The African American Roots of ModernismFrom Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance

The African American Roots of ModernismFrom Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance

James Smethurst

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780807834633

Publisher: University of North Carolina Press

Abstract

The period between 1880 and 1918, at the end of which Jim Crow was firmly established and the Great Migration of African Americans was well under way, was not the nadir for black culture, the author of this book reveals, but instead a time of profound response from African American intellectuals. The book explores how the Jim Crow system triggered significant artistic and intellectual responses from African American writers, deeply marking the beginnings of literary modernism and, ultimately, notions of American modernity. In identifying the Jim Crow period with the coming of modernity, the author upsets the customary assessment of the Harlem Renaissance as the first nationally significant black arts movement, showing how artists reacted to Jim Crow with migration narratives, poetry about the black experience, black performance of popular culture forms, and more. He introduces a whole cast of characters, including understudied figures such as William Stanley Braithwaite and Fenton Johnson, and more familiar authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Pauline Hopkins, and James Weldon Johnson. By considering the legacy of writers and artists active between the end of Reconstruction and the rise of the Harlem Renaissance, the author illuminates their influence on the black and white U.S. modernists who followed.