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  • New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South by Claudrena N. Harold
  • Marcia Walker-McWilliams
New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South. By Claudrena N. Harold. Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South. ( Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 177. $54.95, ISBN 978–0-8203–3512-4.)

Despite its broader origins and breadth, the New Negro era is frequently exemplified by the cultural arts and literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, where cosmopolitan urban artists and intellectuals freely expressed and promoted a new black cultural identity from the end of World War I through the early 1930s. Claudrena N. Harold's New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South is an important addition to the field because it argues that black nationalist politics, labor activism, and political organizing among black southerners were also exemplary of the New Negro era. Harold's text pushes us to consider black people in the South in tandem with the characteristics of the New Negro—"self-assertion and self-possession, a cosmopolitan outlook, race pride, and a strong modernist sensibility" (p. 14).

To support her argument linking black southerners to the New Negro era, Harold examines the organizing efforts of black workers and labor activists who fought for equal access to jobs and fair and equal treatment in the workplace while calling out rampant racism within the American Federation of Labor and challenging the right of members of the black elite to speak for the black working class. The efforts of black labor activists resulted in the influential yet short-lived National Brotherhood Workers of America (NBWA). Harold persuasively argues that the struggles of the black working class produced an economics-based black nationalist politics that paved the way for subsequent labor organizing in the South, including A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The explosion of Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) also contributed to and benefited from a New Negro outlook in the South. Black southerners organized local UNIA chapters that built on a nascent working-class race consciousness. The New Orleans division of the UNIA, the most prominent of these chapters, started a free clinic, [End Page 202] an adult school, and community outreach programs and prepared black people for civic leadership.

Harold expertly integrates a gendered analysis into the text through her exploration of black women's labor activism and political strivings after suffrage. She features women like Jeannette Carter, a journalist, civil rights advocate, and suffragist who sought to empower black women workers while supporting the black working class through organizations like the NBWA. Harold also highlights the blind spots of prominent black male labor leaders, noting, "A stark contrast existed between the strong cooperation between black women and men at the local level and the glaring omission of women's concerns in the political engagements of black men in more national settings" (p. 40). Further, Harold positions black women as embodying both the New Negro and the New Woman through their determination to vote. Despite intimidation and an outright disregard for their voting rights, southern black men and women organized voter registration and education drives and ran black candidates for political office.

Additional chapters on black intellectual thought in the South and the impact of the 1927 Mississippi River flood on black southerners' consciousness provide deeper insight into the scope of New Negro politics. However, many of the activists, intellectuals, and organizing campaigns that Harold examines come from coastal Atlantic cities such as Jacksonville, Florida, New Orleans, Louisiana, and, most frequently, the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. To what extent were black protest activity and New Negro politics evident in more rural and interior portions of the South? New Negro southerners leveraged institutions like the black press and black colleges, but did they utilize other institutions like the black church? Ultimately, Harold's text necessarily expands our understandings of the New Negro era and black southerners, who a generation later became the architects of the civil rights movement.

Marcia Walker-McWilliams
Rice University


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