Temples for Tomorrow
Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance
Publication Year: 2001
The Harlem Renaissance is rightly considered to be a moment of creative exuberance and unprecedented explosion. Today, there is a renewed interest in this movement, calling for a re-evaluation and a closer scrutiny of the era and of documents that have only recently become available. Temples for Tomorrow reconsiders the period -- between two world wars -- which confirmed the intuitions of W. E. B. DuBois on the "color line" and gave birth to the "American dilemma," later evoked by Gunnar Myrdal. Issuing from a generation bearing new hopes and aspirations, a new vision takes form and develops around the concept of the New Negro, with a goal: to recreate an African American identity and claim its legitimate place in the heart of the nation. In reality, this movement organized into a remarkable institutional network, which was to remain the vision of an elite, but which gave birth to tensions and differences.
This collection attempts to assess Harlem's role as a "Black Mecca", as "site of intimate performance" of African American life, and as focal point in the creation of a diasporic identity in dialogue with the Caribbean and French-speaking areas.
Essays treat the complex interweaving of Primitivism and Modernism, of folk culture and elitist aspirations in different artistic media, with a view to defining the interaction between music, visual arts, and literature.
Also included are known Renaissance intellectuals and writers. Even though they had different conceptions of the role of the African American artist in a racially segregated society, most participants in the New Negro movement shared a desire to express a new assertiveness in terms of literary creation and indentity-building.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”: the incipit of Charles Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities may be an apt description of the contradictory visions held by actors and critics of the Harlem Renaissance. It was an idea and a project; a moment and an era; a state of mind and a battleground...
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This book would never have been published without the persons and institutions that helped us organize an international Conference on the Harlem Renaissance in Paris in January 1998; without all the participants who contributed with significant essays that could not, unfortunately, be included...
“Temples for Tomorrow”: Introductory Essay
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The Harlem Renaissance is one of the most controversial moments in African-American literary and cultural history, yet it is considered a crucial era, a landmark, a site of memory for all those—scholars, historians, art or literary critics, writers and artists—who want to bear witness to its achievements. The terms that define...
1. Racial Doubt and Racial Shame in the Harlem Renaissance
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It is an honor to be invited to contribute to this volume, as it was an honor to take part in the conference that inspired it. That conference was presided over, in a real sense, by Michel and Genevieve Fabre, whose contributions over the years to our understanding of the African-American subject have been so considerable. Also welcome was the...
2. The Syncopated African: Constructions of Origins in the Harlem Renaissance (Literature, Music, Visual Arts)
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The unity of the Harlem Renaissance as a historical moment and aesthetic movement has sometimes been questioned. Bundling together, under a single name tag, the extraordinary variety of the production of the time—which bridges at least two generations of African-American intellectuals and artists and several means of expression—might seem at best a convenient...
3. Oh Africa! The Influence of African Art during the Harlem Renaissance
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Passion for African art seized the Harlem Renaissance artists of the 1920s and ’30s; it was a passion that would eventually spread across the country. This interest in African art was fueled by the architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke, who encouraged the visual artists of the movement, as well as its writers, to express Africanism in their art forms. Locke believed that...
4. Florence B. Price’s “Negro Symphony”
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Florence Beatrice Smith Price was the most widely known African- American woman composer from the 1930s to her death in 1953. She achieved national recognition when her Symphony in E Minor was premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1933 under the direction...
5. Ethel Waters: The Voice of an Era
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Ethel Waters may be seen as one of the defining black talents of the Jazz Age. It was she who turned countless songs—ranging from “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and “West End Blues” to “Am I Blue?” and “Stormy Weather”—into standards as she ensured her...
6. Oscar Micheaux and the Harlem Renaissance
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It wasn’t in Harlem, and it wasn’t a renaissance, according to poet Sterling Brown. Some say, cynically, that Brown dismissed the renaissance because he was left out of it. But if he, arguably the best, most essential poet of Black American literature, was left out of it, that would leave the Harlem...
7. The Tragedy and the Joke: James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man
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In the beginning of James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex- Coloured Man, we are told that this is going to be the story of a joke. In summing up the motives that led him to write the story, the first-person narrator says, “I find a sort of savage and diabolical desire to gather up all the...
8. “The Spell of Africa Is Upon Me”: W.E.B. DuBois’s Notion of Art as Propaganda
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Late in 1926, DuBois discussed “The Criteria of Negro Art.” He was concerned that politics was abandoning the Harlem Renaissance and that the New Negro movement was turning into a mere search for recognition of its individual artists. DuBois pointed out that white publishers expected “Uncle Toms,” “good darkies,” and clowns as...
9. Subject to Disappearance: Interracial Identity in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand
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The importance to the Harlem Renaissance of interracial relationships has always caused critics—including the participants themselves—to look with some suspicion on the movement.1 This suspicion has been a dominant note in much of the scholarship on the phenomenon, while defenses...
10. No Free Gifts: Toomer’s “Fern” and the Harlem Renaissance
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Perhaps the best account of what it was like to enter Harlem for the first time in the early 1920s is that of Langston Hughes. Hughes arrived September 5, 1921, and in his autobiography The Big Sea he describes his emergence from the subway at 135th Street as...
11. Harlem as a Memory Place: Reconstructing the Harlem Renaissance in Space
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The topographical center of African-American modernism, 1920s Harlem, reaches out in many directions: spatially, into the international African diaspora (within the United States and outside it); temporally, into the African and American pasts, and—both with its utopian force...
12. “A Basin in the Mind”: Language in Their Eyes Were Watching God
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In the preceding quotation, the narrator tells the reader that the character enters the depths of consciousness precisely at the moment when language fails and formless unutterable feelings take over.2 Conscious pain is beyond words because it belongs to the realm of feelings that have nothing...
13. Langston Hughes’s Blues
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Of all the poets of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes was the one who recognized the blues as a major art form.1 From his first book of verse, The Weary Blues, which showed his intent to present his poetic voice as a blues voice, to “The Backlash Blues” (1967), Hughes stood by the blues as...
14. The Tropics in New York: Claude McKay and the New Negro Movement
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The poem “The Tropics in New York” appeared in Claude McKay’s first collection of verse published in the United States, Harlem Shadows; along with Jean Toomer’s Cane, Harlem Shadows is often cited as marking the beginning of the burst of artistic creativity known as the New Negro or Harlem...
15. The West Indian Presence in Alain Locke’s The New Negro (1925)
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The Great Migration of the Negro rural population from the South was the important demographic factor that made possible the Harlem which became the locus of the New Negro Renaissance. Yet, according to Irma Watkins Owens, of the 340,000 black residents who were living in Upper Manhattan by 1930, some 40,000 (i.e., 20 percent of...
16. Three Ways to Translate the Harlem Renaissance
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Whether in the words of Alain Locke, Hubert Harrison, Jane Nardal, or W. E. B. DuBois, the point that the modern phenomenon of the New Negro is international resurfaces time and time again in black expression between the world wars. In The New Negro, Locke goes so far as to claim...
17. The Harlem Renaissance Abroad: French Critics and the New Negro Literary Movement (1924–1964)
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The first information ever printed in France on the New Negro movement was provided by Alain Locke to Martinique writer Rene´ Maran, who published it in Les Continents as “La jeune poe´sie africo-ame´ricaine” on September 1, 1924. This brief presentation of young African-American poets stressed their positive offerings as exemplified...
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Page Count: 408
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 5 figures, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2001