Claude McKay was born on September 15, 1890 in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica. He was the youngest out of his eleven brothers and sisters. At an early age, McKay was sent to live with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher, so that the best education could be available to him. Being an avid reader, McKay began to write poetry at the age of ten. In 1906 he attended a trade school, but the school was destroyed by an earthquake so he became apprenticed to a carriage and cabinetmaker.
In 1907 Walter Jekyll an Englishman who resided in Jamaica became McKay’s mentor. He encouraged him to write dialect verse and then later set McKay’s verse to music. In 1912, McKay moved to the United States and started his career as a poet by publishing two volumes of dialect verse, Songs of Jamaica (1912) and Constab Ballads (1912). After hearing some great things of Booker T. Washington, McKay enrolled himself at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with the intention of studying agronomy. It was while he was at Tuskegee that he experienced the harsh realities of American racism. This later became the foundation for much of his writing. He left Tuskegee and went to Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. He invested in a restaurant in New York from a gift he received from Jekyll and he then later married his childhood sweetheart, Eulalie Imelda Lewars.
As a socialist, McKay became an editor at The Liberator, and also wrote various articles for a number of left-wing publications. McKay wrote one of his best poems during the Red Summer of 1919 which was a period of racial violence against blacks. The poem was called “If We Must Die” which was later quoted by Winston Churchill during WWll.
McKay lived in England from 1919 through 1921 and was employed by the British socialist journal, Workers’ Drednought. In 1922, McKay began a twelve-year sojourn through Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa, a period marked by poverty and illness. He returned to the U.S. but... [continues]
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