The New Negro Movement Essay

1257 words - 6 pages

Shortly after Rachel was written in 1916, the New Negro Movement began to gain traction in the African American community. This broad cultural movement focused on promoting a public image of African Americans as industrious, urban, independent, and distinct from the subservient and illiterate “Old Negro” of the rural South. Unlike his predecessor, the New Negro was self-sufficient, intellectually sophisticated, creative, knowledgeable and proud of his racial heritage (Krasner, Beautiful Pageant 140). While these concepts had been promoted since the turn of the century, it was not until 1917-1918 that they began to crystalize as a concerted effort among African American intellectuals. These men actively supported the creation of black drama because they recognized that “At a time when African Americans had virtually no political recourse, their voice could best be heard through…a creative and humanistic effort to achieve the goal of civil rights by producing positive images of African Americans and promoting activism through art” (“New Negro Movement” 926). The New Negros therefore shared the same overall goal as black intellectuals such as DuBois, but believed that black artists should focus on presenting the reality and beauty of the “black human experience” instead of an idealized vision of what life should be. Ultimately, the transition from “political” art to that which held creativity in high esteem was complex and divisive. Fortunately, just as Dubois emerged as the primary advocate of the former Political Theatre, so too would Alain Locke help guide the New Negros to support the idea of Art Theatre.
Alain Locke’s support of the New Negro Movement helped convince African Americans to move away from the propagandistic philosophy of “Political Theatre” by reminding them that black citizens should not have to prove themselves worthy of social equality. As Nathan Huggins explains: “Alain Locke believed that the profound changes in the American Negro had to do with the freeing of himself from the fictions of his past and the rediscovery of himself. He had to put away the protective coloring of the mimicking minstrel and find himself as he really was” (59). To this end, Locke rejected racial and cultural separatism, but rather expressed a desire to shed the African American image of inferiority by achieving a new image of pride and dignity. Locke expands this idea in his essay, The New Negro, by explaining “this wider race consciousness is a different thing from the much asserted rising tide of color. Its inevitable causes are not of our making. The consequences are not necessarily damaging to the best interests of our civilization” (30). Locke did not view the development of culture among different races as a competition or a way to evaluate self-worth. In the end, “Locke could not promise that the race would win the long-desired end of material progress, but the enrichment of life through art and letters would be an ample achievement”...

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