ChicagoDefRiotSweepsThe New Negro and Social Democracy during the Harlem Renaissance, 1917–37

Introduced by Cornelius L. Bynum

Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Issue: Volume Ten, Number One, Page Numbers: 89-112

This essay focuses on the conception of social justice devised by A. Philip Randolph, noted socialist, co-founder of The Messenger, and organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Frank R. Crosswaith, a general organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and one-time Messenger correspondent, in the aftermath of World War I. Weaving together a socialist critique of modern industrial society with a powerful vision of human freedom and equality, Randolph and Crosswaith articulated a distinctly egalitarian conception of social justice that asserted the equal rights of all to benefit from society’s advances. Arguing that genuine social justice was predicated on the open participation of all, they fashioned a program of reform that drew on black racial identity to frame their vision of class consciousness and, in so doing, planted the roots of an independent strain of black radicalism that was not intellectually beholden to whites. Although historical writing on the New Negro recognizes the importance of Randolph and to a lesser degree Crosswaith, this writing overlooks their innovative thought and its philosophical and political basis.