BLACK LITERATURE IN STRUGGLE: THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND THE CRISIS OF BLACK CULTURAL NATIONALISM.
- In 1903, when W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963) published his most influential work The Souls of Black Folk, he stood between the end of the era of Reconstruction and the rise of the era of Jim Crow segregation, the Great Migration, and the New Negro Renaissance. He was at the tail end of the breed of race leadership shaped by the slave narrative genre and the writings of Nat Turner and Frederick Douglas... read mores. Despite Du Bois’s continued intellectual and editorial influence over black writers, the Harlem Renaissance had challenged his authority. Du Bois argued that black artistic production would prove integral to somehow paving the way for blacks to achieve a politically democratic future and to contribute their shared “gift” of cultural virtue to America. Key terms like “Africa,” “Negro soul,” “racial genius,” all held deep importance in Du Bois’s nationalistic conception of the Negro and his political and cultural program of uplift. However, with the rise of a generation of “New Negroes” – who I am calling the liberal humanist generation – these essentialist terms began to loose their weight as authoritative explanations of the black experience in America. I juxtapose the new language of liberal expressionism against Du Bois’s nationalistic tropes to emphasize the importance of a literary analysis of Du Bois’s works as well as those of the younger generation; these literary works capture arguably the first liberal shift in the language of talking about blackness in America. The literary expressions of the liberal generation, under my methodology, become interesting as they are situated within this generational history of departure from black cultural nationalism. Therefore, by turning to the literature of these artists, we enrich our understanding of how the liberal humanists used literature to push black cultural nationalism into crisis and in so doing, moved beyond the essentialist narratives of understanding blackness.read less