Claude McKay was Jamaican American who moved from Jamaica to the United States in 1912. He attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This is where he received his first taste of racism here in America and this would have a drastic effect on his future writing. He left the Tuskegee Institute to attend school in Manhattan, Kansas. Mr. McKay then moved to New York invested in a restaurant and got married. The restaurant fell through and McKay moved back to Jamaica. He later became an editor of the Liberator and wrote some of his own poems during the time period known as the red summer. One of his poems he wrote in protest of the harsh times would later be used by Winston Churchill during World War II to motivate the soldiers. (Modern American Poetry, 2011)
“If We Must Die”, written by Claude McKay during the summer of 1919, is a mantra for people to stand up against those who wish to keep them down or in Churchill’s case to kill them during battle(Sayre, 2012). He is saying even if they must die they should do it with dignity. They may only have the grave to come, but he does not wish them to just lie down even in the face of adversity.
Claude McKay displays double consciousness from the time he comes to America. He is first an intelligent Jamaican man who has come here to America in search of an education. Here he was seen by the white Americans around him in Alabama as nothing more than just another “colored” man. Claude had to deal with both being “colored” or “Negro” and being an American. In his poem “If we must die” McKay shows the idea of double consciousness all the way through. He shows the pride of a dignified man who will not just sit back while anyone attempts to push down into the grave. His writing is not specific to one race or ethnicity, as proven when the British Prime Minister used it to motivate the British and American soldiers. (Sayre, 2012)
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