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Escape from New York

Escape from New York: The New Negro Renaissance beyond Harlem

Davarian L. Baldwin
Minkah Makalani
Foreword by Robin D. G. Kelley
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Escape from New York
    Book Description:

    In the midst of vast cultural and political shifts in the early twentieth century, politicians and cultural observers variously hailed and decried the rise of the "New Negro." This phenomenon was most clearly manifest in the United States through the outpouring of Black arts and letters and social commentary known as the Harlem Renaissance. What is less known is how far afield of Harlem that renaissance flourished-how much the New Negro movement was actually just one part of a collective explosion of political protest, cultural expression, and intellectual debate all over the world. In this volume, the Harlem Renaissance "escapes from New York" into its proper global context. These essays recover the broader New Negro experience as social movements, popular cultures, and public behavior spanned the globe from New York to New Orleans, from Paris to the Philippines and beyond. Escape from New York does not so much map the many sites of this early twentieth-century Black internationalism as it draws attention to how New Negroes and their global allies already lived. Resituating the Harlem Renaissance, the book stresses the need for scholarship to catch up with the historical reality of the New Negro experience. This more comprehensive vision serves as a lens through which to better understand capitalist developments, imperial expansions, and the formation of brave new worlds in the early twentieth century. Contributors: Anastasia Curwood, Vanderbilt U; Frank A. Guridy, U of Texas at Austin; Claudrena Harold, U of Virginia; Jeannette Eileen Jones, U of Nebraska-Lincoln; Andrew W. Kahrl, Marquette U; Shannon King, College of Wooster; Charlie Lester; Thabiti Lewis, Washington State U, Vancouver; Treva Lindsey, U of Missouri-Columbia; David Luis-Brown, Claremont Graduate U; Emily Lutenski, Saint Louis U; Mark Anthony Neal, Duke U; Yuichiro Onishi, U of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Theresa Runstedtler, U at Buffalo (SUNY); T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Vanderbilt U; Michelle Stephens, Rutgers U, New Brunswick; Jennifer M. Wilks, U of Texas at Austin; Chad Williams, Brandeis U.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8806-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    “We, the soldiers of the national liberation front of America, in the name of the workers and all the oppressed of this imperialist country have struck a fatal blow to the racist police state!” So declared a young female revolutionary in the 1981 dystopian thriller Escape from New York, as she hijacked Air Force One with the president on board. The year is 1997. Manhattan had been turned into a maximum security prison, and our erstwhile rebel aims to bring the plane down on the beleaguered island so that the president can “perish in the inhuman dungeon of his own...

  4. Introduction: New Negroes Forging a New World
    (pp. 1-28)

    On a balmy Wednesday in October 1921, President Warren Harding stood before a racially mixed crowd of over one hundred thousand residents jam-packed into Birmingham, Alabama’s, Capital Park. What was supposed to be a simple speech commemorating the semicentennial of the city’s founding turned into an address haunted by the specter of the “race problem.” Harding stunned white listeners into silence and black onlookers into rapturous applause when he declared, “The negro is entitled to full economic and political rights as an American citizen.” The president certainly made an unexpected and important declaration, but his stance on political equality was...


    • 1 “Brightest Africa” in the New Negro Imagination
      (pp. 31-52)

      In 1894, Reverend W. E. C. Wright declared, “We are making a new Negro.” This Negro would differ from the “American Negro of thirty years ago [who] was a product of African paganism and American slavery that called itself Christian.” A prominent clergyman from Cleveland, Ohio, Wright gave credit to missionary schools for educating a new generation of African Americans that would challenge the images of the Negro forged during slavery and Reconstruction that justified the political disenfranchisement and social segregation of the “race.” His “New Negroes” would contribute to the capitalist economy, participate in the “nation’s life,” and help...

    • 2 Cuban Negrismo, Mexican Indigenismo: Contesting Neocolonialism in the New Negro Movement
      (pp. 53-76)

      Alain Locke’s foreword to the “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro” (1925) issue of Survey Graphic situates the “Negro Renaissance” among “nascent movements of folk-expression and self-determination” in countries like Mexico.¹ Indeed, a year earlier, “Mexico: A Promise” appeared in the same journal. This earlier issue announces an exuberant “New Mexico” following the Mexican Revolution (1910–17). Contributors included the anthropologist Manuel Gamio, the artist Diego Rivera, President Plutarco Calles, and the Mexican secretary of education and essayist José Vasconcelos, best known for his manifesto on mestizaje (race mixing), La raza cósmica (The Cosmic Race, 1925). The white U.S. intellectuals...

    • 3 An International African Opinion: Amy Ashwood Garvey and C. L. R. James in Black Radical London
      (pp. 77-102)

      Late in summer 1935, as Italy began amassing its forces in Eretria along the Ethiopian border, activists, intellectuals, and laypeople throughout the African diaspora voiced their protest against this most recent act of European imperialist aggression. Alongside protests throughout the African diaspora, black anticolonial activists in London joined the International African Friends of Ethiopia (IAFE) to address what was quickly becoming known as the Abyssinia crisis. Founded by the storied Trinidadian activist–intellectual Cyril Lionel Robert (C. L. R.) James, together with Amy Ashwood Garvey (a central figure in the early Universal Negro Improvement Association [UNIA] and Marcus Garvey’s first...


    • 4 The New Negro’s Brown Brother: Black American and Filipino Boxers and the “Rising Tide of Color”
      (pp. 105-126)

      In November 1899, the Eleventh U.S. Cavalry reportedly found a pair of boxing gloves made by Sol Levinson of San Francisco abandoned in the Luzon village of San Mateo. According to the apocryphal story, Filipino prisoners of war claimed that a renegade soldier of the African American Twenty-Fourth Infantry had not only supplied them with boxing gloves but had even given them fighting lessons.¹ Many of the first boxers on the islands were black Americans because the all-black Ninth and Tenth U.S. Cavalry, the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth U.S. Infantry, and the Forty-Eighth and Forty-Ninth U.S. Volunteer Infantry composed a sizeable...

    • 5 The New Negro of the Pacific: How African Americans Forged Solidarity with Japan
      (pp. 127-156)

      Hubert Harrison (1883–1927), an African Caribbean immigrant from St. Croix of the Dutch West Indies and more famously known as the “father of Harlem radicalism,” knew very well why Japan mattered to African America and the darker world during and after World War I. Writing for the Negro World in November 1921, the organ of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Harrison explained that “Japan” was only relevant insofar as it served as “an index” to advance the ends of black liberation.¹ Unpacking the symbolic significance of Japan in relation to the upcoming Washington Conference on disarmament, where...

    • 6 “A Small Man in Big Spaces”: The New Negro, the Mestizo, and Jean Toomer’s Southwest
      (pp. 157-180)

      A photograph of Jean Toomer taken by noted photographer Marjorie Content, his second wife, shows him posed at a table, his typewriter—replete with sheet of paper—before him (Figure 6.1). The portrait seems deliberately constructed, with the posed look of a book jacket. The ream of paper next to the typewriter and the books on the shelf in the background are perfectly placed. The writer sits pensive, hand under his chin, contemplating his work. Words are barely visible on the sheet of paper exiting the typewriter; the distance from which the photograph has been taken obscures them. They are...


    • 7 Making New Negroes in Cuba: Garveyism as a Transcultural Movement
      (pp. 183-204)

      John Daniels’s salute to Marcus Garvey, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the Cuban republic, and Antonio Maceo, the iconic Afro-Cuban patriot, took place during a meeting in Guantánamo, Cuba, held on the occasion of Marcus Garvey’s 1921 visit to the island. Daniels bellowed his “cheers” after Luisa Raymond, a local UNIA leader, presented Garvey with a bouquet of flowers at the close of the meeting. The salute reveals the making of a New Negro transnational affiliation that was produced by the cultural encounters between Anglophone Caribbeans, African Americans, and Afro-Cubans during the 1920s. These New Negro cultures were created...

    • 8 Reconfiguring the Roots and Routes of New Negro Activism: The Garvey Movement in New Orleans
      (pp. 205-224)

      Late in fall 1946, W. E. B. Du Bois delivered a moving address at the Southern Negro Youth Congress in Columbia, South Carolina. In it he positioned the U.S. South as a key battleground not only in African Americans’ revolutionary quest for political empowerment but also in the global struggle to free all oppressed nations. The South, Du Bois informed his captivated audience, “is the firing line not simply for the emancipation of the American Negro but for the emancipation of the African Negro and the Negroes of the West Indies; for the emancipation of the colored races; and for...


    • 9 Black Modernist Women at the Parisian Crossroads
      (pp. 227-246)

      In her 1932 essay “Eveil de la Conscience de Race” (“Awakening of Race Consciousness”), Martinican intellectual Paulette Nardal (1896–1985) not only predates Frantz Fanon’s assertion that, for the colonized Francophone individual, travel to Paris spurs the onset of racial consciousness. She also extends the claim by arguing that the construct of gender is as important as geography and nation in the articulation of racial identities. In an oft-cited passage explaining the genesis of La Revue du monde noir (The Review of the Black World), the bilingual publication that she cofounded and coedited, Nardal writes,

      Pourtant, parallèlement aux efforts isolés...

    • 10 A Mobilized Diaspora: The First World War and Black Soldiers as New Negroes
      (pp. 247-270)

      By the time he arrived in London, Claude McKay was a rising star. The Jamaica native left for the United States in 1912, attending the Tuskegee Institute and Kansas State University, eventually settling in Harlem. A budding poet who had experienced moderate success, McKay burst onto the literary and political scene with the July 1919 appearance of “If We Must Die,” written in the midst of the summer’s torrent of racial violence. Originally published in the socialist newspaper The Liberator and reprinted in black periodicals throughout the country, “If We Must Die” served as a rallying cry for a postwar...

    • 11 Climbing the Hilltop: In Search of a New Negro Womanhood at Howard University
      (pp. 271-290)

      In 1922, Lucy Diggs Slowe became the first official dean of women at Howard University in Washington, D.C.¹ The newly created position, approved in 1920 by university president J. Stanley Durkee, mirrored the dean of men position that President Durkee had approved a year earlier. Prior to accepting this position, Slowe met with and wrote a detailed letter to Durkee to discuss her expectations regarding the offer to serve the university in an administrative capacity. In a letter dated May 31, 1922, Slowe listed the conditions under which she would accept the position. She requested a salary of thirty-two hundred...

    • 12 New Negro Marriages and the Everyday Challenges of Upward Mobility
      (pp. 291-310)

      We might be forgiven for thinking of New Negroes as merely race men and women, with no concerns save those that might advance the race. But New Negroes were also complex human beings, with identities as husbands, wives, and other family members. Just as it is important to expand the conversation on New Negroes geographically and beyond the arts and letters, scholars must reckon with the full subjectivity of black historical actors in the early twentieth century. Private life, through the lens of marriage, documents both New Negroes’ powerful visions of the marriages that they hoped would advance the race...


    • 13 “You Just Can’t Keep the Music Unless You Move with It”: The Great Migration and the Black Cultural Politics of Jazz in New Orleans and Chicago
      (pp. 313-334)

      Later in life, Louis Armstrong wrote about his first journey to Chicago in 1922, reflecting on his motivations for the trip. “Hillare and the rest of us kids who turned out to be good musicians, migrated from New Orleans—to Chicago, when times were real good. There were plenty of work, lots of Dough flying around, all kinds of beautiful women at your service. A musician in Chicago in the early twenties were treated and respected just like—some kind of a God.”¹ Armstrong’s brief recollection reflects the dream of Chicago as a land of hope and opportunity for African...

    • 14 New Negroes at the Beach: At Work and Play outside the Black Metropolis
      (pp. 335-358)

      On May 10, 1921, a ship carrying bananas from Jamaica docked at the port of Baltimore. Among its passengers was Austine Scarlett, a young Jamaican man who had stowed away in the ship’s hull. Liberated from his native island’s colonial-ruled peonage economy and dropped onto the streets of this burgeoning black metropolis, Scarlett steadily—and ruthlessly—built his own underground empire on the profits of the city’s “numbers” trade, rising to become, by the 1940s, one of the city’s most powerful, feared, and despised urban kingpins and a major dealer in real estate in black Baltimore. Eight years after Scarlett...


    • 15 “Home to Harlem” Again: Claude McKay and the Masculine Imaginary of Black Community
      (pp. 361-380)

      When Claude McKay first set foot in Harlem, he was far from naive or new to America. In fact, when this twenty-one-year-old arrived in the United States from Clarendon Hills, Jamaica, in August 1912, not only was he a fairly well traveled and well educated man of peasant origins but he brought with him a distinct outsider perspective. This worldly intellectual man of working-class sensibilities possessed not only a global black diasporic perspective of the world but an interest in what he termed “the lust to wander and wonder.” After a stay in the Midwest, he set out for New...

    • 16 Not Just a World Problem: Segregation, Police Brutality, and New Negro Politics in New York City
      (pp. 381-398)

      “The cosmopolitan atmosphere [of New York City] knows less of color prejudice than probably any other city in the United States,” optimistically opined George Edmund Haynes in 1921.¹ Haynes, founder of the National Urban League, and the first black man to graduate from Columbia University with a PhD in the new discipline of sociology, envisioned Harlem as an exemplar of interracial comity.

      Gotham’s cosmopolitanism was predicated on blacks’ reported full integration into the city’s political life. This, Haynes believed, “indicate[d] a liberal feeling on the part of the white voters.” Accordingly, Haynes conceived of Harlem as a model of interracial...


    • 17 The Conjunctural Field of New Negro Studies
      (pp. 401-414)

      In the decades since the 1988 publication of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s influential essay “The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black,” his notion of the trope of a New Negro has come under quite a bit of critical scrutiny.¹ At the same time, some of Gates’s key claims have since become canonical. The first was that the New Negro was engaged primarily in a politics of visual re-presentation. The trope of the New Negro was literally “an image of the black,” blackness itself the product of an act of self-reconstruction performed in...

    • 18 Underground to Harlem: Rumblings and Clickety-Clacks of Diaspora
      (pp. 415-420)

      The railroad was perhaps the most prominent metaphor of travel and movement for blacks at the dawn of the New Negro era, as Pullman porters, jazz musicians, and World War I veterans became the ambassadors for diasporic formation—if we are to consider the vast geographical difference found across the United States and North America as, ultimately, an articulation of difference that produced all the tension associated with shared national borders. Those railroads have long been romanticized as a site of black progress, even in the twentieth century, when Spike Lee reimagined, in his film adaptation of Richard Price’s novel...

    • 19 The Gendering of Place in the Great Escape
      (pp. 421-428)

      The varied historical roots and routes of black diasporic political, cultural, and literary expressivity; rhetoric; and practices of New Negro womanhood and manhood, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism are at the heart of Escape from New York. And as the anthology’s title suggests and the volume’s contributors ably verify, Harlem, New York, was but one nerve center of such frenzied creative and communal energy. Peripatetic intellectual Claude McKay attested to as much as he reflected on these strands of activity in the global hopscotching that formed the core of his autobiographical A Long Way from Home. Whether he foresaw the rise of...

  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 429-430)
  13. Contributors
    (pp. 431-434)
  14. Index
    (pp. 435-442)