Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance

By Cary D. Wintz | Go to book overview

2
Booker T. Washington, W. E.B. Du Bois, and the "New Negro" in Black America

D uring the period that Harlem was emerging as a black ghetto, a transformation was also underway in black social and political thought. It was the consensus of most black intellectuals that a "New Negro" emerged among black youth in the years immediately following World War I. As Alain Locke observed in 1926, "the younger generation is vibrant with a new psychology" which was manifested in a shift from "social disillusionment to race pride." Locke went on to note that this new psychology rejected the old stereotypes of black "aunties, uncles, and mammies" and substituted instead self-respect, self-dependence, and racial unity. Locke's New Negroes centered their hopes on a new vision of opportunity, social and economic freedom, and a chance to organize and fight for improved racial conditions. The New Negroes were unwilling to place their future in the hands of white America; they were no longer content to turn the other cheek when confronted with discrimination and prejudice. They were not really radical -- in fact, their values and objectives were basically middle class; all they demanded was an end to American racial prejudice and the institution of equal opportunity and social justice. However, they often assumed a posture of militancy when they voiced these demands, such as when one cried, "the next time white folks pick on black folks, something's going to drop -- dead white folks."1

Actually the term "New Negro" and the ideas associated with it did not originate in the 1920s. The first use of the term seems to have been on

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