Using “The New Negro and Social Democracy during the Harlem Renaissance, 1917-1937” by Cornelius L. Bynum The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era Vol. 10, Num. 1 (Jan. 2011), 89-112, in the undergraduate classroom
By John F. McClymer
JGAPE Issue: April/May 2010
We are creatures of history, for every historical epoch has its roots in a preceding epoch. The black militants of today are standing upon the shoulders of the New Negro radicals of my day, the twenties, thirties, and forties. We stood upon the shoulders of the civil rights fighters of the Reconstruction era, and they stood upon the shoulders of the black abolitionists. These are the interconnections of history, and they play their role in the course of development. — A. Philip Randolph
The Chicago Defender was one of the leading African-American newspapers.
According to the New York Times, October 19, 1919 racial violence was rampant in 1919.
Washington, DC: “Nation’s Capital at Mercy of the Mob”—headline on Page 1 of Washington Post Tuesday, July 22, 1919. Rioting in the main streets of national capital was unchecked during four nights from Saturday, July 19, until Wednesday, July 23. Six persons were killed outright, 50 severely wounded, and a hundred more or less seriously wounded.
Chicago, Ill: At least 36 persons were killed outright, by official report, in race rioting, which lasted from Sunday, July 27, to Friday, Aug. 1. According to unofficial reports, the number killed was much larger. Houses were wrecked and burned, mobs roamed the streets, and it was necessary to put seven regiments of State militia under arms.
Knoxville, Tenn.: On Aug. 30, a mob of white persons stormed the Knox County Jail, firing on officers of the law, liberating 16 white prisoners, of whom several were convicted murderers; looting the house of the Sheriff, stealing stocks of confiscated whisky. The mob then wrecked and looted shops and invaded the colored district. At least seven persons were killed and twenty or more injured.
Longview, Texas: Four or more men were killed outright in a riot on the night of July 10, when a mob of white men invaded the negro residence district, shooting and burning houses.
Norfolk, Va.: Receptions of home-coming negro troops had to be suspended because of riots July 21, in which six persons were shot, necessitating the calling out of the marines and sailors to assist the police.
Philadelphia, Penn.: A riot call was sent to all West Philadelphia stations July 7; eight arrests were made and one man was taken to a hospital in consequence of a race riot at a carnival.
Charleston, SC: One or more men were killed and scores where shot or beaten in a race riot led by United States sailors May 10; city placed under martial law.
Bisbee, Ariz.: Clashes occurred on July 3 between local police and members of the 10th United States Cavalry, (colored) Five persons were shot.
There were in addition race clashes in the following cities:
Tuscaloosa, Ala., July 9.
Hobson City, Ala., July 26.
New London, Conn., June 13.
Sylvester, Ga., May 10; one reported killed.
Putnam County, Ga., May 29.
Mullen, Ga., April 15; seven reported killed.
Blakely, Ga., Feb. 8; four reported killed.
Dublin, Ga., July 6; two reported killed.
Ocmulgee, Ga., Aug. 29; one reported killed.
Bloomington, Ill. July 31.
New Orleans, La., July 23.
Annapolis, Md., June 27.
Baltimore, Md., July 11.
Monticello, Miss., May 31.
Macon, Miss., June 27
Hattiesburg, Miss., Aug. 4.
New York City, N.Y., Aug. 21.
Coatesville, Penn., July 8.
Philadelphia, Penn., July 31.
Scranton, Penn., July 5.
Darby, Penn., July 23.
Newberry, S.C., July 28.
Bradford County, Tenn., Jan. 22.
Memphis, Tenn., March 14; one killed.
Memphis, Tenn., June 13.
Port Arthur, Texas, July 15.
Texarkana, Texas, Aug. 6.
Morgan County, W. Va., April 10.
Then there were the lynchings. According to the Times:
Forty-three negroes, four white men lynched from Jan. 1 to Sept. 14 . Eight negroes burned at the stake, one of the burnings extensively announced beforehand in newspapers of Louisiana and Mississippi …. Of the number sixteen were hanged. Others were shot. One was cut to pieces.
1889-1918: Two thousand four hundred and seventy-two [2,472] colored men, 30 colored women, 691 white men and 11 white women lynched. Less than 24 percent of these lynchings were ascribed to be on account of attacks on women.
1918: Five negro women, 58 negro men and 4 white men lynched. No member of any mob was convicted. In only two cases were trials held.
In the wake of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 the black magazine, the Messenger published these two editorial cartoons side by side. They announced the determination of editors A. Philip Randolph and Frank Crosswaith to forge a more radical path than that espoused by the “Old Crowd” of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Blacks could not afford to wait for a “talented tenth” to lead them into a Promised Land. Blacks had to respond forcefully, as they had in Chicago and elsewhere, to defeat white racism and violence. Cornelius Bynum’s essay explores the ideology Randolph and Crosswaith forged.
Source: Messenger 2, No. 9 (September 1919), pp. 16-17
The “Old Crowd” consisted of a black clergyman, W.E.B. DuBois of the NAACP, and the late Booker T. Washington. It is a grouping that DeBois might well have resented since he helped found the NAACP to offset the accommodationist approach Washington had long advocated. In the background is the Statue of Liberty and a badly beaten victim of one of the riots. The figure holding the club in the left foreground is a white soldier. Behind him holding a pistol is a white sailor. There is a good brief account of the Washington “Race War” at George Mason’s History News Network. What the “Old Crowd” cartoon does not show are the armed blacks, many of them WWI veterans, who fought back. Like the D.C. “war,” the Longview riot involved an angry white mob attacking blacks and encountering armed resistance. There is a brief account at the Texas State Historical Association.
The Chicago Riot was the bloodiest of the many race riots of 1919. It started when a black adolescent inadvertently floated into a portion of Lake Michigan claimed by whites who pelted him with rocks. One hit his head; he apparently lost consciousness and drowned. When a white policeman refused to make an arrest, blacks began fighting back. This touched off a week of rioting during which both whites and blacks took to the offensive.
Chicago’s most famous race riot . . .occurred between July 27 and August 3, 1919. The violence was precipitated by the drowning of an African American teenager who had crossed an invisible line at 29th Street separating customarily segregated “white” and “black” beaches. Soon, white and black Chicagoans, especially in the South Side residential areas surrounding the stockyards, engaged in a seven-day orgy of shootings, arsons, and beatings that resulted in the deaths of 15 whites and 23 blacks with an additional 537 injured (342 black, 195 white). The police force, owing both to understaffing and the open sympathy of many officers with the white rioters, was ineffective; only the long-delayed intervention of the state militia brought the violence to a halt, and heavenly intervention in the form of rain was probably an important factor as well. The passions of this outbreak were rooted in pent-up tensions surrounding the massive migration of southern blacks during World War I: sometimes hired as strikebreakers, their increased industrial presence was viewed by many white workers as a threat to their own livelihoods, fueling attempts to impose rigid physical boundaries beyond which blacks could not penetrate. — Steven Essig, Encyclopedia of Chicago
The “New Crowd” shows a black WWI veteran in an armored vehicle driving off a white mob. Again, the army hats on “the New Negro,” the fallen white soldier in the right foreground, and the fleeing figure in the right center call attention to fact that veterans took part in the fighting on both sides of these riots/race wars. Identifying the fleeing whites as “the Hun” linked them to the German enemy during the war.
DuBois would have objected to being associated with the “turn the other cheek” message of some African Methodist Episopal (AME) Zion ministers. In the September 1919 issue of The Crisis he published an editorial, “Let Us Reason Together,” in which he defended armed self defense for blacks: “We must defend ourselves, our homes, our wives and children against the lawless without stint or hesitation: but we must carefully and scrupulously avoid on our own part bitter and unjustifiable aggression against anybody.” There is an additional irony in that A. Philip Randolph campaigned against blacks serving in the segregated U.S. Army during WWI, leading President Woodrow Wilson to call him “the most dangerous man in America.” DuBois supported the war effort and urged blacks to serve.
The images, created at a moment of national crisis, provide windows into several of the most pressing issues of post WWI America: racial violence and the “New Negro.” Randolph’s and Crosswaith’s militancy pivoted around socialism, the exploitation of the black working class and, crucially, union organizing. One of the several contributions Bynum’s article makes is to broaden our horizons about the ongoing debate among African Americans in postwar America over how to claim a rightful place for themselves. Historians have tended to focus upon the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance and upon the dispute between the DuBois-led NAACP and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Society (UNIA) to the virtual exclusion of Randolph and Crosswaith. Bynum’s article serves as a corrective.
Professor Bynum has collected several key pieces of evidence he used in constructing his essay.
Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Sins of the Church” (a lecture), August 20, 1922
Harlem Labor Committee [Frank R. Crosswaith and others], “A Message to Harlem Theater Patrons,” n.d.
Frank R. Crosswaith to A. Philip Randolph and others, April 23, 1928, Letter of resignation as Special Organizer for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters
Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Negro at the Crossroads,” address to Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, April 24, 1934
Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Future is Ours,” Anniversay Issue of The Black Worker, August 1936
Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Negro Press,” March 11, 1938
A. Philip Randolph, Address at Union United Church, November 1, 1942
Frank R. Crosswaith, Speech at Negro Labor Committee Conference, Freedom House, June 28, 1952
APR [A. Philip Randolph], Notes on Socialism, n.d.
A. Philip Randolph, Statement to the Educational Political Conference in Chicago, Illinois, at the International House, n.d.
You can ask your students to discuss how Bynum uses these materials.
There is a good brief biography of A. Philip Randolph, part of the New York Times On This Day series.
The Frank R. Crosswaith Papers are at the New York Public Library; there is a brief biographical sketch.
Alain Locke, “The New Negro” (1925) — originally published as “Enter the New Negro” in a special issue of Survey Graphic magazine,“Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro” (March 1925) available online via Google™ Books. Locke (1885-1954) was the first African American chosen as a Rhodes Scholar (1907) following his graduation from Harvard. He returned to Harvard to do a Ph.D. in Philosophy (1918), taught at Howard University, and put together the special issue. There is a good brief biography at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Winhold Reiss, “African Phantasy: Awakening” (1925) — also originally published in “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro.” Reiss(1886-1953) was a German immigrant who first achieved widespread recognition with his portraits and images of life in Harlem.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New Negro and the Black Image: From Booker T. Washington to Alain Locke at the National Humanities Center’s “Freedom’s Story: Teaching African American Literature and History” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. Accessed 10/25/2012. This is an interesting survey of the ways in which black intellectuals and activists sought to define the “new” Negro. Although Gates’ primary interest is literary, he does discuss the role of The Messenger. Also valuable is the accompanying Guiding Student Discussion by Richard R. Schramm, Vice President for Education Programs, National Humanities Center. In addition to suggesting questions, Schramm includes links to valuable sources. Gates contrasts the “Old Crowd” and “New Crowd Negro” images with Allan R. Freelon, “The New Negro” that appeared as the frontisepiece of the 1928 edition of Carolina Magazine. Gates comments:
By 1928, the apparent, radical self-defense of the Messenger’s “New Crowd Negroes” has turned in upon itself in Freelon’s drawing: the two lynched figures in the lower left of the drawing are the ironic echoes of the “New Crowd Negroes.” The white mob fleeing the “New Negro’s” firing guns are also echoed ironically in the three white crosses on the hill, perhaps too ambiguously connotative of Calvary and the Klan, especially in such proximity to the lynched black bodies. In Freelon’s drawing, the nude and supple black female, in a posture of arrested motion, is silhouetted against what is meant to be a ritual mask of African descent, complete with cowrie shells. The whole is framed by a transcending rainbow, against the midnight background of the cosmos. In less than ten years, the figure of the “New Negro” has undergone changes of the profoundest sort.
The African Studies Center at UCLA has an ongoing Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement Association Papers project and has put online a helpful discussion of Garvey’s “Life and Lessons” along with sample documents.