Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South

Article excerpt

New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South. By Claudrena N. Harold. Politics and Culture in the Twentieth-Century South. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2016. Pp. xii. 177. $54.95, ISBN 978-0-8203-3512-4.)

Despite its broader origins and breadth, the New Negro era is frequently exemplified by the cultural arts and literary movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, where cosmopolitan urban artists and intellectuals freely expressed and promoted a new black cultural identity from the end of World War I through the early 1930s. Claudrena N. Harold's New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South is an important addition to the field because it argues that black nationalist politics, labor activism, and political organizing among black southerners were also exemplary of the New Negro era. Harold's text pushes us to consider black people in the South in tandem with the characteristics of the New Negro--"self-assertion and self-possession, a cosmopolitan outlook, race pride, and a strong modernist sensibility" (p. 14).

To support her argument linking black southerners to the New Negro era, Harold examines the organizing efforts of black workers and labor activists who fought for equal access to jobs and fair and equal treatment in the workplace while calling out rampant racism within the American Federation of Labor and challenging the right of members of the black elite to speak for the black working class. The efforts of black labor activists resulted in the influential yet short-lived National Brotherhood Workers of America (NBWA). Harold persuasively argues that the struggles of the black working class produced an economics-based black nationalist politics that paved the way for subsequent labor organizing in the South, including A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. The explosion of Marcus Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) also contributed to and benefited from a New Negro outlook in the South. Black southerners organized local UNIA chapters that built on a nascent working-class race consciousness. The New Orleans division of the UNIA, the most prominent of these chapters, started a free clinic, an adult school, and community outreach programs and prepared black people for civic leadership. …

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