Summary of Book
When Harlem was in Vogue, David L. Lewis’s celebrated account of the Harlem Renaissance, was published by Knopf in1981. The latest edition, a Penguin paperback with a luminous new preface added by the author, appeared in 1997. In Lewis’s view, the1919 Fifth-Avenue parade celebrating the return to Harlem from World War I of the famed 369th Regiment of the New York National Guard signaled the arrival of a black America ready for the phenomenon that became known as the Harlem Renaissance; and the bloody 1935 Harlem riot reflected the dramatic abruptness with which the Great Depression had already prematurely extinguished the Renaissance’s brief starburst.
The heroic 369th - entirely black except for the18 white officers who led it in combat - had so impressed the French High Command that (contrary to the expressed wishes of senior American commanders) they chose it among all Allied forces as the regiment to lead the final march to the Rhine. It was the only U.S. unit awarded the Croix de Guerre. Its only black commissioned officer was Jim Europe - a widely-known bandleader - who conducted the regimental band.
When America entered World War I, the most influential black intellectual – W.E.B. DuBois – counseled blacks of fighting age to serve their country unstintingly despite the nation’s bitter history of racism and a succession of insulting decisions by the U.S. military demonstrating that they had little confidence that American Negroes had the courage or intelligence to serve in the armed forces in any but the most menial noncombat roles.
DuBois emerged as the guiding spirit of the Renaissance. Lewis describes him as “the senior intellectual militant of his people, a symbol of brainy, complex, arrogant rectitude,” who, although short of stature “ towered over other men, defiant, uncompromising (but maddeningly inconsistent.)” DuBois was a fervent integrationist. His older rival, Booker T. Washington, was not.