R Catalogue of the exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery, The thirty-two artists who participated were tasked with creating, in a single day, an 8-page comic based on the work of Petrus Nooi, a sculptor who works in concrete and sells his pieces from his yard next to the road that connects Stellenbosch with the informal settlement of Khayelitsha.
The text helped dispel the prevailing popular belief that blacks had lost all their culture in the dreaded Middle Passage, that infamous second leg of the slave trade that brought free Africans into the New World to be enslaved.
Due to the mixing of peoples of various African cultures and languages on slave ships as well as in the Americas, blacks lost all significant ties, it was believed, to their African cultures.
While Herskovits was certainly a pioneer in attempting to re-establish African American cultural connections to Africa, his work can be viewed as the researched and scientific counterpart to a romantic and literary impulse that many African American authors followed during the Harlem Renaissance, that period of flowering of African American art and writing that took place primarily during the decade of the s.
Scientific research supported a literary impulse to reconnect black Americans to their African roots. Unwitting heirs to prevailing white American mythology, many descendants of Africans who were enslaved in America believed that they had few complimentary ties to Africa.
It was a dark land from which, as poet Phillis Wheatley asserted in the late eighteenth century, they had been mercifully rescued. Nationalists Martin Delany and Alexander Crummell were two late nineteenth century African American thinkers who traveled to Africa and incorporated ideas of Africa into their work.
Delany spent a brief period in Liberiawhile Crummell spent almost twenty years there as a minister and professor What was a minor strand in post-Civil War African American identity formation expanded to a broader connection as descendants of freed blacks began to think in the early twentieth century about themselves in relation to America and the world.
With leaders such as W.
Du Bois emerging to counter the accommodationist stances of Booker T. Washington, who was the most revered African American leader in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, blacks began to look for sources of pride that did not locate their origins in America slavery.
A turning to Africa on the parts of some African Americans was an understandable direction in which to seek. In the early twentieth century African Americans looked for a history that went beyond their time in the United States, beyond slavery.
The formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACPwith Du Bois at the helm, posited a slightly more aggressive quest for equal rights for persons of African descent and a pride within African American communities that had not had previous outlets for full expression.
These social and political factors, combined with the migrations of hundreds of thousands of black people from the rural South into the urban areas of America, set the stage for widespread focus on blackness. However, since blackness was still devalued by white Americans and indeed by many black Americans, how were those concerned about instilling such pride, such as writers and artists, to go about encouraging the masses of blacks to reject negative mythology and see themselves in new lights?
The Harlem Renaissance placed Africa at the center of the African American cultural landscape, and there it remains today. They did so by invoking Africa as a source of history as well as a source of pride. This is not to suggest that Africa instantly became the universally acknowledged motherland to all African Americans, but it is to say that writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance, in their evocations of Africa, whether those evocations were positive or ambivalent, made Africa a central space on the cultural landscape of African American people.
As succeeding generations of African American writers and artists built upon those evocations, Africa, by the s, was instated as an uncontested source of origin and pride for all Americans of African descent. And it has gained even more positive status with the election of President Barack Obama.
In the s, however, writers and artists were a bit more tentative in their assertions. And they were certainly more romantic.
Hughes did so in when he was 21many others never made the trip. Their efforts to claim African identity, therefore, were rooted more in imagination and reading knowledge than in actual facts. Indeed, some white writers influenced African American conceptions of Africa. Vachel Lindsay is one such case.
African American writers were also not immune to notions of dark Africa that Joseph Conrad popularized in Heart of Darkness In this long meditation that Cullen dedicated to his friend Harold Jackman, Africa emerges as a much read-about, problematic, and atavistic continent where wild animals roam and where the humans portrayed are only slightly more tame than the animals.
Africa as the perceived dark continent and America as part of western civilization provides the generalized clash that shapes African American representations of Africa during the Harlem Renaissance. Africa becomes the space of license, the imaginative arena in which a speaker in a poem or a character in a text can shed the clothing of civilization and live a simpler, more natural, more uninhibited life.
In other words, the idea of a noble savage was prominent during the period, not only in African American texts, Paul Robeson as Emperor Jones. Then, strange supernatural forces reduce him to a sputtering, superstitious, raging wild man.Free harlem renaissance papers, essays, and research papers.
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