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The Birth of the American Negro Movement : From Reconstruction to the Negro 'Dawn'

version anglaise

I'm not going to waste anyone's time by naming the names of the people who's names everybody knows, e.g. Josephine Baker, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Langston Hughes, and all of the other notables of the afore mentioned time period – one can easily visit Wikepedia for those purposes. Instead, I'm going to discuss this subject, much like I will, and do other subject matters, from my own perspectives, as an American woman of color, including a few tales that were told to me by my respective grandfathers who lived through a few of these turbulent times.

I suppose one could easily say that people of color, namely 'Black' people – and yes, I'm going to use 'that' word to describe an entire 'ethnic group' because I've no tolerance for the political correctness which perminates the media and hides painful truths using the guise that what flies out of someone's mouth 'hurt someone's feelings – have caught hell, and have done what they could to make a nasty situation better for themselves, or at least did what they could to make that happen during this period of Jim Crow (for those not in the know, that means separate but equal – more like separate and NOT equal - with a huge NOT, a fact that's still alive and well here in the US – if someone still has questions, see your local google search engine and type in urban police violence).



Descendants d'esclaves - Alabama

Descendants of former slaves - Alabama, 1937


Nevertheless, I'll keep on task because I'm here to discuss the sweeping period between what's known as Reconstruction and the Neo-Negro Movement, better known as the Harlem Renaissance, even though it wasn't relegated to just the borough of Harlem in NYC.

Reconstruction, and I'm not giving dates because, despite being over for almost 200 years, the jury's still out on when it began and ended, is defined by US History as the period from the end of the American Civil War until sometime in the mid to late 1880's. I think it's horribly unfair to label this as the period where Black people first became educated and such in the US. While outright outlawed in the South, Black people, and people of color in general, knew how to read, write, do everything that comes along with that, as well as had cultures of their own which they had somehow managed to hold on to from the Middle Passage from Africa and into degradation here in the US – said traditions being kept alive through oral AND visual traditions, since any kind of reading and wiritng was prohibited on pain of torture or death by Whites. That said, some of these traditions are still alive and well today, albeit slightly or significantly watered down from their original African origins.

One biggie that did happen was the mixing of African and European traditions together – the one which stands out the most to me is the Black church (before anyone gets miffed or pissed, I'm calling it what it is b/c I've attended so called 'White' church services of a multitude of denominations and there's a HUGE difference, but I'm able to see the similarities between the two and their stark differences). It's an 'interesting' mixture of ancient pagan-esque celebrations complete with wailing, running, screaming, loud but lyrical music, dancing – called 'getting' the Holy Ghost, and some other things far too numerous to get into here – see Wikipedia. Why am I discussing this here and like this? I'm doing it because of the fact that religion IS what got Black people through slavery and beyond. The church was the one thing that Whites allowed Black people on plantations to have that was 'equal' to themselves – something that would later be used as a weapon against Blacks via the Ku Klux Klan related church burnings during the Reconstruction period and beyond, which just so happens to be rearing its ugly head again.

The biggest thing to come out of the 'fields' and into/out of the church was the music – a little on that at a later date/time.

During this period, Blacks created a multitude of inventions out of necessity which are still used today but are taken for granted, such being the Pullman car, air conditioning, refrigeration, the first heart transplant operation, the stop-light, and a many others which were rarely patented by their creators but were done so by whites. Typically, and as always, the truth came out and the inventors were given their due – see Wikipedia for who did what/when.

This said, the Harlem Renaissance wasn't the birth, nor would it be the first time that Black people would be on the world stage. Black women, for instance, played a huge part in the US suffragette movement, as well as were noted reporters and entrepreneurs during this period – Ida B. Wells and Madame C.J. Walker were two notables – the latter's daughter's salon would play an enormous role in the major cultural movement of the 1920's and 30's, launching the careers of Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and a multitude of musical styles – such as 'scat', ragtime, jazz, and bringing classical to the upper echelons of US Black society of the day. Major Afro -Centric leaders of the day were Marcus Garvey – who's credited with the foundation of Liberia here in the US, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, and many others; the people who influenced this period are just too numerous to mention.



Madame C.J. Walker

Madame C.J. Walker (1867-1919)
Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)






Fats Waller

Fats Waller (1904-1943)
Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway (1907-1994)



What I will say is they are the first bit on the root which has created the lion's share of major modern popular culture that we know today. From R&B, Blues, Hip-Hop, Rap music, graffiti art, hip-hop/street fashions to high fashion – J. Baker made Jean Patou a household name on this side of the pond b/c women of all shades and from all walks of life tried to emulate her style, food, language – yes, for whatever the reason, Ebonics/slang is considered to be one, no matter how arguable that is – LOL.

All of this can be traced to it's roots here in the US South – which is where I reside, namely the area that's known as the Mississippi River Valley/Delta because it's where the biggest population of former Black slaves resided, and hey, as they saying goes' when you're poor, you've got to do something 'constructive' to keep entertained', and as bad as what I'm going to say sounds, but it's the truth and I'm going to give nothing but unfiltered truth from my perspective and point of observation/view, white people here in the US have always loved to be entertained by Black people – it's in the history books, with the White masters actually breeding slaves to do hard work and work longer hours – hence the predominance of Black athletes and their domination of sports like American Football, Basketball, Track and Field, and such, as well as for purposes of singing, painting, and to be talented and skilled craftsmen – just look at the beauty of the few remaining southern plantation homes here in the South – skilled labour from Europe was rarely imported for such purposes – yep, it was all done by trained slaves.

All of this culminated to the point where the Neo-Negro Movement began, yet said movement never ended – despite what the history books might say. It merely evolved into something else, both for the better, and for the worse. To be continued in Part 2. :)

Disclaimer: These are the opinions of the author and no one else, although there are some that might share them. For more info on some of the subject matter visited, check out Google and Wikipedia

Marian A.B.



www.mneseek.fr (partage de liens internet culturels)





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