AND THE AFRO-AMERICAN FOLK TRADITION
CHARLES H. ROWELL
One of the concerted efforts of the "New Negro" writers of the Twenties and Thirties was the attempt to reinterpret black life in America and thereby provide a more accurate, more objective, representation of black people than that popularized in the reactionary and sentimental literature of the preceding decades. Alain Locke, a major voice of the New Negro Movement, wrote in the mid- Twenties that "the Negro to-day wishes to be known for what he is, even in his faults and short comings, and scorns a craven and precarious survival at the price of seeming to be what he is not." 1 In their creative works, many New Negro writers subscribed to that position, for they knew that much of the earlier literature about the black experience in the United States was fraught with distorted images of ante- and post-bellum black Americans--their life and culture and their history and traditions. That is, much of the poetry, fiction and drama about black people was based on the sentimental, plantation and minstrel traditions, and, therefore, had little or nothing to do with the lives of black people in America. However numerous their failings might be, New Negro writers, with a high degree of achievement, tried to create a new stage upon which to play out the kaleidoscopic drama of black life in America.
The effort to reinterpret Afro-American life and character went in various directions. Following the "just-like-white-folks philosophy," some writers, for example, created works which emphasized the similarities between blacks and whites. Other writers, subscribing to the decadent white belief in the "exotic Negro," emphasized the so-called "primitivism of black people. There were, of course, other writers whose aesthetic visions were broader than those of the aforementioned groups. This third group realized that to express the souls of