On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance

By Hoang, Young | The Journal of Negro Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance


Hoang, Young, The Journal of Negro Education


On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance, by Kareem AbdulJabbar with Raymond Obstfeld. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007,274 pp., $26.00, hardback.

As implied by the title, this book takes us on a personal adventure back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's birthplace, through one of the greatest movement in our American history, unveiling the tremendous impact the "giants" of the Harlem Renaissance had on African American culture, on American culture, and on Kareem's own personal development. To accomplish this task, the author divided the book into five significant movements (cultural, political, literacy, basketball, and jazz) that vividly narrate how Harlem Renaissance's giants redefined and revolutionized an entire culture, and how determined they were in changing how White America viewed people of color. Subsequent to each major movement is a personal recount of how that particular movement of the Harlem Renaissance provided powerful inspirations to the author.

To pay homage and tribute to African American history, the author formatted On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance, with a unique structure common to West African cultures. The chapters are arranged in a call-and-response format, which was used in public gatherings to discuss local politics and in religious rituals.

The first chapter, "Some Technicolor Bazaar": How Harlem Became the Center of the Universe articulately interprets the rise of Harlem as the capital of Black America. Throughout this chapter, the author discussed Jim Crow laws, the boll weevil, and WWI as causes for the Great Black Migration to the "Promised Land," and how the relocation contributed to the ascension of Harlem Renaissance. Harlem continues to prosper with noticeable destinations, such as 135th St. and 125th St., 7th Avenue and Lenox Avenue, and Strivers' Row and Sugar Hill. As the influx of Black immigrants from the South and West Indies continued, Harlem was overcrowded and residents were soon faced with new environmental challenges. In spite of the constant racism and oppression, the Harlem Renaissance continues to flourish.

To recap how Harlem influenced his life, the author recalled a summer in the second chapter when young Kareem was disturbed by the absence of Black people portrayed in history. Troubled by this realization, Kareem signed up with Dr. Kenneth Clarke's HARYOU-ACT Program and it was during that summer experience that he underwent the rites of passage through a series of racial riots and acts of discrimination (HARYOU-ACT, a job-training program in New York was Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited merged with Associated Community Teams. It was under the aegis of Congressman Adam clayton Powell, Jr.; HARYOU, 2008). Despite the oppression from White Americans, the author strongly believed that those who came after learned how to shoulder those before them to continue the guiding tradition of the Harlem Renaissance.

The third chapter "Master Intellects and Creative Giants": The "Talented Tenth" Paint the World Black presents the magnificent giants behind the Harlem Renaissance. From the intellects of W. E. B. Du Bois (the father of Pan-Africanism) to Charles S. Johnson (the dean of the Renaissance), from Marcus Garvey to Alain Locke (the main interpreter of Harlem Renaissance and a Howard University Professor), and other great thinkers of the Renaissance that shared a common vision, Black Americans were viewed with new light. …

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