Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined

By Victor A. Kramer; Robert A. Russ | Go to book overview

The communalism of the African clan can be transferred to the Negro American group. . . . The emotional wealth of the American Negro, the nascent art in song, dance and drama can all be applied, not to amuse the white audience, but to inspire and direct the acting Negro group itself. I can conceive no more magnificent or promising crusade in modern times. 31

To achieve this end, black people must be re-educated in educational institutions oriented to black people:

There has been a larger movement on the part of the Negro intelligentsia toward racial grouping for the advancement of art and literature. There has been a distinct plan for reviving ancient African art through an American Negro art movement, and more specially a thought to use the extremely rich and colorful life of the Negro in America and elsewhere as a basis for painting, sculpture, and literature. This has been partly nullified by the fact that if these new artists expect support for their art from the Negro group itself, that group must be deliberately trained and schooled in art appreciation and in willingness to accept new canons of art and in refusal to follow the herd instinct of the nation. (p. 202)

In two decades of conscious and unconscious questing for a Black Aesthetic, W.E.B. Du Bois experienced many difficulties in shaping and applying an idea which, he sensed, was sound. Some of the difficulties resulted from his personal limitations: his failure to clarify criteria, his dependence upon undefined abstractions, his inability to harmonize his awareness of the utilitarian value of literature for a specific group with his concern for the creation of Truth and Beauty, his fallacious assumption that his aesthetic was necessarily the aesthetic of most black people. Perhaps the major reason for his lack of success, however, is that, with this idea as with many others, Du Bois was twenty-five to fifty years ahead of those twelve million blacks he wanted to lead from self- respect to pride to achievement.

Today, a Black Arts movement exists; and, many black writers and educators are seriously defining the dimensions of a Black Aesthetic. Even today, however, when one considers the work of some self-identified Black Arts dramatists and poets who picture only the vice, squalor, contemptibility, and failure of black communities, one imagines Du Bois, in some afterworld he could not envision, muttering unhappily, "No. No. No! Will they never understand? To be black is to be beautiful and strong and proud."


NOTES
1.
Du Bois, "Negro Writers," Crisis 19 ( 1920): 298-99.
2.
Elinor D. Sinette, "The Brownies' Book," Freedomways 5 ( Winter 1965): 138-39.
3.
Du Bois, "Negro Art," Crisis 21 ( 1921): 55-56.
4.
"Negro Art," p. 56.

-62-

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