This anthology of the writings of American Negroes has three purposes: (1) to present a body of artistically valid writings by American Negro authors, (2) to present a truthful mosaic of Negro character and experience in America, and (3) to collect in one volume certain key literary works that have greatly influenced the thinking of American Negroes, and to a lesser degree, that of Americans as a whole.
Several anthologies of prose and poetry by American Negro writers have preceded this one. All are useful to the student, but they generally represent either single types, such as James Weldon Johnson pioneering The Book of American Negro Poetry ( 1922; revised and enlarged 1931), Newman I. White and Walter Clinton Jackson An Anthology of American Negro Verse ( 1924), and Carter G. Woodson Negro Orators and Their Orations ( 1925); or single periods, such as Benjamin Brawley Early Negro American Writers; or a single form in a single period, such as Carter G. Woodson The Mind of the Negro as Reflected in Letters Written During the Crisis, 1800-1860. Johnson's Anthology, Robert J. Kerlin Negro Poets and Their Poems ( 1923, revised and enlarged 1935), and Countee Cullen Caroling Dusk ( 1927) pay only slight attention to poets before Dunbar. Two anthologies attempting to cover the entire range of types and of periods are V. F. Calverton Anthology of American Negro Literature ( 1929) and Readings From Negro Authors, edited by Otelia Cromwell, Lorenzo D. Turner , and Eva B. Dykes ( 1931). Both were prepared over a decade ago, and in that decade a large amount of publishing has been done by James Weldon Johnson, Charles Johnson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Arna Bontemps, and Richard Wright, to name only a few of the better known writers. Even for the period before their publication dates, however, these books are far less comprehensive in scope than The Negro Caravan. There is very little in both books, for instance, representing the numerous and influential writers of the nineteenth century.