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On February 17, 1919, the 369th African-American Regiment marched up New York's Fifth Avenue from downtown to Harlem, a symbol of the dawning Harlem Renaissance and the advent of the "New Negro." [1] The name "Harlem Renaissance" identifies a period of resurgence in black arts and letters and the emergence of a new kind of black: the New Negro, who was part of the first substantial group of college-educated African Americans. In 1917, 2,132 African Americans had graduated from college, but by 1927, at the height of the Renaissance, 13,580 African Americans held college degrees and 39 African Americans held doctorates. Educated African Americans were having careers not only in the arts but in the professions as well, as teachers, nurses, librarians, lawyers, and doctors. The "Talented Tenth," as W.E.B. DuBois called this segment of the population, were able to educate themselves and had enough economic security to form a new class of African Americans throughout the United States.

However, even among the educated and middle-class, all African Americans still experienced racial violence and racism and lived with the threat of poverty. At the same time that the more affluent especially felt an upsurge in pride for their race, they grappled with racism and fought against atrocities like lynchings. This was also the period of the Great Urban Migration from the South, partly in response to the formation of the new Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and partly in response to other kinds of economic and social oppression. Blacks moved to New York in large numbers, but also to other cities in the North, including Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Detroit. The head of the Chicago Urban League remarked, "'Every time a lynching takes place in a community down South you can depend on it that colored people will arrive in Chicago within two weeks."' [2] For the most part, those from the rural South were primarily farmers and unskilled laborers, not members of the "Talented Tenth."

While blacks worked to gain equality and end discrimination, there were opposing political views among them on how this change would be achieved. Notable among these oppositions were the different political philosophies of W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. While Washington, an accommodationist to white Southern interests, was the most prominent black leader from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century, DuBois began to speak out against his position and to assume a leadership role in the 1870s. His book, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), advocating social equality between blacks and whites, made clear his opposition to Washington's policies. By the end of the nineteenth century, DuBois was the acknowledged leader of most black intellectuals. When DuBois became director of publicity and research for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he launched the Association's magazine, The Crisis, a social and literary journal. DuBois also conceived the idea of the Pan African Congresses, which brought together blacks from all over the world to discuss ways to give people of African heritage more opportunities and greater freedoms. Congresses convened four times during the Harlem Renaissance -- in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927 -- and then again in 1947. Although no real changes evolved from these meetings, the dialogue was important in keeping issues in the public eye.

Also in contrast to DuBois's political philosophy was Jamaican Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Garvey called for African Americans to reclaim Africa for themselves rather than to focus on racism and terrorism in the United States. Similar to DuBois's Pan African Congresses, Garvey sought to unite all African people from nations around the world, but unlike DuBois, he called for "the creation of a black economy within the white capitalist world, that would both liberate blacks in America from the oppression of discrimination and redeem the peoples of Africa from the oppression of colonialism." [3]

Before and during the Harlem Renaissance, literary magazines served as forums for writers and artists to voice their opinions on current racial violence, including lynchings, and to arouse racial consciousness. The community of African-American writers and artists helped to promote each other's work through these magazines and by developing connections with the white publishing world. They shared a concern for their race and were aware of the impact they were having not only on the African-American community but also on the literary and creative world at large.

As editor of The Crisis, DuBois wrote constantly against racial prejudice and lynching. At its peak, The Crisis sold close to 116,000 copies per month all across the United States. David Levering Lewis claims that "[i]n an era of rampant illiteracy, when hard labor left Afro-Americans little time or inclination for reading Harvard-accented editorials, the magazine found its way into kerosene-lit sharecroppers' cabins and cramped factory workers' tenements." [4] After 1919, DuBois hired Jessie Fauset as literary editor and together they published the literature of the "Talented Tenth." In fact, Fauset was most responsible for this, although DuBois received most of the credit.

In January 1923, the Urban League, another organization that fought for black rights, launched its magazine, Opportunity. The Urban League's director of research and investigation, sociologist Charles S. Johnson, served as the editor. Johnson believed strongly that African Americans' artistic creativity could bridge the gap between whites and blacks and thus help to create racial equality. He used every piece of literature he published as a "weapon against the old racial stereotypes." [5] In conjunction with Opportunity, Johnson organized the Civic Club Dinner on March 21, 1924 to honor Fauset's first novel, There Is Confusion. The dinner was one of the early events that sparked significant interest in African-American literature on the part of white publishers, including Paul Kellogg. Editor of Survey Graphic magazine, Kellogg was so impressed he decided to devote an entire issue to African American writings and writers. Kellogg worked with Howard University professor Alain Locke on the March 1925 issue of Survey Graphic, which was subtitled "Harlem: Mecca for the New Negro."

In May 1925 Opportunity held its first annual literary award ceremony. The judges for the contest included white and black writers, and the event contributed to bringing the winners into the spotlight of the white publishing establishment. Award winners included essayists Sterling Brown and E. Franklin Frazier, short story writer Zora Neale Hurston (for "Spunk"), and poets Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes's award-winning poem "The Weary Blues" was read aloud at the banquet, and Carl Van Vechten, who acted as a liaison between the black community and publisher Alfred Knopf, encouraged Knopf to publish Hughes's first book of poetry. The Crisis soon followed suit and held its first literary competition in November 1925.

Witnessing the flourishing of these publications, groups of African American writers joined forces to publish their own magazine. One such was a group that included Wallace Thurman, Langston Hughes, and Zora Neale Hurston, who together launched Fire!! in November 1926, although this was the only issue ever published. Also involved with the project were Gwendolyn Bennett, who assisted with editorial work, and Aaron Douglas and Richard Bruce Nugent, who supplied the art. This group of artists intended to set the literary community "ablaze" by breaking away from Harlem's literary establishment. But many of the black intelligentsia were put off by the offensiveness of Fire!!'s contents. David Levering Lewis claims that "Thurman had meant to shock," and critics noted that the offensive qualities were direct influences from Carl Van Vechten's recent novel, Nigger Heaven. [6] The magazine contained work by Countee Cullen, Arna Bontemps, and Helene Johnson, as well as material from the editorial staff. Ironically, after its first and only issue, most of the original copies burned up in a fire in the warehouse where they were stored. [7]

The black literary community of Philadelphia also published a magazine, Black Opals, from 1927 to 1928. Writers involved in this project included Philadelphians as well as contributors from outside of the area. Materials consisted mostly of short sketches, poetry, and portraits by Nellie Bright, Mae V. Cowdery, Jessie Fauset, Marita Bonner, and Arthur Huff Fauset. Boston's black intellectual community developed its own magazine, The Saturday Evening Quill, published from 1928 to 1930. Edited by Eugene Gordon, it included stories and poetry from writers such as Helene Johnson and Dorothy West. The more radical socialist publication, The Messenger, was edited by A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen from 1917 to 1925, when George Schuyler took over until its final issue in 1928. The Messenger initially opposed the political views of DuBois and Garvey by attacking the capitalist system and calling for a socialist revolution, but when its readership declined, it began to support African-American economic advancement in business.

Clearly, the Harlem Renaissance was defined not only by the political struggles of African Americans but by their artistic expression as well. Looking at the period, we get the impression that the most prominent artists and politicians were male; yet there were many women who achieved similar success, especially in the arts. Perhaps the best-known artists of the period were its musicians, as part of the larger phenomenon dubbed the Jazz Age. African Americans dominated (but did not necessarily control) the music industry before, during, and after the Renaissance, but they achieved success in all of the popular genres of the 1920s and 1930s, including the blues, opera, and jazz. Jazz artists such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong flourished and became household names in both white and black communities. Many women achieved success also, primarily as singers and dancers, through the avenues of Harlem nightclubs, traveling shows, and musical recordings, as participants in choruses, as leads in Broadway musicals, or as solo performers in prominent theaters.

Many white performers attended the popular Harlem nightclubs where black blues artists performed and then popularized the music through their own recordings; it was important, therefore, for African Americans working in the tradition of the blues to feel some sense of ownership over their careers. Some women, including Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Gladys Bentley attempted to maintain some control over their music, insofar as this was possible in an industry controlled by white men. Despite the claims of some white artists to the materials, many blues compositions were originally written, composed, and sung by African Americans. Ma Rainey was known as the Mother of Blues because of the pervasive influence of her unique style. "Ma Rainey developed a blues style that bridged the never entirely congenial gap between the early, primitive, rural blues and the later, more sophisticated, urban blues." [8] Although Bessie Smith performed primarily in African-American theaters, she sometimes performed for white audiences, reaching a national level of success when she starred in such films as the 1929 "St. Louis Blues." Through exposure to a dual audience, Smith taught white America about African-American music. Owning her own career and life in ways that influenced future generations of African-American women artists, Gladys Bentley accompanied herself on the piano while singing her own compositions, and created her own outrageous versions of popular songs. Ethel Waters made approximately 259 recordings, which she promoted by touring, primarily in the South.

Unlike the popular performers and singers, entertainers with a training in classical music, like Marion Anderson, Minto Cato, and Lillian Evanti, went abroad and gained international recognition, then returned to perform in the United States. Marion Anderson was one of many artists who went to Europe to develop her career and later became the first black singer to appear with the Metropolitan Opera Company. She is perhaps best remembered for the controversy that developed  over her scheduled performance at Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall in 1939. When the Daughters of the American Revolution, who owned the Hall, refused to let her sing there, Eleanor Roosevelt, on behalf of the White House, arranged to have the concert moved to the Lincoln Memorial, where Anderson sang to an audience of seventy-five thousand people. Also finding it difficult to build a career in America, Lillian Evanti toured Europe, later returned to the United States, and founded the National Negro Opera Company in 1943. Minto Cato opened her own music studio in Detroit and performed with her company. She dedicated herself to teaching in order to foster future African-American efforts in classical music.

African-American actresses contributed greatly to the Harlem Renaissance, both on the stage and in the new medium of film. Yet it was still very difficult for dark-skinned women to get roles, although dark-skinned men, such as Paul Robeson, were accepted as actors. When women did get parts, these were almost always as stereotypes. Light-skinned women like Nina Mae McKinney and Freddi Washington fared somewhat better, but still, like many singers, found it necessary to travel to Paris to gain recognition and acceptance as serious performers. Jessie Fauset's novel There Is Confusion portrays a talented singer who faces similar obstacles in her career.

Like so many writers and other artists of the Renaissance, actresses turned to Europe because their career opportunities were limited in America. At the same time some African-American actresses broke out of the boundaries set by white theater and film and joined black-owned theater groups, where they performed in plays or films that depicted the African-American experience. [9] There were also some African Americans who reacted against what was produced for white audiences with their own work and the beginnings of black film production. In 1917 Oscar Micheaux produced The Homesteader, starring actress Evelyn Preer, the first silent film produced by an African American.

Other African-American actresses were seduced by the temptations of Hollywood. When Freddi Washington played a mulatto in the first film version of Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life, her light skin and the theme of "passing" showed that such parts, too, would arouse controversy and fear. Many African Americans believed that Washington's depiction of the tragic life of a mulatto passing for white represented her personal opposition to the goals African Americans were fighting for, while others were not even sure if she was in fact an African American. Bothered by this questioning of her identity, Washington took out advertisements in newspapers around the country to publicize the fact that she was an African American. She made it clear that she took the part in the film because she saw it as a black role. Her outspokenness scared those whites who feared the publicity would encourage passing even more. Although the outcry over Imitation of Life ended Washington's career in Hollywood, the position she took on the issue was important, because she did not lose sight of her identity and stood up for it courageously. In order to help African Americans in the performing arts, she founded the Negro Actors Guild in New York.

Probably the best known actress and dancer from the Harlem Renaissance is Josephine Baker. [10] Color was a factor here, too, of course: Baker was typecast as a comedienne in the United States, and to achieve recognition for the full range of her abilities she had to follow the path of other Harlem artists and move to Paris. While Baker was frustrated by being typecast as a comedienne, Jackie "Moms" Mabley did not find this a problem, and she flourished in Harlem at Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club. Mabley began in vaudeville, gradually developing a stage character for herself as a "world-weary old woman" [11] through the use of her tattered and mismatched clothing, and performed for thirty years as the headliner at the Apollo Theater. Mabley also played a serious role in Harlem's literary community by collaborating with Zora Neale Hurston on sketches for a revue entitled Fast and Furious; together they played cheerleaders in the sketch "Football Teams." As one of the first African-American comediennes, "Moms" Mabley was an important figure. Rather than accepting the designation comedienne as a limitation, she made it her calling.

Rose McClendon fought diligently throughout her career against discrimination in the entertainment industry. Although she worked primarily as an actress, she also directed plays at the Negro Experimental Theatre. She believed deeply in the idea of establishing a theater to train African-American actors and produce plays by African-American writers, and to this end she established the Negro People's Theatre in 1935 with actor Dick Campbell. When she died, he formed the Rose McClendon Players, as a tribute to her commitment to the training of African Americans in all aspects of the theater and performing arts. Of the African-American theater group that she envisioned, McClendon stated, "Such a theatre could ... create a tradition that would equal the tradition of any national group," developing "not an isolated Paul Robeson, or an occasional Bledsoe, or Gilpin, but a long line of first-rate actors." [12]

Although the performing artists of the Renaissance were the best known, there were a number of important African-Americans in the visual arts as well. In the aftermath of the Renaissance, in 1937, the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) helped to establish the Harlem Community Art Center. The first director of the Center was sculptor Augusta Savage, well known in Renaissance circles, who was followed in that position by writer Gwendolyn Bennett. The Center assisted artists financially and promoted new talent in the community by offering classes taught by established figures in the African-American art world.

Paving the way for others, Augusta Savage played a vital role in the African-American arts by her mentoring of younger artists. Even before the Center was started, she established her own studio, the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts, for young artists and opened the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art, which was committed to exhibiting and selling work by blacks. Artists Savage nurtured and influenced include Gwendolyn Knight, Norman Lewis, and Elba Lightfoot. In 1923, when Savage was rejected from a summer art program in Paris because of her African-American heritage, she brought the issue of discrimination against African-American artists out into the open by going public with her story. [13]

Boston sculptor Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller was one of the first artists to focus specifically on African themes. As David Driskell has noted, "She looked to the songs of Black America and to African folktales for inspirational themes that focused on pathos and joy in the human condition." [14] She was also revolutionary in refusing to cater to white American art patrons, as her predecessors had done. "Until Fuller, the aesthetic of the black visual artist seemed inextricably tied to the taste of White America, more particularly, perhaps, to subject matter and definitions of form derived from European art." [15] Her sculpture was one of the first art forms by an African American to have an Afrocentric subject and aesthetic. Unusual for a woman of her generation, Fuller built a studio and continued to produce her sculptures in spite of her husband's opposition. She was probably also the first African-American theater designer. "[I]nspired by WE.B. DuBois' Pan-Africanist philosophy, which emphasized Black Americans' common heritage," [16] Fuller created art works that employed all facets of the African-American experience. In conjunction with Savage, she laid an important foundation for future African-American women artists by proving to them that they could overcome racial discrimination, economic restraints, and the inhibiting effects of marriage.

During the Renaissance all visual and performing artists, both women and men, found it difficult to support their artistic careers without help from patrons. Carl Van Vechten with his wife, Fania Marinoff, Charlotte Osgood Mason, Fannie Hurst, and Amy and Arthur Spingarn were important white promoters for many black writers and artists. [17] Among African-American patrons, three women, in particular, made a notable difference in the lives of their fellow artists through their support.

A'Lelia Walker's Dark Tower salon in Harlem served as a place for intellectuals to meet. Ironically, Walker was able to afford these gatherings for black and white artists because of an inheritance from her mother, Madame C. J. Walker, who had a thriving business in hair-straightening for African-American women. A'Lelia Walker was a vital supporter of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance, and her death, which occurred toward the end of the period, dealt a blow to Harlem intellectuals. "When A'Lelia Walker died, the young writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance lost one of their steadfast admirers and benefactors. Not only had she always invited them to her parties, but in the late twenties she had converted a ground-floor section of her town house on West 136th Street into a meeting place for them." [18] Although Walker acted as a hostess, she did not financially support any artists. She invited the right people and let them make their own contacts with promoters such as Carl Van Vechten. Her contribution, however, was essential to the flourishing of the artistic environment of the Harlem Renaissance.

In Washington, D.C., Georgia Douglas Johnson played a similar role. A writer herself, Johnson opened her home on S Street to other writers on Saturday evenings so that they could read and discuss their works. Among the writers who attended these sessions were Marita Bonner, Jessie Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimke, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Gwendolyn Bennett. All were welcomed at her home, both the established writers and the younger generation on the threshold of their careers. These evenings helped young writers make contacts and share their work, as well as to receive advice from more prominent figures. All those who attended agreed that Saturday evenings at Johnson's helped foster writing careers. [19]

Finally, there was Jessie Fauset. Until recently, historians and literary critics have neglected her instrumental role in promoting the work of others, especially as editor of The Crisis and The Brownie's Book. According to David Levering Lewis, when Fauset left her position at The Crisis, which she edited from 1918 to 1926, the literary quality of the periodical deteriorated, and tensions developed between the magazine and its writers. [20] When Fauset believed that particular writers had a valuable contribution to make, she published them and helped nurture their literary careers by championing their work. Her "correspondence show[s] her deep personal support and concern as well as her professional regard and backing" for many literary figures during the Harlem Renaissance. [21] The support was mutual: those writers Fauset published and encouraged through her letters and literary reviews gave her equal support by including her work in their anthologies and maintaining a stimulating correspondence with her. [22]

Although Langston Hughes is the best-known writer of the period, few know about Fauset's role in promoting his work. It was her discovery and subsequent publication in The Crisis of Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" that sparked his long-lived career, one that far overshadowed her own. In addition to publishing his work, she introduced him to other important writers and artists. She also encouraged Jean Toomer and Countee Cullen through her correspondence and published Toomer's first two poems. In recognition of her constant personal and literary support, Cullen published her poems in his anthology Caroling Dusk. Through her own literary achievements and her encouragement of others, Fauset played as crucial a role in the literary community of the Harlem Renaissance as did Charles Johnson, WE.B. DuBois, and Alain Locke. Fauset should be remembered not only as a distinguished and prolific writer but as an instrumental champion of the Harlem Renaissance.

The promoters of the Harlem Renaissance worked to bring a wide range of artists together to discuss, publicize, and display each other's work. Walker, Johnson, and Fauset enabled artists of the 1920s and 1930s to cross racial lines. Artists and writers were together breaking through boundaries, whether sexual, racial, stylistic, or geographical. There was at the time an interconnectedness among the arts that extended beyond the limits of Harlem and Greenwich Village and indeed beyond the United States. In this period of Modernism and experimentalism, creative artists of all kinds gathered to discuss the latest trends in writing, painting, music, and theater. Harlem Renaissance and white Modernist writers and artists were drawn to Paris as a place to achieve the acceptance not easily attained in the United States. Gertrude Stein's atelier in Paris, for example, like Walker's salon in Harlem, served as a meeting place for a wide range of writers and artists, thus furthering artistic interchanges. Historians and literary scholars are only now beginning to explore these connections between the black and white artistic movements of the early twentieth century. [23]

Beginning with the Great Depression there was a steady decline in the outpouring of artistic creativity from Harlem. Although African Americans continued to create and to publish during the 1930s, the overall level of activity decreased each year. In times of economic hardship for whites and blacks, it became increasingly difficult for white promoters to commit finances to projects by African Americans. The closely knit community of Harlem became disjointed when various members of the community relocated; Jessie Fauset moved to New Jersey, Alain Locke became busier with activities at Howard University, and Charles S. Johnson became absorbed in his teaching at Fisk University. The death of A'Lelia Walker in 1931, followed by those of both Rudolph Fisher and Wallace Thurman in 1934, further eroded Harlem's literary circle, and in that same year DuBois resigned from the NAACP and The Crisis. Finally on March 19, 1935, the Harlem Riot, provoked by deteriorating urban conditions and joblessness (over half of the Harlem work force was unemployed), broke down the remnants of the artistic community. As scholars disagree as to when the Renaissance began, so they disagree as to when it ended; most, however, agree that it was precipitated by the Great Depression and ended sometime in the 1930s.


Black women played a large role in shaping the Renaissance. With innovations rooted in African-American folklore, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and Ma Rainey made huge strides in their media, as did Zora Neale Hurston in her creative use of African-American folklore. All black women artists also shared the same adversities, the same struggle against oppression. Although the male artists faced racial and sometimes economic oppression, these women were oppressed because of their race, class, and sex. Aside from the discrimination they encountered in the white world, African-American women artists were oppressed by their male counterparts. The writers included in this anthology, especially Jessie Fauset and Angelina Weld Grimke, record experiences of triple oppression.

Many of the stories explore the legacy of slavery as a means connected to the search for freedom from racial and sexual oppression. Most of these writers were second or third-generation free African Americans who write of traditions and themes similar to those of Harriet Wilson's Our Nig and Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of  a Slave Girl. The experiences of slavery were handed down through family histories and genealogy, and many of the writers used these experiences to examine their own contemporary racial oppression. Throughout the stories in this collection themes of slavery, tension between North and South, and between urban and rural prevail.

The three stories by Jessie Fauset all explore black women's triple oppression. In "The Sleeper Wakes," Amy, the beautiful, fair-skinned protagonist, although uncertain of her racial heritage, passes for white and marries an extremely wealthy Southerner. He loves her dearly, but the marriage falls apart when she takes the side of the black servants whom he constantly abuses, and announces that she too is black. For a while she lets him support her, but when he invites her to return to him as his mistress, the insult is too great for her. Her disentanglement from him includes working to repay the money he had spent on her and a reunion with the black family with whom she had lived as a child. Fauset's story is set at the crossroad of race, class, and gender oppression, and offers a preview of the themes of passing, interracial marriage, and the search for economic security that dominate in her novel Plum Bun.

Similar to Fauset's novel The Chinaberry Tree and like her main character in "The Sleeper Wakes," Angelique in "Double Trouble" knows nothing about her father, although her racial identity is not in question. However, because of her mother's affair with one of the town's most prominent black men, which resulted in her birth and the breakup of his marriage, the town treats her as a pariah. Angelique only learns the cause of her ostracism after the young man with whom she is in love discovers they are sister and brother. On the other side of the story, Angelique's aunt, whose chances for a good marriage were limited because she (Angelique's mother's sister) was the daughter of a slave master and a slave woman, hates the young girl for the further disgrace (double trouble) her sister brought on the family through her behavior. Focusing more on intraracial than interracial conflicts and problems, "Double Trouble" is still a story of women as victims in a man's world.

Fauset's third story in the anthology, "Mary Elizabeth," is unusual for her in its use of Southern dialect and first-person narration; it is also one of the few stories she did not later develop into a novel. A black household worker in the home of an urban middle-class black couple, Mary Elizabeth, using her own family as an illustration, gives her employer a useful lesson on how difficult it was to hold black families together in slavery. Her father had been sold down the river after her birth, and had thus lost his family; returning twenty-six years later (with his fourth wife), he discovered that his first wife had remarried and had several children by her second husband. The lesson is well taken by the young urban wife, who realizes two important things: first, how easily elements of black history are lost through time and distance and second, how much she and her husband have to be thankful for.

Gwendolyn Bennett's "Wedding Day" is her only short story and first appeared in Fire!!. The locale is Paris, where both Bennett and Fauset traveled frequently, as is evident in most of their writing. [24] The action explores the pervasiveness of white American racism against blacks, even in Europe. In spite of his determination to repulse associations with all whites in Paris, Paul Watson, a black American, falls in love with a white American woman whom he befriended when she was in financial straits, only to be jilted by her on their wedding day. [25]

Only three short stories written by Georgia Douglas Johnson survived her. "Free" is a psychological study about two women's economic and sexual oppression. In contrast to her plays and poetry, Johnson does not identify or discuss the race of the characters in this sketch. Johnson's biographer, Gloria Hull, explains this by stating that "[Johnson] clearly intended that issues independent of race focus the work." [26]

The Renaissance did not occur only in New York, as we can see from the literary efforts of Dorothy West in Boston and Marita Bonner in Washington, D.C. and later (after 1930) in Chicago. Bonner brought to the movement the most experimental of styles and techniques among women writing in that period, and was clearly a high Modernist. Not only did she experiment with style but also with content: in contrast with most other Renaissance writers, she wrote of working-class African Americans.

As a young girl in the Boston area during the Harlem Renaissance, Dorothy West joined The Saturday Evening Quill Club, which produced the magazine, the Saturday Evening Quill. The club was formed for African-American men and women who wanted to write and share their work with the flourishing literary communities in Boston and Harlem, and much of her early work, including "Funeral" and "Prologue to a Life," were published in their magazine. At the age of seventeen, with "The Typewriter," West won second prize in Opportunity magazines short story competition, and as a result, Harlem's literary community began to hold great expectations for her. "The Typewriter" illustrates the tensions between North and South through one man's hope that his urban migration will lead to the prosperous future and increased self-respect that he desires for himself and his family.

In "One Boy's Story," published under the male pseudonym of Joseph Maree Andrew, the paternity of the protagonist, Donald Gage, is kept a secret from him. Reared in an all-white community, where his mother works as a seamstress for the wealthy women of the town, he knows no black men and most admires the town's white doctor, who is his father. Bonner invokes the Greek myths of Oedipus and Orestes and the biblical legend of David and Goliath to structure her story as well as parallel it. "The story's denouement is a paradigm of literary silencing and the dangerous truth that cannot be spoken: Donald, having unknowingly killed his real father, is wounded by his mother in a strange accident that results in the amputation of his tongue." [27]

In contrast to the more conventional and Eurocentric style of "One Boy's Story," Bonner's "Drab Rambles" adopts a more Afrocentric and experimental style. The story took a first-place award in The Crisis 1927 literary contest. Exploring the relationship between race and economics, Bonner divides the piece into two portraits. In the first, a hardworking, uneducated black man faces racist attitudes both on the job and in his attempt to find medical attention; in the second, a working single black mother discovers the harsh realities of race, gender, and economic oppression. In "Nothing New" Bonner returns to interracial relationships as the focus of racial antagonism. Refusing to stay on the "black" side of the world, even as a child, art student Denny Jackson eventually ends up a murderer because of his love for a classmate, who happens to be a white woman.

Historically, black women have had to face the question of what happens to black children who are born into a racist world. Angelina Weld Grimke's only extant story, "The Closing Door," which was written for Margaret Sanger's journal, the Birth Control Review, considers this dilemma. The story takes place during the age when lynching was rampant in both the North and the South. Although she lives in the North, after pregnant Agnes Milton's brother is lynched in the South she reconsiders the wisdom of having her own child to grow up in the existing society. Her dark brooding on the subject leads her to smother her infant, to save him from a worse fate. Agnes's predicament and her solution to it are similar to the themes explored in Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. Although much of Grimke's poetry and drama reflects her lesbian identity, in "The Closing Door" she does not make this a central issue. [28] However, there is on scene in which Agnes and the story's narrator, Lucy, have a very intimate and affectionate moment that indicates a probable lesbian relationship between the two women.

While many of the writers who appear in this anthology have come to public knowledge in the last two decades (they were of course very well known in the literary circles of their time), there were other gifted writers of the Renaissance who have dropped almost completely from sight, and I have included some of their work here in order to give more breadth to the collection. One of these writers, Maude Irwin Owens, deals with oppression, but most specifically white religious oppression, in her story "Bathesda of Sinners Run." Because of good recordkeeping on the part of the slave owners, Bathesda's maternal lineage can be traced back seven generations, beginning with Jezebel, the slave of Richard Thornton. Bathesda, however, whose father was part African, part white, and part Indian, was born twenty years after slavery was abolished, and thus enjoyed a freedom her female ancestors did not. From her father, who was not a convert to Christianity, she learned a reverence for nature, which became her religion. She also is different from the other blacks in her community because she can earn an independent living through sewing and Indian artistry and because she rejects the men who want to marry her. This brings out hostility in the other women of the community, and on one occasion they attack her physically in an attempt to humiliate her. Saved by the falling of a tree that woodsmen had been in the process of removing, she suddenly discovers the gift of healing in herself, something that had been present in all of her female forebears, but which had been widely held to have come from the power of Christianity.

"The Foolish and the Wise," Leila Amos Pendleton's stories of black Sallie Runner's reactions to accounts of Socrates and Cleopatra, inform us that the debate over the racial identity of such historical figures has been ongoing for at least most of this century. Through her two portraits, Pendleton shows how whites have claimed ownership of African accomplishments. Sallie believes that Cleopatra and Socrates are black and appropriates for her own race the intelligence that the white world deny black people. Through Sallie, Pendleton shows how white people have presumed to "own," not only human beings, but all significant human attainments, and have complacently assumed that anyone who achieves a great deal must, as a matter of course, be white.

Anita Scott Coleman's "Three Dogs and a Rabbit" reminds us of how strange were the circumstances of black life in the South, while "Cross Crossings Cautiously" is a cautionary tale about race. In "To A Wild Rose" and "Blue Aloes," Ottie Graham, like Zora Neale Hurston, evokes black American folktale and folklore with links to the African past.

The two stories by Alice Dunbar-Nelson included here are not the best representatives of her short fiction, but I chose them because they were written during the Harlem Renaissance. [29] "His Great Career" and "Summer Session," not published until the 1980s, are important because they are examples of Dunbar-Nelson's detective fiction. Like her predecessor, Frances E. W. Harper, who wrote in many different forms in the course of her literary career, Dunbar-Nelson tried her hand at nearly every publishable genre. I felt it was important to include some of the work that she produced during the Renaissance because she was a vital figure in that movement. Her better and earlier work in short fiction, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories and Violets and Other Tales, was published before the turn of the century. The stories in these two collections primarily center around Creole characters and are similar to those by Eloise Bibb Thompson, who, though years older than Dunbar-Nelson, was, like her, born in a middle-class family in New Orleans and wrote in several genres. Thompson's stories in this volume, like so much of Dunbar-Nelson's work, focus on color prejudices among the Creoles of New Orleans. Gloria Hull has noted the thematic similarity between Dunbar-Nelson's early work and Angelina Grimke's 1919 story "The Closing Door." [30]

From the myriad of stories Zora Neale Hurston wrote during the Harlem Renaissance, I chose two that mark milestones in her life and are relatively unfamiliar to the public. Much of Hurston's best work has by now been heavily anthologized, appearing both in mainstream collections and in those focused on African-American or women writers. Here I have included one of her earliest works, the little-known "John Redding Goes to Sea," which she wrote as a student at Howard University for the university magazine, the Stylus. It tells the story of a young man born with an urge to wander, who gets his wish only in death. "The Bone of Contention," altogether different in style and mood, was developed by Hurston from an animal folktale. In both of these stories, as in much of the rest of her work, Hurston uses her knowledge of Southern folklore and Southern black dialect to tell of African-American life in the South. Nella Larsen's "Sanctuary" similarly uses Southern black dialect and folklore, in contrast with the styles characteristic of her novels. Best known for her two novels, Quicksand and Passing, Larsen's short stories have been overlooked. [31] "Freedom" and ''The Wrong Man" were both written for Young's Magazine, where she published under the anagrammatic pseudonym of her married name "Allen Semi."

The stories by Hurston and Larsen appear at the end of this anthology because they marked in some important way the closing of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston's "The Bone of Contention" was a sketch that she planned to develop into the play "Mule Bone," in collaboration with Langston Hughes. This play itself became the bone of contention between them. It is known that Hurston and Hughes worked together on at least two acts of the play and that Hurston pulled out of the venture, and later denied that Hughes had any part in the writing. It is not known, however, what motivated Hurston to end their collaboration and friendship, although efforts to reconstruct the events have been attempted through piecing together letters and portions of biographies. [32] Larsen's "Sanctuary" was also surrounded by controversy. After it appeared in Forum in January 1930, an anonymous person alerted the magazine editor to its striking similarity to the story "Mrs. Adis" by Sheila Kaye-Smith, published in Century magazine in 1922, and accused Larsen of plagiarism. The editor gave her a chance to refute this charge, which Larsen did by submitting working drafts of her story and by writing a letter to Forum in her defense. She argued that "Sanctuary" was based on an African-American folktale told to her by a patient while she was a nurse at Lincoln Hospital. In the April edition of Forum, the editor acknowledged Larsen's innocence and dismissed the charge, concluding that the likeness of the stories was a coincidence. Nevertheless, the scandal was so painful to Larsen that she never published again. The "Mule Bone" controversy and the accusation of Larsen's plagiarism, both of which occurred in the early 1930s, were almost simultaneous with the decline of the Harlem Renaissance.

The writers that appear in this anthology come from a long line of African-American women writers and together form a literary tradition. This tradition consists of black women speaking to their own conditions even when no one else was listening. There is a continuity of black women writers in America over a long period of time, connecting the anonymous narrators of slavery days to Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. With the aid of Henry Louis Gates's Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers series, we have been able to piece together this tradition. [33] Until this series was created, there was no proof of the huge volume of black women's literary activity in the nineteenth century. The stories I have included here stand as a link between twentieth-century African-American women writers and their nineteenth-century predecessors thematically, stylistically, and historically. African-American women writers share a common bond in their writings of their triple oppression as well as in their search for autonomy and control over their own work.

In the decades following the Harlem Renaissance, the African-American women's literary tradition continued to grow and to speak of their sexual, racial, and economic oppression, nurturing such important works as Ann Petry's The Street (1946), Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha (1954), Margaret Walker's Jubilee (1965), Paule Marshall's Chosen Place, Timeless People (1969), Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (1970), and Alice Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970). These titles only begin to suggest the richness and variety of the literary tradition of black women. Common themes unite black women writers across the generations, giving the tradition a cyclical quality that we can see clearly, for example, in Toni Morrison's Jazz (1992), a novel set in the Harlem Renaissance. It is hoped that The Sleeper Wakes will likewise help us better to understand, not only the Harlem Renaissance itself, but also the various traditions these stories represent, including African, African-American, American, and women's literary traditions.

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