Harlem Renaissance

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Harlem Renaissance
Brian Williamson
Strayer University

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) Langston Hughes was a young poet, writer, and musician during the Harlem renaissance period. According to Sayre (2012), Langston was like many African-Americans searching for a freedom they could not find in America moved to Paris. In France he was subjected to a music very similar to jazz and ragtime. Harlem was quickly becoming the Paris of America to African-Americans because they were free to be who they want to be and accepted by all those around. When Hughes moved backed to Harlem he became one of the most powerful voices for the African-Americans in Harlem due to his abilities, according to Sayre. His capability to speak to your emotion and to create a feeling empathy, as well as his use the local speech, grammar, and dialect made his works attractive to all. According to the Kansas Heritage Group (n.d.), Langston Hughes had only been in college a year before finding the allure of Harlem, where he met many other famous poets of the times. Langston Hughes wrote the poem “As I grew older” describing how he has a dream but because he is a “Black” man he has walls that rise up between himself and his dream. This is a perfect example of double consciousness, because like all Americans he has these dreams that are always growing within him. However because of his ethnicity he has walls that are placed in his path. He feels because he is black man he is being forced down into the shadows and blocked from his dreams. He also is persistent enough in the poem to not lie in the shadows and let the wall win. He breaks through the wall and pursues his dreams despites the efforts to block him. (Poemhunter.com, 2003) The poetry of the times brings out the views and emotions of the people who were writing it. These poems bring out the feelings desire to be free to chase their dreams that write about as well. There are many poems that display thoughts of death and dying. Some of the themes were being brought on by the war, while others are themes were brought on by the feelings of...
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