Shades of Black Conservatism
The Interwar Years, from the Harlem Renaissance
to Mary McLeod Bethune and Marcus Garvey
The NAACP's failure to produce meaningful economic changes in the lives of everyday people in the early twentieth century ironically ensured that conservatism, though in decline, would not disappear entirely. Conservatism, as an overt political movement, had largely disbanded, but the basic thrust of conservative ideas remained an important part of the black American ideological landscape. The political, cultural, and intellectual vibrancy that began to develop in the early twentieth century blossomed during the interwar years, and many blacks were eager to indulge in the expanded sense of freedom and opportunity occasioned by an increasingly liberal society. The reality, of course, was that freedom and opportunity remained highly constrained for blacks. Rampant unemployment in the rural South and industrialized North, widespread racial segregation, limited educational opportunity, and poverty were facts of life for most blacks. Yet changes in American life wrought by war, migration, and a burgeoning culture of democratic dissent created space for human flourishing.
The interwar years would mark an important moment in radical black self-expression and political engagement. African American artists, eager to give voice to the black experience and share their unique perspective with the world, would give us jazz, cabaret culture, and the Harlem