Look for Me All around You": Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance

By Davis, James | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Look for Me All around You": Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance

Davis, James, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

Louis J. Parascandola, "Look For Me All Around You": Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance (Wayne State UP, 2005).

Writing in The Crisis in September, 1920, W. E. B. Du Bois commented on the significance of the many Caribbean immigrants comprising what he called a "new Ethiopia of the Isles" in upper Manhattan. His remarks were occasioned by the rise of Garveyism and specifically by the enormous turnout for the first international convention of the United Negro Improvement Association, held the previous month at Madison Square Garden. Du Bois wrote,

It is this mass of peasants, uplifted by war and migration that is today beginning to assert itself at home and abroad and their new cry of "Africa for the Africans" strikes with a startling surprise upon America's darker millions. The movement is as yet inchoate and indefinite, but it is tremendously human, piteously sincere and built in the souls of hardworking, thrifty independent people who while long deprived of higher training nevertheless have among them very few illiterates or criminals. It is not beyond possibility that this new Ethiopia of the Isles may yet stretch out hands of helpfulness to the 12 million black men of America. (214)

What would result from the contact, collaboration, and community sharing of African Americans with this "mass of peasants"? Du Bois' qualified praise indicates both the anxiety many native-born Blacks felt about the cultural differences between themselves and the Caribbean immigrants as well as the promise that their presence represented for a more dynamic and robust movement on behalf of social change and racial equality. One hears a tension in Du Bois' measured hope that a mutually beneficial meeting of cultures "is not beyond possibility," a desire to reconcile the presumption of salient, observable cultural differences with the prospect of a cosmopolitan community.

During the 1920s, when Harlem witnessed its legendary Renaissance, the presence of Caribbean immigrants was, as Du Bois' comment suggests, widely felt and the subject of regular, energetic discussion. In fact, our shopworn notions of the Harlem Renaissance fail to account fully for the richness of this culturally diverse community's experience; we have tended to impose a fairly narrow conception of "the Negro" of the New Negro movement. Consider, for example, that in this decade one in four Harlem residents was an immigrant, most likely from someplace in the anglophone Caribbean. At the time, their presence was thought important and found its way into a great deal of canonical Harlem Renaissance writing. For example, the famous Harlem issue of Survey Graphic, the forerunner to Alain Locke's The New Negro and a pivotal text in the New Negro movement, refers often to the presence and influence of West Indians, including most explicitly the essay, "Gift of the Black Tropics," by the Jamaican-born socialist W. A. Domingo. Among other points of extraordinary importance Domingo raised was that "it is this large body of foreign-born who contribute those qualities that make New York so unlike Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago, and other cities with large aggregations of American Negroes". (342)

The significance of anglophone Caribbean immigrants in New York and of the Caribbean in the material and imaginative lives of Harlemites were widely understood and remarked at the time, but preserving this significance has proven difficult. With some rare exceptions, notably Garvey and Claude McKay, the Caribbean origins of many Harlemites, famous and ordinary alike, were overlooked by scholars. And where they were noted, the complexity of the conditions provoked by such cultural differences was not adequately pursued. Historian Irma Watkins-Owens notes that while a 1930 WPA guide referred to the "blend[ing]" among New York's Negroes of "habits and qualities carried from the southern states, Africa, and the West Indies," by contrast "more recent investigations rarely emphasize Harlem's diverse origins, or explore the intraracial ethnic dimension as an important dynamic in African American community life" (1).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Look for Me All around You": Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?