that Turpin’s Martha and Judy, characters of this period, are pictured as natural born singers and gifted in things histrionic.
God and religion, education, and training for the professions, aesthetic and histronic expression, occupy a prominent place in the mind and thought of the Negro of the period 1898-1914. The problem of valuation, however, merges into that of self-consciousness. The
Negro is beginning to see himself in-wardly and with a measure of confidence. In Fifty Years James Weldon Johnson sums up the history of the race since Emancipation: It has won a “sonship” in the American nation; it has become an American people. On the other hand it has a “special” destiny; the Negro has a genius, and mannerisms all his own—“primal passions”, “laughter loud and gay”, “love relentless” (The White Witch). To be a Negro and to be an American! So arises the problem of the double consciousness of the American Negro. In the opening pages to The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois cites this as the major problem in the life and thought of the Negro. The Negro must be an “I”* in as much as he is a Negro and yet he must be an “I” in the sense of being an American. As every personality consists both of an “I” and a “me”*, he must also be both a Negro “me” and an American “me”. The American “me” is repudiated; it is not the true Negro but the creation of a hostile environment (Weldon Johnson’s Brothers). The “me” that is left is an arbitrary postulation of the Negro “I”; this means that the American is likewise given up. The Negro “I” pours out of the depths of its own yearnings a “me” to suit its wishes. It is a “me” of great, spiritual strength, of “primal passions”, of “laughter, loud and gay”, a “me” of great creative depth singing soulful harmonies of brotherhood instead of hymns of war and hate (Black and Unknown Bards, Johnson). It is a private “me”, a racial genius of which the Negro must “take care” (The White Witch, Johnson). But Johnson does not mean to relinquish the American “I” despite this terror of the “White Witch”; nor does Du Bois, for the Negro is an American, too. Postulation of a Negro “me” by a Negro “I” means repudiation of the American “me” and yielding up of the American “I”. But the Negro wants his American patrimony. Du Bois and Johnson solve the problem by defining the Negro “I” in such a way as to enable its expression to be simultaneously Negro and American. The Negro is fundamentally an artist, a soul endowed with a deep, sense of the beautiful. His expression then will be an expression in beauty, an expression having its share of the good and the true as all beauty is akin to these other values. It will likewise be a species of universal beauty, goodness and truth, an ideal realm in which racial differences of expression will melt away. Therefore free the soul of the Negro; do not bind him to a caste-like education; if you would make a blacksmith make him also a man; let him partake of the humanities too. Give him political rights and do not deny him liberal education and he will express himself both as a Negro and as a man. As an American the Negro has worked, fought and died for the country. He deserves full manhood rights and any type of education that will develop the powers of his group to fullest. He need not
bleach his Negro genius nor Negrofy his American heritage. He can be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, for, endowed with abilities belonging to the highest sphere of human endeavor, release of his soul thru cultivation and opportunity will greatly increase the store of the world’s masterpieces. The souls of black folks are like the souls of any other folk; their expressions are but species of the universal language in which all souls speak.
Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy interpreted history as a conflict between two principles, the Dionysian and the Appollonian, the first representing “the blind but rich and inexhaustible force of life, the othee the balance, repose and harmony of form”. It is the first named of these principles, the Dionysian, or yea-saying principle, that is of importance for interpreting the thought of the Negro during the period 1914-30. “New Negro” thought, however, was no mere product of biological impulse; it was a postulation but a socially motivated principle rather than a postulation arising from an original biological endowment. When the Negro shouted “Yea” to all things making for the power and glory of the Negro people it was a release of energies damned up by social pressure. Political economic and social progress were made by Negroes during the period but not without strong opposition from the ideological elements of reactionary American democracy. The history of the time bears this out.
In the case of Corrigan vs. Buckley colored people fought to maintain their property rights as citizens. In the Herndon vs. Nixon case they contended that the Democratic Primary in the South was tantamount to a regular election and that its limitations to the participation of whites disfranchised the Negro. They complained because President Taft said in his inaugural address that he would not appoint Negroes to positions in which white persons did not want them. Over vigorous protests they saw the number of Negroes in Civil Service positions steadily reduced by Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. At the outbreak of the War there was the usual controversy about using the Negro as a soldier, the personnel of the officers commanding him, and his status in the army.
World War I for democracy shook the status quo in America. Millions of Negroes, who, before, had known nothing but the be-
havior patterns of the master-slave tradition came North and went overseas. They worked in foundries, drew wages of sixty-five and seventy dollars a week, They joked with fellow workers of the white race, learned to call them “Mike” or “Nick” instead of “Mistah” and rode home in the front of the street cars. They bought “jazz” suits, went to shows at the Roxy or State, took in the Major League games, and gambled and caroused in houses of ill fame that knew no barriers of race. Overseas they experienced French camaraderie, and before long the old tensions of fear and obeisance before a white face were recalled with a scoff or a shrug. They came to know the individuality of the European as well as many of his radical doctrines. Not a few Negro scholars remained on the continent to study in the schools. Upon returning they brought new social philosophies.
Race consciousness was aroused by the Negro press, especially, by the Chicago Defender, edited by a graduate of Hampton, Robert S. Abbot, and also by The Negro World the official organ of Garvey’s “Back to Africa” movement. The World War was but one year old, too, when Carter G. Woodson and others founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.
Negro professional men increased in number and made comfortable incomes serving the black masses now assembled in the cities. Banks organized and staffed by Negroes reached eighty-two in number. Durham, N. C., became the financial capital. In Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit, Negroes moved in and bought homes. Some, like H. O. Sweet of Detroit, grew wealthy from real estate. Jessie Binga, R. R. Wright, Madame Malone, Gibson of theater fame, and C. C. Spaulding became black titans of finance. In 1929 the C. M. A. stores were established. Their aims were to reduce operating costs of the Negro retail merchant thru cooperative buying, standardization of goods and equipment, and group advertising—clearly a “race” enterprise.
The political potentialities of the newly formed black ghettoes came to fruition in 1928 when the Negro vote of Chicago sent the first race member to Congress since the turn of the century.
Race friction found the Negro unafraid and willing to fight. He would not be bombed from the white residential areas of Chicago. He fought back against the mobs of East Saint Louis and Chester. He mocked with pen and armed resistance the shame of a democracy that permitted lynching within the shadow of its Capitol.
Harlem became the cultural capital of the Negro world. Philadelphia, with its Victorian aloofness and general reticence, and Washington, with its snobbish color distinctions were subjects of intense criticism. Alain Locke, the philosopher, and Charles Johnson, the sociologist, attempted to guide the youthful, enthusiastic poets and novelists away from a too narrow racism, but these “Infants of Spring” were too enraptured by the thrill of being the first emanations of the black folk spirit. A yea-saying to the power, glory, abilities, and intrinsic worth of Negroes and the Negro way of life was the order of the day.
The movement was a Dionysian, emotional revolt against social repression and inferior status. Say “Yea” then to repudiation of the old Negro and sentimental appeal. Say “Yea” to progress “bright like a flame”. Say “Yea” said the New Negro, “to flight from the South, to the leadership of African peoples”. Say “Yea” to radicalism, to defiance, the death, and yet, say “Yea” to opportunist conservatism. Say “Yea” to African art, history, and the contributions of the race to civilization. Say “Yea” to new rhythms and equally so to flowing phrases and Biblical expression. Say “Yea” to the transforming power of imagination, to cosmic emotion. Affirm with zeal the anti-imperialist cause, the union of black and white labor, and more intimate association with all minorities. Say “Yea” to the ideals of American democracy: to thrift industry, capitalist enterprise. Say “Yea” to education adapted to the race problem, to repudiation of blind faith in religion. Say “Yea” to objective appraisal of the shortcomings of Negroes. Say “Yea” to undeliberate expression not for Negroes but as Negroes, “an inner mood not set by moral effect”. Say “Yea” to repudiation of self-pity and to double standards of judgment.
In the literature depicting the mind and thought of the Negro of this period equality is the dominant wish. Claude McKay calls upon Africa to awake and take her place among nations (Exhortation Summer 1919). His is the spirit of Garvey and the Pan-African movement of later date! Africa, too, should have “a place in the sun”. Toomer symbolizes equality when he calls black faces “petals of dusk” and white faces “petals of roses”; he expresses no preference but would only gather petals. Langston Hughes believes the day will come when he will not have to sit in the kitchen. Cullen’s white youth is “the golden splendor of the day”; he is compared in beauty to the black youth, “the sable pride of night”. Jessie Fauset’s writings are conscious attempts to portray a type of Negro indicative of the cultural potentialities of the race. Aunt Tempy (Hughes’ Not
Without Laughter) wishes Negroes to become educated and to adopt wholesome mannerisms in order to combat the conventional estimate of the Negro as inferior. Ray (Home to Harlem) tells Jake of the deeds of the revolutionary Toussaint. Jake having become aroused with interest shouts
“A black man! A black! Oh I wish
I’d been a soldier under such a man!”
In Fauset’s Chinaberry Tree one of the ambitions of Dr. Denleigh, the light skinned Negro physician, is to have been a race leader during the Reconstruction era. Pride in Africa, in all pertaining to the black race, in the colors, brown and black, and the ascription of positive valuation to them is “synonymous with the wish to see the Negro as the equal of any other people.
The time sense of the individuals of, a group is, as has been said, a clue to its thought and mentality. For the Negro of the preceding era the present was an auspicious moment; for the new Negro, it is an historic moment. The past is virtually present. It is a time of Renaissance, of re-birth and of expression of that re-birth. It is the profound feeling of a race-soul persistent throughout the ages, a past cumulatively within the present and ready for exuberant expression. Thus Garvey’s movement centers about Africa, the ancient homeland of the Negro. Toomer’s poetry sings of the red soil of the South, of creating “folk songs from soul sounds”. For Hughes the soul of the race is as “old as the flow of human blood in human veins”, it “has grown deep like the rivers”. Cullen’s Atlantic City Waiter has an air of nobility come from the past. This past is vibrant, ready to be set off. Thus Euphoria (Infants of the Spring) leaves the South during the war, goes to the North and becomes an ardent worker of Communists. McKay typifying the intense defiance and hatred of the Negroes of the War and post war race riots, writes the bitter verses of The White City and the oft quoted, If We Must Die. The art impulse in Toomer, too, is a rapturous Dionysian exuberance inspired by the plaintive beauty of the Negro and his past.
McKay and Toomer themselves often lose sight of the future, in orgiastic haste (McKay), or in the sensuous beauty of the moment (Toomer). Toomer’s Negroes of the South, however, look upon the future with messianic hope (King Barlo’s sermon; Cane)—God will free the Negro and the “dawning of the Morning Light” is already visible. Until then, however, the black man finds on earth only burning, bearing “black children” to find sweet rest “in the campground”. Hughes senses the future more so than any of the others;
of all the new Negro poets he is the most historically minded. He feels the “March” of the race
“We have tomorrow before us
Bright like a flame”.
In the realm of valuations, skin color is a subject of major interest. Black and brown are the preferred complexions. Garvey and his followers extol the Renaissance and sing the praises of black and brown in impassioned verse. McKay’s female characters are “breathing statues of burnished bronze”, “dark pansies”, walnut and chocolate browns. Toomer’s Karintha is black like a bird; her skin is like dusk on the Eastern horizon. Hughes’ black beauty has “a loveliness surpassing beauty”. Cullen, Silvera, and Gwendolyn Bennett are inspired to write some of their best verse to the beauty of brown girls.
In actual fact, however, there is more lip-service to black than genuine preference of it. As the two charts which appear later in this article reveal, the color complexes of the characters appearing in novels, depicting the life of the times, do not show a predilection for black. Light and “passable” men of the lower and upper class alone prefer women darker than themselves. Black men of lower, middle, and upper class prefer brown and lighter women. Upper class dark men are sensitive of color and their conduct reveals defense mechanisms as e. g., the excessive suavity of Hanby, the black school principal (Cane). Brown men, lower, middle, and upper class prefer brown or lighter women. Few brown men are like the homosexual Paul (Infants of the Spring), an extremist, and eccentric in all his mannerisms and whose conduct is really a mass of defense mechanisms designed to offset the fact that he is a Negro. Black, lower class women are either proud of their “high yeller” men like Anjee (Not Without Laughter), or in “sour grapes” fashion they criticize “hincty” yellow Negroes. Pelasgie (Chinaberry Tree) and Susie (Home to Harlem) are good examples. On the contrary, Harriet (Not Without Laughter) is proud of the race and its mannerisms. Lower class brown women are attracted to black men; upper class to brown and lighter men. Upper class light women marry light brown or “passable” men. Many light women of the upper class have the desire to “pass” over into the white world; however, upon doing so, they eventually discover the attractiveness, the beauty and worth of their own colored world. In all cases this seemingly inexplicable maze of behavior and bewildering personalities becomes clear when looked at from the standpoint of the dominant wish or cardinal trait. The mulatto who would escape the race physically and culturally, the
sensitive dark skin who would adopt the mannerisms of whites, and the Garveyites who postulate for things black evaluations equivalent to similar things in the white world reveal conduct which stylistically and motivationally is founded in a will to equality.
While the devotion to the color, black, is largely spurious the preference for brown or golden brown has much foundation in fact. Jake (Home to Harlem) leaves the mulatress in quest of Felice, his golden brown. Fauset’s Teresa is in love with brown Henry Bates’ she prefers him infinitely more than the white Jarvis Seely and, likewise, more than the cold, matter of fact Frenchman, Aristide, whom she married at the insistence of her mother. Sandy, (Not Without Laughter) prefers Pansetta a pinkish brown. Phoebe (Comedy American Style), though “passable”, always makes her race known and is more concerned about the elementals of life, virtue, character, honesty, security and progress, than about skin color. In these novels brown children are always beautiful (Oliver, Comedy American Style). Brown is seldom distasteful. Black, on the contrary is called “plug ugly” (Zeddy, Home to Harlem). In George Schuyler’s satire on the color prejudices of Negroes (Black No More) the beautiful darker mulatto children are the only traces of the Negro permitted to remain once the Negroes have discovered that the Negro doctor can really turn any Negro into a white man. Of all these novels and characters, however, a lasting obsession for white is typical of but a single character—Olivia (Comedy American Style).
As contradictory as it may seem both lip service to the idealization of black and the preference for lighter complexions in actual conduct are manifestations of the same will to equality. Conduct is largely the manifestation of wishes, not the action of some original, purely rational entity within. That black may be as beautiful as any color may be the genuine feeling of those who inner consciousness is dominated by the wish for acceptance into the social order on the same terms as any other human being. It is a socially motivated postulation of an aesthetic value. The feeling that the Negro, color and all, has positive worth is in keeping with the wish for equality, the desire to transcend present social limitations. Thus Cullen calls in the beauty of nature as a neutral arbiter of the beauty of black folks. If the white boy is the “golden splendor of the day”, the Negro is “the sable pride of night”. Toomer’s black Karintha has skin like the dusk on the eastern horizon.
Aesthetic evaluations as all evaluations are socially conditioned. The channels of public opinion are in the hand of the ruling group.
Periodicals, moving pictures, the stage, and the schools create standards and glorify the Nordic type. On the other hand social stigma is attached to black skin. Social and economic disadvantages are also a part of its burden. The former disparages its possibilities of beauty while extreme poverty and beauty are the best bedfellows. Waring Cuney puts it very cleverly when he says “Dish water gives back no images”. The beauty of the Negro girl is ground down and besmirched in work. In evaluating his own skin color the Negro does not think in a vacuum. Standards of the total culture and the desired for status affect his thinking. His blood has been commingled with that of the ruling group. Often he is whiter than many of the members of that group and possesses Nordic features. It is obvious that such persons will see beauty in their own type. Even those of Negro type are conditioned in their evaluations by the norms of the ruling group. They see in a mate of lighter skin the acquisition of the symbols of status, an approximation toward equality for themselves and posterity.
One may sense equality both in equating the worth and beauty of black to that of white and in acquiring a mate whose color embodies the symbols of status in the going society. Just as people generall y may choose money rather than genuine affection because of the social significance accruing to wealth in contemporary society so, too, one may select of two equally beautiful or handsome persons the one having the skin color to which attaches social prestige. All black values are not black. The New Negro emphasized more than any other generation of Negroes the intrinsic worth of race history and race colors, but his valuations are clearly understood only in the light of the will to equality—the cardinal trait of the thought of the race since the end of Reconstruction. The mulatto who would “pass”, and the Negro who feels genuinely that his race has the beauty of “dark pansies” are in the vast majority of cases fundamentally motivated by the same social forces. Only in this way can the behavior of all Negroes be arranged within a teleonomic continuum.
It is worth pointing out too that the tendency of most of the dark people, especially males to marry lighter and of lighter “passable” males to marry dark females is consonant with the product of a brown race. The genuineness of the preference for brown and golden brown, as contrasted with the multiplex behavior centered about the color, black indicative of the same.
Black Zeddy (Home to Harlem) bates plug-ugly black women.
Torn Burwell (Cane) loves Louisa (brown)
Jake (Home to Harlem) loves Felice (golden brown) detests white, and yellow faces
Ned (Jonah’s Gourd Vine) detests bright skin son, child of white man
Barber shop group (Not Without Laughter). Some prefer black, others yellow and brown.
Brown Sandy (Not Without Laughter). Youth in teens, prefers “pinkish brown” like Pansetta.
Light & “Passable” Jimboy (Not Without Laughter) marries Annjee (black) “Yaller” Prince (Home to Harlem) Gigolo for black women.
Black Anjee loved and married “high yaller” (Not Without Laughter) Harriet—dark, proud of race and its mannerisms.
Pelassie (Chinaberry Tree) Black; critical of “hincty” yellow Negroes. Susie (Home to Harlem) Black; critical tall black, and of curly of “hincty” yellow Negroes. [sic]
Chef (Home to Harlem) married to mulatress will not eat Negro foods, though he says he would not trust a white man around his chicken coop.
Asshur (Chinaberry Tree) deep brown, devoted to Melissa (brownish)
Pantryman (Home to Harlem) sensitive about fair skin, symbolic of illegitimate birth.
The preacher (Confessions of a Negro Preacher) loved “passable” Markeet
Junius (Comedy American Style) Elderly. Sensitive about color in youth wife “passable”.
Handy (Cane) Black, Race Leader. Suavity, a defense against color.
Ray (Home to Harlem)—Desire to elevate race, stronger than sex attraction. Leaves Agatha out of regard for ambitions for race. Henry Bates’ (Comedy American Style) in love with “passable” Teresa; eventually marries olive beauty of South America. Paul (Infants of the Spring) mannerism ls a defense against brown skin. Obsession o be white.
Chris (Comedy American Style) No color preference. Loved dark Marise. Mr. Siles (Not Without Laughter) married dark Tempy. Admired practical efficiency of whites in economic matters.
Denleigh (Chinaberry Tree) married apricot colored Laurentine would elevate race; fight for rights. Paul (Cane) preferred neither white nor Negro.
Marise (Comedy American Style) Dark marries Nicholas (light' brown). Tempy (Not Without Laughter) Married Mr. Siles, mulatto.
Alicia (Comedy American Style) had loved Henry Bates (brown).
Virginia (Plum Bun) attracted to Anthony (olive); eventually married to brown husband. Miss Powell (Plum Bun) silent and reticent in
Brown Felicia loved Jake, head. [sic] Louisa (Cain) Torn between love of Tom, black and Negro, and her white lover. (Small Town in South).
Light & “Passable” Miss Curdy (Home to Harlem). Once in society; fallen to lower classes; color prejudices remaining but circumstances force her to associate with persons of all colors.
Female — Middle Class
Esther (Cane) Light. In love with King Barlo, black minister (Small Town in South).
presence of white persons.
Laurentine (Chinaberry Tree), apricot skin. maried Denliegh, light. Olivia (Comedy American Style) married Dr. Cary (light). Olivia—a virtual obsession for white skin.
Phoebe (Comedy American Style), “passable”, proud of Negro blood; loved “Nick” light brown married Chris “passable”. Markeet (Confessions of a Negro Preacher); married black.
Angela (Plum Bun) Light skin has caused her only misery.
The New Negro says yea to joy, says yea to joy in the Negro way, without shame that some may call him unrefined, and without misgivings of moral or religious scruples. Joy is to him primarily an orgiastic abandon to racial rhythms. Langston Hughes pictures it thus:
White folks laugh
White folks pray
Me an’ ma baby’s got
Two mo ways
Two mo ways
To do de Charleston
A dancing child of joy, flinging limb and tension to the winds of pleasure. “Black lovers of life” says McKay, “caught up in their own, free native rhythm, threaded to a remote and scarce remembered past”. (Home to Harlem). It is Africa, the pagan, earth-song pleasures of the African homeland, the blood of the poet, Hughes throbbing with the remembered tremors of tom-toms and the wild, but delightful beauty of jungle moons.
All joy is not orgiastic. The black voluptuary also knows a calm feeling of ecstasy. So, the hedonists of old made a distinction between the pleasure in motion and the pleasure at rest. In the hours past mid-night when the mellifluous solvents of care, gin, and jazz and rhythmic dance are ebbing though not yet died away, pleasure, now a soft inner sea of cadent foaming, pours gently over the black man’s being. Joy shuts out the world, shuts out the pale-cast, steel-riveted, trouble-laden world. The dancing girl is “a singing tree”;
the saxophones are “shining rivers of the soul”. The dark girl dancer’s steps are forgotten for the soft and glowing beauty of her molten form of flesh; she is the “wine-maiden” of hours tuned to soft jazz, a dark, purple-minor-tone curved into living body, plaintive and sweet like the essence of “crushed grapes of joy”. (Langston Hughes—To a Black Dancer).
Black joy forgets its sorrow; black laughter feels again its pain. I am the black jester says Langston Hughes
“Tears are my laughter
Laughter my pain”
Not in pity. That is the old Negro. But laughter that sings and sobs at the same time. Laughter that is not all joy but is greater than joy, that is nobler than joy for it is conscious of sorrow and sings, consciously sings.
The sorrow of the “blues” lies in the first two long lines. These, just as if modeled after the pragmatic conception of thought, always express a problem,; the next line presents an hypothesis, the final line is the absurd conclusion or method by which the hypothetical end or goal is to be achieved. The order of the last two lines, just as for Dewey’s analysis of an act of thought, is not always the same. An example follows:
Homesick blues Lawd }
Sa terrible thing to have } Problem
Homesick blues is }
A terrible thing to have } Problem repeated
To keep from crying — } Hypothesis
I opens ma mouth and laughs } Absurd Conclusion
In his commencement address at Harvard, 1922, Mordeca Johnson told that learned gathering of the growing religious disbelief among American Negroes. Considerable numbers of Negroes were turning to atheism and agnosticism and their doubts were attributable to social frustration. Some disbelief must be admitted but the truth is that there was not so much a total repudiation of God as there was a tendency to relate his power and form more closely to the Negro and the Race problem. It is race consciousness insinuating itself into religious thought and preparing the way for the black demigods, gods, Becton, Grace, and Divine. King Barlo (Cane) comes out of his religious trance and tells his followers that while the Negro’s “head was caught up in the clouds”, “heart filled with the Lord, some little white-ant biddies came and tied his feet to chains”. Devotion of the girl, Esther, to this black seer who according to legend paraded with
“hosts of Angels and of demons” and “rode out of town astride a pitch black bull, that had a glowing gold ring in its nose” suggests representation of the divine powers in the form of a Negro. Aunt Hagar of (Not Without Laughter) is extremely religious but Sister Johnson (ibid) criticizes the church as a racket, a constant hankering for “collection dis and rally dat”. Harriet, younger daughter of Aunt Hagar, hates the church and its practices. Jesus is “white and stiff” and “don’t like niggers”. The churches are filled up with “all the old Uncle Toms and mean, dried up, long-faced niggers.” In the poetry of Langston Hughes relevant to this period God is related more closely to the temporal order, to the problems and conditions faced by the Negro. God is no “stuck up man”; “you ma friend, he lowed”. [sic] Countee Cullen believes that a black God would better understand and feel his problems (Heritage). In Walter White’s Fire in the Flint, Kenneth Harper’s incredulity is too great for him to find consolation in God in his time of trial. Social problems are affecting the Negro’s religious beliefs; the majority however remain in the church and constitute what James Weldon Johnson has called “the most priest-ridden group” in America. John Pearson’s Mt. Zion congregation (Hurston’s Jonah’s Gourd Vine) is unresponsive to the lecture on race pride but the after life gospel of Pearson, their own pastor, sends them into ecstasies of delight.
During the era much progress toward the attainment of true self-consciousness was made. In the former period DuBois and Weldon Johnson had advanced the thesis that free expression of the Negro genius would not result in a culture incompatible with American institutions and ideals. The Negro would not Africanize America nor would he “bleach his soul in white Americanism for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world.” The new Negro movement was, in a sense, the unfolding of this thesis upon the scene of actual history. It represents a conflict between Zeitgeist and Volksgeist for there will be much of the white world that appeals to the Negro and surely much of the Negro world for he is that world. It is a conflict that must be won by the Zeitgeist for the Negro “I” cannot shut out of its being its vast ineradicable, American Heritage. Even for the Afrophile McKay Africa remains “dim regions whence my fathers came”. Even this enflamed singer of African glory must admit that “something in me is forever lost”. Toomer, too describes the Negro beauty, Fern, but her creamy rippled skin bears the mark of the white world. Langston Hughes proclaims himself to be “black like the heart of my Africa” but in Cross he recognizes that by blood of birth he is of the white world. Cullen, more so than any other, questions the meaning of Africa. The black
Volksgeist surely does appear in his “fear that embers long thought dead may rise”. Yet Cullen believes that the major factor in the thought of the Negro is not a folk soul but a force actuating the minds of people irrespective of color or land of birth. Two of Cullen’s most powerful lines are:
No racial option narrows grief.
Pain is no patriot
(Extenuation to Certain Critics)
It is not a mystical race soul but sorrow founded in social frustration, that motivate the mind and thought of the Negro. This marks a great step forward in understanding the mind of the “other”, the mentality of the opposite and ruling group, which, following D Bois and Johnson, the New Negro has cast aside. The white world too, has its sorrows, is a world of pain. Cullen, however, does not venture far into this world. The actual going across into the domain of this “other” is accomplished in the novels of Jessie Fauset. Miss Fauset’s heroines, in passing for white, find what Cullen has predicted—pain. They find not only race and class distinction against other groups but they learn that the Negro problem is quite similar. The plight of the Negro, too, appears more painful and elicits more sympathy when viewed from within the white world. They also discover that the mere decision to “pass” does not ipso facto annihilate values and associations brought from the Negro world. Angela has to see her sister at times; she misses painfully the warmth and friendship with Negroes. The Negro who would “pass” (even Olivia Comedy American Style) faces a dilemma. In the Negro world the opportunities on the other side appear so bright, but once upon this other side the friends and values of the forgotten Negro world are a source of deep longing. Pain is the meaning of both worlds, the sign of the social macrocosm. Neither Cullen nor Fauset goes beyond this psychological aspect of pain by conscious reflection upon its ultimate, ontological basis. The profounder psychological, and socio-economic aspects of social travail such an fear, social distance, and economic conflict are developments in the thought and action of the Negro of the next period.
While undergoing deprivation of privilege and persecution the “disillusioned freedman” gradually came to feel his plight as the plight of a people, not as the slaves thought of their lot but, in a sense, a situation infinitely more ironic, the dream of freedom had
become an odious phantasmagoria of hooded murder, of demoniac oppression, and worst of all, the easy indifference of former friends. The slaves had dreamed of freedom and hardly more than that; the freedman dreamed of filling that freedom with the substance of self realization, a share, like that of any other being, in the creation, enjoyment and maintenance of the values of the total American culture. Thwarted, he eventually came to see his wronged and brooding self both as Negro and American. DuBois made articulate this idea of the double consciousness. Both aspects of it could be realized without doing detriment to either. The eminent scholar objected to Booker Washington’s philosophy because it permitted the realization of neither; it would stifle, in a great measure the development of the purely artistic and other abilities of Negroes; as Americans it would train them to be an economic caste. Major emphasis upon liberal education would bring out the best, the latent aesthetic and poetic abilities within the souls of black folk. The ballot, political and civil rights would make of them real Americans, Negroes would become co-workers in the kingdom of culture; not ignorant peons on the Georgia farms, not underpaid craftsmen equipped with a few skills and lacking in the graces of a life of refinement.
Because aesthetic expression is immediate and does not necessarily require formal training to effect its unfolding; because a Negro artist aroused public curiosity and because the Negro made progress on the stage (by producing laughter for the ruling group through ridicule of himself) the legend spread that the Negro was a born artist. Discipline in technical knowledge and in refined living may be stifled in a people but tyrants cannot hide the colors of sunsets, the harmonious sounds hummed by the wretched to relieve their toil, nor the might and pathos of their dreams. Slave ships yet may become the wombs of world — great tragedies and cane fields yield up servile dead to walk over the rhythmic velvet of some singer’s verse. James Weldon Johnson wondered about this matter, wondered so profoundly that he wrought into powerful verse the conception of his forbears as black “bards of long, ago”, divine “slave singers”.
Walled out and denied of their American patrimony the sons of the freedman sought expression through the racial aspect of the double consciousness. Garvey and Africa! The new Negro poets! Aesthetic expression! The desire to build financial empires! Administer schools! Win public office with pride in achievement as a Negro! These things stamped the New Negro as dominantly racist in his perspective. Truly there were those, who, as the socialistic
editors of the Messenger, advocated alignments cutting across racial lines but from the World War to the Depression those of such opinion, were decidedly in the minority. Nor was inter-racialism dead during the period. The Committee on Inter-racial Cooperation became an established and effective organization in the South. The administration of the N. A. A. C. P. remained inter-racial. The New Negro intellectuals delighted in their bohemian camaraderie sans barriers of race. But the era was prevailingly racist, an era of affirmation, of “yea-saying” to values which the race considered essential to its self-expression. That some of these were American only proves the difficulty of totally divorcing what is Negro from what is American.
Individuals of one racial group may find those of another physically repugnant. Whether this immediate attitude will worsen or become better depends upon the kinds of situations into which the two enter and the accidents of fortune. Attachments of friendship spring up between human kind and the wildest of animals. Help in times of some difficulty or danger, kindness of manner, the chance appearance of some hitherto unnoticed grace of form, or even a lovely awkwardness, these things can smooth out the most hostile of antipathies. But if the individual grows up in a home that virtually encases his mind within the ethnocentrism of his kind, if public opinion canalizes his attitudes, his evaluations of the other group, and his ritual of conduct for dealing with its members, if he can see within a social order consecrated to the supremacy of his group, the possibility of preemption by him and his kind of the economic, the prestige, and the sex gains of the total culture, then the attitude of repugnance, in practically every case, becomes perpetuated and intensified.
White race supremacy with the idea of progress as Apologia was the veritable Weltanschauung of Leopold, II of Belgium, of Rhodes, and of all the hosts of European concessionaires; who in the last quarter of the nineteenth century left only sixteen percent of the world’s surface to the red, black, brown, and yellow races. Simultaneously the United States deprived the red men of the lands of the West and restored the South to the “White Home Rule” lest “black barbarism” pervert the ways of civilization. By 1883 the Supreme Court of the United States virtually approved by its decision that the Negro should occupy an inferior status in the American nation. Cheap labor, profit, maximum production and material progress, were the ideals of America’s Gilded Age. Marginal status for the Negro in this economic system meant cheap labor
for the South and a Northern mortgage on the Southland as a now reconstructed going concern; It meant a threat over the head of white labor in the form of possible replacement by the Negro. White supremacy meant in the world as a whole the rigor to appropriate the laws and lands of the Chinese, to dupe and rob the black peoples of Africa, and to curb the realization of egalitarianism for all people everywhere.
Race prejudice is fundamentally a technique for extorting a maximum of profit from a multi-racial society. It may be originally a mere antipathy of one group for another based upon a natural aversion for the strange, but the crucial factor is the fomenting of this attitude by the attachment of great economic significance to it. From generation to generation it is passed down and becomes an. unconscious force, a veritable reflex to which the individual has become conditioned. Shattering of the economic basis of a culture sets the stage for alteration of existent racial attitudes. This however, will not occur immediately for institutions always outlive their time.
The masters of the world quarrelled over the spoils. The Gilded Age lit the way to the Fields of Flanders. Mars irretrievably consumed in four years all that the titans of finance and imperialism had amassed in the,preceding forty four. Depression settled over the world by the thirties. The existing basis of national and racial differences was shattered and on its way into oblivion.
World-wide economic collapse meant two things: (1) that economic problems were uppermost in the minds of men; (2) that the social order was in a more or less fluid state. Because of the first the Negro tended to see his problem as economic rather than narrowly racial. The spread of radical social philosophies abetted this manner of thinking. Negro painters like Hale Woodruff portrayed history as the procession of generations of workers. Men were more to be identified by their contribution to history in the form of labor than by association with any particular racial or cultural group. The emphasis was not upon African masks nor the fine craftsmanship of Benin but a proletarianism cutting across racial lines. If the Negro was poor he was not “shiftless”; there were poor in all races. If he was a criminal, he was not necessarily to the manner born; his crime was a “symbol” of “the whole sick social organism; he, was America, a NATIVE SON. Others were poor, ignorant, and criminal like the Negro: the Jester Lesters, the Lenis, all were victims of a vicious economic system. Since the
social order was fluid it was a time, too, to press home agitations for equal rights. Not since the time of Dred Scott had the country been so aroused as by the Scottsboro, Angelo Herndon, Murray, and the Gaines cases.
The Depression definitely shook the Negro loose from racial attachment to the Republican Party. That the Negro-baiting South was solidly Democratic and that Cotton Ed Smith walked out as The Rev. Marshall Sheppard, a Negro minister, prayed over the Democratic National Convention, were not sufficiently strong to blind the Negro to the advantages of realism in politics. He gave support here to Democrats, there to the Republicans. Political opportunism rather than sentimental attachment to the party of Abraham Lincoln was the order of the day. By adroit manipulation of his political affiliations he caused to be set up in Washington a sort of “Black Cabinet”, an expression of political power greater than at any time since Reconstruction. In State politics, during the single year 1930, he had 14 or more members of State Legislatures. In the cities, he had members of Civil Service Commissions, Aldermen, Assistant City Solicitors, City Councilmen, Members of Boards of Education and even a Mayor. A few years later, Sam Solomon, a Negro of Florida, defied the Ku Klux Klan and cost his ballot in the land of the lynchers of Claude Neal.
Economically, the trans-racial trend was even more pronounced. Negro workers flocked into the Committee of Industrial Organization. White tenant farmers of Arkansas stood on guard at churches while the two races held point meetings inside. Rev. Whitfield, a Negro, became the leader of the ill-fated white and black croppers of Missouri. Negro consumers initiated “Don’t buy where you can’t work” campaigns in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta and New Orleans. Jobs were obtained in haberdasheries, five-and-ten-cent stores, in Ame and Atlantic and Pacific stores. Negro cooperatives sprang up in the various sections of the country. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People adopted an economic plank. Ed Strong’s All Southern Negro Youth Conference sought to organize the rural Negro. Its annual conferences were attended by members of both races. Incredible as it may seem, a Negro Angelo Herndon led a mob of black and white demonstrators against a Georgia courthouse. Similarly in the Ford strike of 1941, white and black pickets of the plant fought against white and black sympathizers of the company. Equally strange was the picketing of a Negro newspaper by a group of black and white persons led by Heyward Brown.
A similar trans-racial trend was evident in education and scholarship. The number of Negro scholars increased greatly. Those whose
knowledge was concerned with the race issue, brought to it a much needed “objectivity”, as much as could be expected in knowledge appertaining to such problems. The Journal of Negro Education attacked scientifically the various arguments at the basis of the doctrine of racial inequalities. Both Negro and white scholars have been its contributors. The Journal of Negro History has remained Afrophile in its perspective; yet it has promoted the study of the history of the Negro in contact with other races. Carver, Just and Hinton attained international prominence in natural science. Frazier, Bond and Charles Johnson introduced and popularized among Negro intellectuals the socio-economic approach to the race problem; H. H. Long and Allison Davis inclined toward the socio-psychological. Among the literary critics, Sterling Brown’s sociological approach superseded Brawley’s psychological idea of a Negro genius; Locke continued to fight for the “saving grace of realism” as distinguished from subjective conceptions of black beauty and truth. Co-operative works of Negro and white scholars appeared. The more important were Race Relations by Weatherford and Johnson, The Black Worker by Spero and Harris and Children of Bondage by Dollard and Davis.
Strange things were happening in athletics too. Joe Louis, a former Alabama cotton picker, won the world’s heavy weight championship and defeated the best boxers of the United States, Britain, Italy, and Germany. Louis has been hailed as a champion, a good sport, and an example of clean living and good Americanism. He has won the plaudits of the entire nation including many sports writers of the South. Henry Armstrong a powerful and tireless little brown Negro won 3 world’s championships, lost them with honor, and then began to train a boxer of the white race whom he hoped might become champion. Recently mixed bouts were legalized in the District of Columbia. In Texas, black and white cheered as John Woodruff ran the half mile in more than two seconds under record time. Numerous colleges of the South have played against Negro football stars. The greatest chagrin faced yet by the arch proponents of the Nordic idea, Nazi Germany, occurred at the Olympic games of 1936. In that sports carnival of world competition American Negroes won every race from the 100-yards to the half mile with the broad and high jumps in addition. Undoubtedly the Nazis remembered with much embarrassment the words of Schiller “"Man is wholly man only when at play”.
Religious changes were many. The younger generation of the early thirties crowded into the churches but only to scan evangelist
Becton’s sartorial impeccability, to hear his snappy jazz band, or to 1ook upon his coterie of handsome attendants. Religion was generally known to be a racket. Agnosticism, atheism, and criticism of the church were greatly in evidence. The church therefore, began to change its program; it came forward to meet the social needs of the people. Father Divine was housing and feeding black and white in the mansions of New York “blue bloods”. Black and white shouted “Peace! Divine is God!” Negro ministers like Sheppard of Philadelphia, Ranson of Cleveland, and Austin of Chicago entered politics. When the World’s Fair discriminated against Negro labor, two Negro ministers led the picket lines.
Though the social order was in flux and the Negro, as Charles Beard has said, “was making progress against great odds”, still the black man had not over come his minority status. The dominant wish of the Negro remained Equality. Ellen, (Turpin’s These Low Grounds) believes that Negroes are Americans just as anyone else; regardless of color, all are just people. When Bigger Thomas (Native Son) is asked what he wanted to do, he replies, “Nothing more than to be able to do just what other folks do”. The general tendency of the times to see Negro people as not fundamentally different from others and the hearty welcome of political, economic, religious, and athletic contacts cutting across racial lines are in keeping with the dominant wish for equality. The testimony of rural lower class Negroes of the South is indicative of the thorough penetration of this wish into the thought of the race. In Dr. Charles Johnson’s “Growing Up in the Black Belt”, Hesekie Parker would “rather be up North where you don’t have to say ‘no sir’ to every white man”; Essie Mae Jones complains because white people think they are better than colored”; even Essie Mae’s father, a conservative says, “We are equal and ought to have an equal chance, but we can’t get it here”.
The Negro of the thirties has a profound appreciation for time and becoming. The historicity of all things is as certain as the ravages of the Depression are severe. There is no abiding folk soul. Thus Water Edward Turpin’s These Low Grounds is a novel, the very form and conception of which, shows a profound sense of time. Mr. Turpin’s work traces the fortunes of a Negro family over seven decades from the outbreak of the Civil War to the 30’s. In the same vein Dr. Just’s Biology of the Cell Surface advances the idea that time is probably the ultimate nature of all things, that the mystery of life lies in an as yet unknown time-pattern. Dr. Chas. Johnson (Race Relations) relegates values to the realm of becoming; values are not
universal but relative to the various cultures. In James Weldon Johnson’s St. Peter Relates an Incident, heaven is satirized as being in the realm of time and change, or at least the divines want St. Peter to tell a yarn so that by this he may relieve the monotony.
The Negro of the thirties, however, is not like Jake of Home to Harlem, just “bootin’” around “without a plan”. Economic collapse is the obvious cause of the disintegrating state of society. Since the economic provides the fundamental basis of all societies, the uncharted future then can be traced out beforehand by economic planning. Cooperatives, unionism, consumer pressure, even Du Bois “Black Autarchy” are products of this manner of thinking, For the New Negro of the twenties the past was virtually present in the present; for the Negro of the thirties the future is virtually present in the present.
Religion loses ground as a positive evaluation. However, one still beholds so many “happy” congregations as in Cullen’s One Way to Heaven, with apologies of exception to Sam, the one armed shyster. Aunt Mandy (One Way to Heaven) is still religiously devout but pleasure, joy and the black salons are occupying more and more of the time of the upper and lower class Negroes. Bigger Thomas’ mother prays frequently but Bigger himself says, “Religion is for whipped folks”. When the people rise up against the preachers of other worldly religion, then these “trombones” of Deity must blast a more earthly message; otherwise minds of skeptical bent will blast it for them. Thus in James Weldon Johnson’s later poetry, God is immanent law, a harsh, unsentimental force within human events. In Langston Hughes’ New Song, God must move farther for the new ways of action. In Richard Wright’s Fire and Cloud, the minister ponders
“Maybe them Reds is right”
Frank Marshall Davis, who repudiates everything, classifies religion with all other Utopian schemes; it avails nothing and will pass away.
(They All Had Grand Ideas)
Joy and laughter remain, but the latter in the form of a sort of acrimonious wit. Langston Hughes satirizes the decadent, rich whites. He shows how the Negro way of life appeals to them. His jaded, Caucasian ladies fall in love with the leader of the cult of joy who turns out to be a Negro passing for white (Rejuvenation thru Joy). Sterling Brown exposes both the absurdity of the fear of Negroes and the Jim Crow laws (Slim of Atlanta). George Schuyler burlesques the color prejudices of Negroes (Black No More). Irony and laughter
of disgust, are vividly pictured in the aeroplane scene of Native Son. William Pickens, former organizer of the N. A. A. C. P., is famous for his effective use of irony in depicting the race question. In the cabarets and on the street corners, many of the popular songs have been parodied in ribald language revealing bluntly the inner feelings of Negroes about the race problem.
There is less commotion about black and brown than in the previous period. Garvey is dead and men go only so far with Woodson. Constancia (One Way to Heaven) is conscious of and interested in the plight of Negroes but her company and general perspective are inter-racial. Jimmy Lew (These Low Grounds) socializes at the home of his white team mates. Ellen, a colored girl who is the sweetheart of Jimmy Lew, advises him thus:
“We belong here as much as other groups of Americans, Jimmy Lew. We are no more or less than other Americans. We’re just people—all of us—north, south, east, west, making the America of now and Tomorrow”.
There are also numerous other factors tending to destroy color distinctions within the Negro group. The political clubs arising from the sudden increase in political activity juxtapose Negroes of all colors and classes. Scientific analysis of color as in the works of Frazier, Davis, and Johnson portend no idealization of any type of skin color.
A most significant phase of Negro thought of the 30’s is self-consciousness. The major development is the achievement of a stage of thought at which the self is known by assumption of the attitude of the “other” toward the self, and the understanding of the other and the self as products of a common ontological source. The New Negro knew himself only thru himself, thru the “me” which, as will be recalled, he constructed in his own arbitrary way. Not until toward the end of the twenties did he discover that souls do not speak in racial tongues but in a language of pain common to all and peculiar to none. The Negro of the 30’s, because of the experiences of the Depression and the influence of radical “isms”, relates this language of soul to a concrete ontological basis. In fact the tough-minded Weltanschauung of the twenties explains every sphere of existence in terms of concrete forces observable in the going social order. The psychic, the religious, and the uncharted future have a definite relation to the economic substructure of the culture. This stage of mind and thought is not achieved immediately, however, it is a process. The way out of the vicious circle of a self-conscious-
ness which sees itself only from its own angle of vision is thru self criticism. Deliberate reflection upon the nature of that “me” which the “I” has spun out of the depths of its own being reveals after all that the American experience is ineradicably “flesh of its flesh and bone of its bone”. In Race Relations, Dr. Charles Johnson criticizes unsparingly the idea of a separate black culture with its own exclusively Negro values. The environing culture with its customs, ideals and control of the channels of public opinion will be the warp and woof of the Negro’s thinking. Alain Locke, famous as a literary critic and sponsor of many of the writers of the New Negro era, condemns the Afrophile writers as “flamboyant racial egotists” and “petty exhibitionists”. George Schuyler (Black No More) ridicules the Negro’s so called devotion to things black. His Max Disher has an obsession to be white, which, according to the author, seems true of most Negroes. Once the learn of Dr. Crookem’s invention they rush to have their black skin blanched and features Nordicized, to become black no more. Marcus Garvey appears as Santos Licorice, a humbug reformer, who advocates Back to Africa for Negroes but has no intention of going there himself. Wallace Thurman’s New Negroes are satirically called “Infants of the Spring”. He likens the Renaissance writers to racketeers profiteering on a vogue. The colored girls are eager for the attentions of white men. Eustace, a Negro, with ambitions as a singer is always ready to attempt classical music, but refuses to sing the spirituals. The attempt to formulate a basic philosophy for the “New Negro” reveals that none of the group knows just what the “New Negro” is or what he should be. Dr. Parkes (probably Alain Locke) advises resurrection of the African heritage. Fenderson is for propaganda and pleading against injustices. Cedric Williams is against any standard whatsoever and favors the idea of each according to his own will. Austin would follow Matisse, Picasso and Renoir. Madison favors Leninism.
Negro scholars working in fields other than imaginative literature contribute much to the development of self consciousness. The Black Worker, itself a product of the joint scholarship of Dr. Abram Harris and Dr. Spero (white), traces the economic history of the Negro as a phase of the history of labor in the United States. It also applies the Marxian formulae of “bourgeois” and “proletarian” to the various organizations and institutions of Negro life and classifies them accordingly. Its standards of judgment are therefore economic rather than racial or moral. Dr. Harris and Dr. Ralph Bunche are unsparing in denunciation of racial chauvinists and Negrophiles within the group. A World View of Race by the latter is one of the
very popular Bronze Booklet Series, a publication begun in the 30’s and designed to acquaint Negroes as well as the public at large with the history, achievements, and problems of Negroes. Dr. Bunche investigates the concept of race, exposes, its mystical, unscientific character, and the spuriousness of the arguments for the existence of races. He points out the historical origin of racial prejudice and the fomenting of it by economic conflict. Race is removed from the biological realm as a fixed, immutable entity. It is located in the world of group conflict, of history and becoming. Racial attitudes are capable of being changed. Tough minded environmentalism replaces genetic explanation of human behavior. Horace Bond and Martin Jenkins demonstrate the close relation between academic achievement and environment. Test scores for Northern Negroes are higher than those of Southern whites even though the latter are even more Anglo-Saxon than Northern whites. Dr. Bond also investigates the history of Negro Education in Alabama; he interprets its various forms as functions of the changing socio-economic institutions. Dr. Frazier’s studies on the Negro family reveal that the spatial relationships of Negroes in Chicago show varying degrees of social disorganization and that the phenomena of disorganization are not fundamentally biological or racial but functionally related to historical, economic, and ideological factors, viz., to free or slave background, to the difficulty of adjusting habits of the plantation community to the new urban environment, to restriction near the undesirable sections in which crime is bred, to steady encroachment upon this section by the expanding economic order, to the dearth of economic opportunities afforded Negroes generally and to the superior opportunities of mulattoes in particular. Abstract figures, viz., the employment of census reports, etc., to determine racial characteristics of Negroes, are held to be meaningless, unless functionally related to the specific referents—another evidence of the empirical and non-racial trend of Negro thought.
The biological theory of Dr. Ernest Just likewise favors environmentalism. In opposition to the theories of Mendel and Morgan, Dr. Just believes the outermost layer of the cell surface, the ectoplasm, to be the determinative factor in the life process. Rather than within a mystical, performed unit called the gene, Dr. Just locates the significant elements of life and heredity outside of the nucleus of the cell and therefore, in closer contact with the tangible and changing play of environmental factors. The ectoplasm, itself, has a chemical constituency and is material in nature. Dr. Just’s system of thought also pictures the development of life from a strictly material basis. He makes no appeal to the supernatural but conceives
of life as a new level, a unique organization of the non-living possessing an, as yet, undiscovered time pattern.
Self-criticism is the way to true self-consciousness, to the conception of self through the eyes of others, and, therefore, to a broader and more realistic understanding of the se1f. “Oh if we could see ourselves as others see us” has been the lament of mankind for ages. The pause to judge the merits, to estimate that “me” which the “I” has spun out of the depths of its own being. Such a pause of mind and thought as moved Langston Hughes when he wrote “Cross”
My old man died in a big fine house
My old ma died in a shack,
I wonder where I’m going to die
Being neither white nor black.
Such a Pause again as must have filled the mind of Cullen when he sang
Yet never shall a clan
Confine my singing to its ways
Beyond the ways of man.
Pain is no patriot;
No racial option narrows grief
And sorrow braids her dismal leaf
For all as lief as not.
With blind sheep groping every hill
Seeking an oriflamme
What shepherd heart would keep its fill
For only the darker lamb?
Fauset’s heroines, Angola, Teresa, and even Olivia find in the white world that “sorrow braids her dismal leaf for all”. Langston Hughes probes farther into that white world, probes into it and spits upon its naked marrow. He finds in it the filth and degenerate bravado of the white sailor, a walking embodiment of filth, whose every step is an oath, and whose every breath is a scenting for the grime of hovel and the whore (Red Head Baby). He knows its idolatrous regard for family name and social standing (Cora Unashamed). He removes the gild from its patronizing smile and exposes its cold reserve of prejudice (Poor Little Black Fellow). He knows that Negro joy and rhythm truly enliven the jaded nerves of the white world (Rejuvenation through Joy). He has seen the fervent beauty of golden brown girls melt into tender love the hardened caste feelings of white men. But more profound than all of these he senses within the racial attitudes of all the power of the emotion, fear. Sometimes undeliberately yet in most of the
stories of The Ways of White Folk racial conflict begins and is heightened by fear. The bulging eyes of his own blind and deaf mulatto son frighten the bawdy sailor, Clarence. He forgets drink and lust immediately, a force stronger than sex impels him to leave in haste and anger. The Pembertons (Poor Little Black Fellow) are afraid that Arnie will transgress the sacred confines of color and from deep down arise unconscious stirrings and misgivings about security of status. Mr. Lloyd (A Good Job Gone) is afraid that his prowess as a lover will be insulted by his black rival for the beautiful golden brown girl. The story Little Dog, however, is Langston Hughes’ best account of the relationship between race prejudice and fear. Briefly it is the story of a white woman and the fear psychosis engendered within her by discovery of a sudden ungovernable passion for her colored janitor. The Negro remains throughout in utter ignorance of her deep emotional struggle. Just his kind manner and gentle, brown face so upset the old maid, Miss Briggs, that only immediate abandonment of her very comfortable apartment relieves her tension. Her struggle is never moral; it is not that the object of her passion has a wife and many children, nor once does she think of the Commandment relevant to adultery. The factors causing her to repress her passion are fear of loss of her very good job, fear of the company, of her status in society and the accusing fingers of public opinion. Schuyler’s Black No More relates fear more closely to economic problems. Schuyler discusses the labor question in the South and shows that the failure of white workers to organize is based upon the fear that the employers will hire Negroes to take over their jobs. Once they have acquired the courage to organize, the employers break the backbone of the strike by spreading a: story that Swanson, the leader, is a “nigger”.
Fear, poverty, and social distance from the white world characterize the opening scene of Richard Wright’s Native Son. The alarm clock rouses the crowded Thomas family from the rickety and rat infested floor to face the bitter emptiness of another day. Like the hungry rodent which Bigger corners and kills so this Negro family skulks within the white world, gnawing and snatching at refuse and crumbs, darting past the narrow lanes of taboo and caste back to the denizen existence of its kind. Bigger Thomas hates this existence, hates its religion because it means quitting, giving up the desire for wholeness and self-realization in this world; he hates race leaders because they are rich and just like white folks; he hates his family because of their misery; the tired feeling creeping over their faces is symbolic of the meaninglessness of his own life. But he despises the white world infinitely more: it tosses him from one
menial task to another; he shines its shoes; sweep its streets, and it gives him no security of job or life.
“They choke you off the face of the earth—They kill you before you die”.
The army is theirs, the navy, Wall Street, the ability to fly planes, become President! Their manner toward you makes you think you are an experiment. They look inside of you like the bold and forward Mary Dalton; their gaudiness and aplomb cast shadows of black poverty.
Bigger Thomas does not have the Narcissus complex of the “New Negro”. Reflection reveals no glorious African heritage. Depression, relief, and the constant nagging of the family that he find a job have stripped his self bare of such fancies. He finds within an unrealized self, in diremption because it is on the one side “something the world gave him”, on the other “something he had”, on the one side, “thought”, on the other, “feeling”, “something stretched out before him, something behind”—a sundered inner world yielding no sense of wholeness. This inner self is too terrible to face; it is an affrighting self. It must therefore be avoided; by sheer effort of will every experience must be cast aside in blunt indifference. Bigger must act tough and maintain an iron reserve. The human will, however, is not, nor ever was infinite; excessive tension will shape a personality and send it off into all manners of aberrant conduct. Detective stories, moving pictures, and sex do afford releases for tension of normal intensity; robbing a white man, however, is another matter. The social significance of such an act, the knowledge that police, will track down relentlessly the Negro criminal when his victim is a white man, fills Bigger with stark fear. Iron reserve and acting tough cannot hide the self he fears to face. The very act effecting such behavior is tension, a tautness of being, Bigger’s often mentioned, “tight feeling”, which is in its essence fear of the all-environing white world. His proposal to rob Blum is insincere; it ends in a fiasco of fright, a transfer of his fear for Blum to a brutal, sadistic bullying of Gus.
The Blum affair and the mockery of Gus plunge Bigger into a mood of brooding and deep regret. The white world defeats him at every turn. For fear of it he tortures his friends and the despondent aftermath impresses him with the very thing he has tried to obliterate, consciousness of the nothingness of himself. Moving pictures dangle before him the luxuries of civilization but outside he finds contempt or pity, whirring automobiles passing him by,
aeroplanes droning defiantly overhead, and solid ranks of straight, forbidding buildings. The white world is too much for his iron reserve to avail anything. He must even go into it for his job. Here he is totally lost: Mr. Dalton has his case record, his birth, his complexes, knowledge of his sentence to the reform school. The blind Mrs. Dalton frightens him; she is like someone who speaks to you from behind something and whom you cannot see. Mary Dalton and Jan make him uneasy; they frighten and anger him with their unconventional intimacy and readiness to socialize with Negroes. They ask him too many questions, pry too much into his life. They look inside of him!
The tension resulting from the proposed robbery of Blum was released in conduct suggestive of murder; Bigger forced Gus to lick his knife blade. Jan’s continual prodding, Mary’s affrighting forwardness now make him want to blot out the white world. It is a “white blur”, a vague something he visualizes whenever Mrs. Dalton appears. He is on his way to self-consciousness through the “other”. The white world is a blur, but, it is an “immediate”, it is there. The mounting tension, the warmth of liquor, the nearness of the inebriated Mary, and the sudden appearance of the blind Mrs. Dalton result in the unpremeditated, yet necessary, smothering of Mary. Bigger is not filled with remorse because he feels that his act was no intentional murder. Nor had he raped Mary; what passion he did have for her was provoked by her own unknowing actions. Fear of the “white blur”, of the suddenly appearing Mrs. Dalton, filling his mind with all the horror of a Negro caught in the boudoir of a white woman, gripped his being, the nerves, the very fingers that held the pillow over the face of Mary. And the next morning nobody suspects him! This suggests to him another method of avoiding or overcoming the “self” that social forces have thrust upon him: act as people expect you but do for yourself what they would never suspect. Bigger Thomas is a poor, ignorant, black boy; he would never murder a white girl, cut her body up and burn it in a furnace. He would never think of doing this and then of writing a kidnap note. Most surely not since he works in the Dalton home everyday and Negroes are naturally afraid of the dead. The white world, the “other”, is blind: Mr. Dalton is blind, Mrs. Dalton, Jan, Britten, the law! Such dissimulation is not only characteristic of the murderer, Bigger Thomas, it is the method of the “Uncle Tom” Negro whether, as servant, he acts foolish and “plays dumb” in order to maintain the good graces of his employers, or whether it is the suave Negro executive with his successful business, church school, or public office.
In the development of self-consciousness Bigger has attempted two methods: (1) iron reserve against facing the horrible “me”;
(2) acceptance of the “me” in overt action but conception of self as an “I” that dissimulates and actually does what it wants. But the law catches up with the dissimulating “I”. The overwhelming white world bears down upon the murderer violates the rights of every Negro, dragnets the Black Belt, peers through the windows of Negro home life and prowls above the root tops. Bigger’s reaction this time is to cease to will at all. He says nothing, eats nothing, wishes to see nobody, neither mother nor friends and, least of all, the preacher. But the sensitivities of a human being are still there; he faints at the inquest. From this bare nothingness of existence two men reclaim Bigger Thomas and give him for the first time a recognition of the true meaning of his life. Jan and Max symbols of the socio-economic forces that are deeply affecting the mind and thought of the Negro of the thirties, are these men.
Bigger is immovably indifferent until Jan visits the jail unexpectedly and speaks to him thus:
“I was in jail grieving for Mary and then I thought of all the black men who’ve been killed, the black men who have had to grieve when their people were snatched from them in slavery and since slavery. I thought if they could stand it, I ought to”.
Jan moved Bigger with these words more so than with all of his talk about “Reds”, “unions”, and communist pamphlets. From that moment he began to feel that
“a particle of white rock had detached itself from the looming mountains of white hate”.
The warmth of sympathy consumes the jagged edges of hate. Jan is taking the role of Bigger through reflection upon the history of the Negro people; Bigger is beginning to see that the “white blur” has behind it souls like his own. Social distance between the two is lessening. Bigger is seeing others and seeing himself as others see him. Max does the rest. He makes Bigger see that if he assumes the mental attitude of the whites and views the murder of Mary that he, too, will feel hate. He shows Bigger that if he actually detested Mary, if there were no grounds for friendship between them that he would not have wanted her sexually. He makes Bigger understand that his attitude toward white people is emotional, the words of Mead an “immediate reaction” instead of the “delayed reaction” characteristic of rational thinking. [sic] Bigger’s only reply to the question of why he hated Mary is
“What her kind ever let us do?”
When Max asks what he wanted to do he answers first
“Nothing, I reckon, nothing. But I reckon I wanted to do what other people do”.
Max points out to him the many discriminations against other groups.
He makes it clear that the Negro differ only in that skin color makes it easier to single him out. By clever questioning Bigger is forced to admit that happiness is sought by himself and everyone else. The color barriers have already passed away; iron reserve no longer hides his true self; the white world is no longer a blur. The world, at this period, is “a black, sprawling prison full of tiny black cells in which people live; each cell has its stone jar of water and a crust of bread and no one can go from cell to cell and there are screams and curses and yells and suffering and nobody hears them for the walls are thick and darkness everywhere. This floating, fluid image gives way to the feeling that perhaps black men, white men, and all men are striving upward toward one goal and that all are the same. Mr. Dalton and his kind strive to maintain their stake in the culture. When their way of life is challenged, they refuse to face their true selves; they hide behind the ultimates of their own self-created ideology, viz.—“ethics of the profession” or “the laws of supply and demand”'. Mr. Dalton and his kind are becoming afraid because men are disputing these so-called ultimates. Mrs. Dalton has tucked her conscience in the silken encasement of her own idealism; hers is not Bigger’s iron reserve but a blindness so complete that she cannot see herself as a responsible personality casually connected to the being and plight of Bigger and his family. Nor does she understand how her very riches have driven her daughter into the arms of Jan and his cause. She lavishes money upon Mary, thousands at the time, sends her off to school not knowing that the girl is desiring like Bigger for self-realization, and that instead of going to school she is meeting Jan at the Communist headquarters. Mary tells Jan she feels so worthless, that she wants to do something. Mrs. Dalton’s idealism is her striving, a blind striving; she is locked in her cell for all her millions. Mary’s “wanting to do something” is her striving. Britten’s attachment to Mr. Dalton as special officer is his blunted self-realization, an iron reserve like Bigger’s, tough in overt action, but inwardly a fear ridden soul, insecure in status. Race feeling as manifested by the mob is only a phase of the general striving, fear and hysteria of all the conflicting people. It has an economic basis: the politicians, heeding the complaints of Loop bankers, the manufacturers’ association, and the merchants employing race hate to divert energies which otherwise would be directed into demonstrations for relief imposition of more taxes upon the rich, and strikes. The mob is blind, afraid, socially distant, and its striving is conditioned by forces belonging to the total culture. Cultural forces condition the raw emotions and the conative aspects of human personality; whether the conditioning results in normal or abnormal behavior depends, for the most part, upon the manner of conditioning. Besides the handi-
cap of recency in civilization, and hence possession of behavior patterns not so disciplined as those of races with a continuous European background, the Negro enjoys full self expression only in religion. His behavior, therefore, is what it is either because of or in spite of what goes on hourly in the mental life of twelve million Negroes. Bigger Thomas is an extreme example, one, in whose overt action can be seen “the collective will” of over a hundred million people. His distorted personality is a product of the “social situation" faced by the Negro in the United States; he is a NATIVE SON.
*The “me” is the conventional self; society’s estimate of the individual. The “I” is the reaction of the individual to this estimate of society.
** “Just as there could not be individual consciousness, except in a social group, so the individual in a certain sense is not willing to live under certain conditions which would involve a sort of suicide of the self in its process of realization. Over against that situation we referred to those values which attach particularly to the “I” rather than to the “me”, those values which are found in the immediate attitude of the artist, the inventor, the scientist in his discovery, in general in the action of the “I” which cannot be calculated and which involves a reconstruction of the society and so of the “me” which belongs to that society.” — Mead, G. H., Mind, Self and Society, p 214.
By mind is not meant an entity capable of reasoning about or intuiting the world, according to the purity of its own categories and norms, a kind of being existing above time and space, unaffected by biological and sociological forces. Nor is mind comprised of mere “brain events”, cerebral behavior. To know mind the investigator must go beyond cerebral behavior to the bio-social milieu of the organism. Mind is not a substantive; it is the qualitative aspect of all the processes by which the human organism interacts with its environment, attributes meaning to the events taking place because of and comprised within these interactions, and funds and symbolizes these meanings in such a way as to forsee their significance for alternative courses of action. Mind is broader than consciousness and thought, for funded meanings and repressed urges not in the pur-
view of the two latter processes often determine their course and eventuation. Mind is a capacity of the living human organism which as living and human, possesses a nervous system constructed according to the peculiar space-pattern and temporal rhythm essential to the level of being known as mental. But mind grows with each interaction with environment; it is qualified by all the experiences, historical and social, that the organism undergoes. Mind is broader than experience for it is the possibility of experiences; the organism, though physically constructed so as to be capable of mind becomes a “minded” individual thru its experiences. The mental process, as Dewey suggests, is a “doing-undergoing-doing”, a process, which, though possessing originally the physical prerequisites for feeling, sensation, perception, conception, hypothesis, and validation, yet is itself qualified in the course of those very experiences by which its potentialities become actualized.
With this orientation, the concept, “Mind of the Negro” as used in the above mentioned work assumes the following meaning: a classification of the behavior of the Negro people according to the configuration revealed in the meanings of this behavior when these latter (the meanings) are considered not as springing forth full grown from pure reason but from interaction of the individuals with the forces existing in their social environment. Thus the mind of the Negro is Utopian, a mentality oriented toward “bursting the status quo” (Mannheim).
Since neither the race problem, nor world events, nor the Negro, as a thinking and acting being, remain static, the Utopian mentality, though maintaining its fundamentally Utopian character, must change developmentally from period to period. Thus from 1876 to 1900 the Utopian mentality of the Negro may be described as that of “The Disillusioned Freedman”; 1900-14, “A Co-Worker in the Kingdom of Culture”; 1914-30, “The New Negro or Black Dionyses”; 1930-40, “Native Son”.
A clear understanding of these particular phases of the all-comprehending, Utopian Gestalt necessitates explanation of the concepts, Thought and the Dominant Wish. It has already been stated that mind is broader than thought. Thought is the process by which mind imputes meanings to such data of experience as are challenging its purposes. Mind is a process, too, but its aspects and activities go beyond the problematic. Thought is a phase of the process called mind. As Dewey says “Mind is a background and I a foreground”.
The mental process, because of repeated appearances of the same or a similar problem in every aspect of its life, political, eco-
nomic, social, educational, aesthetic, and religious, may come to have all of its feelings, attitudes and strivings centered about this very problem. If for the most part its tensions and frustrations are centered upon this problem its totality of latent motor settings become dominated by the wish to solve this problem. It has taken on a cardinal trait, a principle which in the early history of the people will have merely stylistic influence but from generation to generation comes to have increasing motivational power. The mind becomes qualified in such a way that by far the major part of its activity springs from and is “informed” by a dominant wish. E. B. Holt long ago called our attention to the thought that our sensations were not passively received but owed their being to the efferent phases of neural activity. The late C. A. Strong just before his death made significant contributions to the sensory-motor theory of awareness. The writer agrees with Mr. Strong’s theory of the origin of knowledge; he does not accept Mr. Strong’s thesis that the knowing process exactly photographs an external world; he cannot accept the ideal that the datum is unaffected by bio-social factors. Mental processes, especially those of persons in societies beset by intense social antagonisms, tend to become dominated by a single, all enveloping wish, a “situationally transcendent idea” oriented toward a transformation of existing conditions. (i.e., if the people are oppressed; the ruling group does not strive to change but maintain the status quo.) Just as Aristotle pictured the soul as the entelechy of the body and Blanshard today, makes mind that which actualizes possibility for human-kind so, with greater regard for empirical foundation, we may say the dominant wish, arising from social frustration, comes to dominate the mental activity of a people. For the old slave the dominant wish was Freedom; for the Freedman deprived of his rights, run from the ballot boxes, lynched, and ground down it became Equality. From 1876 to 1940 the Negro seeks Equality either by escaping the race physically or culturally, or by postulating a scheme of values in which black is ipso facto the equivalent of white.
In the various novels, poems, and other types of imaginative literature investigated the attempt was made to show that this dominant wish, this socially motivated will of equality, permeates (1) the time-historical perspective: (2) the major valuations: Color, Joy and Laughter, God and Religion; (3) Self-Consciousness or Concept of Self. In general, the aspects of mind and thought revelatory of a Utopian mentality as indicated by Mannheim were followed.
SOURCE: Fontaine, W[illiam] T. “The Mind and Thought of the Negro of the United States as Revealed in Imaginative Literature, 1876-1940,” Southern University Bulletin, 28 (March 1942), pp. 5-50.
NOTE: I have corrected obvious typographical errors in the published text, including spelling errors and transposed out-of-sequence lines of text. In some cases rather than attempting a correction I added [sic] following the passage in question. I have preserved the idiosyncratic practices of punctuation in the original. The boldfacing is my addition. RD
Fontaine, William T. Fortune, Matter, and Providence: A Study of Ancius Severinus Boethius and Giordano Bruno. PhD dissertation. Scotlandville, LA, 1939.
_______________. Social Determination in the Writings of American Negro Scholars, American Journal of Sociology, vol. 49 (1944), pp. 302-13. Reprinted in Philosophy Born of Struggle: Anthology of Afro-American Philosophy from 1917, edited by Leonard Harris (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1983), pp. 89-102, with rebuttal by E. Franklin Frazier, pp. 102-106.
_______________. Reflections on Segregation, Desegregation, Power and Morals. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishing Company, 1967.
Kuklick, Bruce. Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Bibliography, pp. 161-163.
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