Category Archives: Opportunity Magazine

Inspire the Youth

Harlem became the hub of African American culture in the early 20th century. Here lies a place in New York City that radiated with new ideas, imaginations, and a newfound identity for African Americans. What is recognized as the Harlem Renaissance is a movement that was curated to establish a foundation for social activism and to voice a new spirit for Black culture. 

Not only was this movement a major turning point for Black artistry, but it was a time of new beginnings for the youth as the younger generation influenced this brilliance. With so many creative influences being brought into the light through major Black publications like Opportunity, the younger generation was being exposed to these bold new ideas that hopefully sparked a new sense of identity for them. You might begin to wonder, what new ideas were being encouraged to the youth during this time and why were they so important?

One of the major issues during the Harlem Renaissance was for African Americans to gain control over the representation of Black culture. Before that, a lot of Black culture was really only represented through the white man’s point of view. With the help of Black scholars, activists, and artists there was a new voice for African Americans that began the movement towards freedom. Through artistry Harlem became this haven that fostered creativity, autonomy, and self-expression. You have all of this new poetry and art that’s encouraging the youth to show strength and be confident and essentially work towards a better tomorrow. 

Poem by Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen represented one of the biggest voices of hope and life for the Black community during this time. As a young writer during his time, his words had this intriguing and romantic flare that hid so much meaning that was just waiting to be unraveled by those who read it. In his poem, To One Who Said Me Nay, Cullen writes, “This much is granted for an hour: That we are young and tender…Oh, wear my heart today; tomorrow who knows where the winds will blow it?” (143). These lines reference that African Americans are only young once and not for long. Cullen then goes on to allude to the idea that you should be open about your emotions and act on them because who know’s what’ll happen. This idea of using your voice and doing what you want seems to be a common theme in Cullen’s work. He really romanticizes the idea of choice and doing what makes you happy and what can make the biggest impact on your life. It’s refreshing and empowering to hear these words because they touch on such necessary ideologies. It seems that Cullen wants the Black American youth to go out and live life without censoring themselves, and he is encouraging them to use their hearts to guide them in the direction of their destiny. 

Poem written by Angelina W. Grimke

Angelina W. Grimke was another young writer during the Harlem Renaissance who primarily focused on being an activist for African Americans and highlighting the racial injustices they faced in America. Her poetry was very popular at the time and her way with words can definitely attest to her greatness. In her poem, For the Candle Light, Grimke writes, “The sky was blue, so blue that day…Oh! I knew that no more could rains fall gray” (263). In these lines Grimke seems to stress the idea that life at the moment is beautiful. There are good days and there’s nothing that can change that or make those days bad. She could very well be referring to the Harlem Renaissance. It was indeed a period of great accomplishments for African Americans and a blossoming of ingenuity and high spirits. 

Grimke also mentions, “Well, if night is night…I have in a book, for the candle light, A daisy, dead and dry” (263). In these lines it almost seems that she is accepting of bad days. Even if bad days appear, there will always be good days to look back on. This can relate to the idea that injustice and bad days will never fully go away. While African Americans have made progress in the fight to freedom and to accurately represent themselves and continue to make progress, there are always setbacks. There are always things that get in the way of progress and the world is still not fully accepting and equal. But Grimke sheds a positive light on this situation in the sense that achievements have been made and African Americans should be proud of that and look back on those achievements because they are very important. The daisy symbolizes something that will always be remembered. No matter how much time passes, it’s major impacts and accomplishments that reassure better days and solidify that change has been made. Those very achievements are what the youth look up to. And it’s the youth that are going to grow up and decide how they are going to contribute to that greatness.   

For the African American youth at that time they were to become the new tomorrow. They were to be legacies for the already inspiring scholars, activists, and artists. So it was crucial that they take in all of the new ideas being introduced to them and immerse themselves in the New Negro movement. Essentially, these already experienced public African American voices were tasked with emphasizing the need to be politically active and racially conscious. Their next task was to influence the youth and not only to inform them, but to ensure that they keep these ideas/goals going in hopes of a better future for Black America. The Harlem Renaissance was a huge contribution that paved the way for that change and new ideas that have only gotten stronger with time.  

Blog #1: Beauty of a Century

Picture

A mother garbed in cloth holds an infant with affection (Cover, Vol. 7, No. 2)

Crisis magazine covers had a revolving tendency of portraits of women, mothers, children, and all gaggles of people in finely trimmed suits. Why did they focus on aesthetically pleasing items?

Because these images gave off a clean feeling, that they were pure and untainted, that they had beauty.

So why was there this focus on beautiful things?

Because, beautiful things are world shattering! They destroy thoughts and keep gazes steady as all try to understand! And all that is left are bystanders gazing upon its visage, breathless in awe. It’s a way to scream at someone that beyond all their hang-ups and biases, they still enjoy looking at something beautiful and wanting more from that very same image.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the idea of a beautiful negro woman was completely undeveloped. Most depictions from that time period were caricatures that racists mocked and laughed at, used as further fuel that both sides were too physically incompatible with one another to ever truly see peace. Photos were none the better. A typical complaint from Du Bois, quoted from ‘Painting Between the Colored Lines (Page 80)’, went as such:

The average white photographer does not know how to deal with
colored skins and having neither sense of the delicate beauty of tone nor
will to learn, he makes a horrible botch of portraying them.

The white photographer of that time period does not know what makes a negro beautiful, they only know what they think a negro should look like. The people who do know the beauty of the negro would be the negro themselves. He bemoans that not enough black photographers existed to express the beauty of the natural black man or woman. With no good representation depicting the negro’s likeness, the heart of the public beated out fear.

It would be impossible to verbally disprove these notions, so instead, Crisis magazine chose to redirect their arguments into their cover pages and printed out beautiful topics.

They explored beauty from all avenues, from the untainted beauty of children, the wistful glances of a woman, the pure heartedness of mothers that care, the valiant bravery of soldiers, the serene winds of nature, the professional allure of a man in a suit, and the divine grace of saints in relation of religious holidays. These are all things a white man or woman could be similarly depicted in, and by using a negro as the topic of such pieces of beauty, Crisis magazine tries to establish a common ground in which both sides are equal and both sides radiate beauty.

It’s not just to equalize the viewpoints of the white populace, but these beautiful covers appealed and worked to change the perceptions of their primary audience, the negro community. They wanted their covers to uplift all their readers on what beauty is, and to reiterate an earlier point, they can be as beautiful, if not more, than a white man or woman in any scenario.

As Enter the New Negro puts it (page 631), the negro community set themselves off to completely redefine what it meant to be black. Though this led to a paranoia that they could not have any relation to the old stereotypes and their old image. This comes to a head where Crisis magazine posted the cover “Women of Santa Lucia”, and met with backlash from their readers, fearing that it fed into the old stereotypes too much.

Du Bois thought differently, as sourced from ‘Printing Between the Colored Lines(Page 82)’:

Our photograph of a woman of Santa Lucia, with its strength and humor
and fine swing of head, was laughed at by many.

The team at Crisis magazine found the covers to be beautiful as well in their own way, as a stand of pride and what a proud black woman looks like. That their struggles didn’t weaken them, but made them tougher.

Though perhaps the backlash had proven too much, and in favor of not rocking the boat too much, they opted to aim for a more standardized idea of beauty in the covers thereafter.

In conclusion, they wanted their covers to catch the eye of all those who saw them and change their minds because they found: all is equal in the eye of beauty.

 

Works Cited:

HARRIS, D. O. N. A. L. D. (2019). Printing the Color Line in The Crisis. In On company time: American modernism in the big magazines (pp. 80–82). essay, COLUMBIA UNIV Press.

Crisis Magazine Vol. 7, No. 2
Locke, A. (1925). Enter the New Negro. Survey Graphic: Harlem of the New Negro, 53(11).

Credence of a New Negro

THE RIDDLE by Geogia Douglas Johnson.

“My Race” written by Helene M. Johnson and “The Riddle” by Georgia Douglas Johnson starts as described; a riddle. A mystery. A puzzle piece. A riddle is usually associated with a game and associated with a joke. It is also something that is challenging and a brain-strengthening activity. M. Johson and D. Johnson’s poems are thought-provoking for the reader. Both poets invoke the question of did they intend to make a joke about what their publisher, Opportunity, is trying to achieve for the New Negro?

M. Johnson does not go into immense detail about the race she is referring to in her poem. M. Johnson could not possibly be discussing the white race. Yet, maybe she is discussing the race of a poor white person in Harlem. During this period of slavery, poor whites equate as slaves. Poor whites were indebted to wealthy white slave owners. They were hired as overseers of slaves but owned none. They were hired as overseers of the land but owned zero acres. They equated slaves in the social hierarchy as some could not read or write ( “Poor Whites and Slavery in Antebellum South”, Keri Leigh Merrit 1). Poor whites were also disadvantaged like the New Negro when they became freed people (Merrit 1). The crucial difference between poor whites and slaves is their experience; poor whites held roles of importance and the degradation of slaves. The New Negro was never able to have ownership roles or truly degrade each other. M. Johnson is also interpreting that although she might describe her feelings in this poem, they will materialize to the reader as minute words. Words of nothing. They become words of “Careless mirth”(“My Race”, M. Johnson). In other words, the New Negro’s strifeful experience could be placed in Opportunity for eternity, but, the marked and integrated audience will not care or understand. That is the inside joke; the audience will not commiserate or care enough to solve it. M. Johnson wants the audience to comprehend but is not innocuous to the integrated audience of Opportunity. M. Johnson writes this poem as an internal joke and hopes the audience will laugh with her. M. Johnson is criticizing the goal of the Opportunity which is to appeal to a grander audience other than the New Negro. The poem could resonate with any race, however, this poem was written by the New Negro; for the New Negro.

Georgia Douglas Johnson does the opposite of M. Johnson. She begins her poem with the race she intends on discussing. The title and the concept are a riddle. However, D. Johnson understands that it is not funny. She does not care whom she offends. Her poem is more complex. The New Negro, whose ancestors were unwillingly integrated with the white man for profit, understands the concept of “uniting and blending”(“The Riddle”, D. Johnson). The integrated audience will not understand this concept. The joke D. Johnson makes is that a select few will understand this struggle and history will solve the riddle. The unchosen will not and that is her inside joke; that is true s**t. Similar to a rainbow, D. Johnson comments on the descent the New Negro faces in their newfound lives. A rainbow is comparable to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or a negative-faced parabola. After a certain point on these arches, the New Negro resides in the area of downward slopes of the arch. The New Negro does not reach the break-even point; they do not reach the top of the rainbow. It does not matter if the New Negro is mixed with “White man’s”(D. Johnson) blood. D. Johnson’s words are illuminating. Her riddle is highly thought-provoking. Her poem is based on her experience as a mixed-race woman during the Harlem Renaissance (“Georgia Douglas Johnson”, Nick Lamb). Her words are true s**t. D. Johnson mentions a triton, which is a “demi-god Triton a Son of Poseidon and Aphrodite who in mythology was half man half fish” (Lamb 1). D. Johnson upholds the perspective of solely a black person, even though she is mixed race. She understands that despite being a white man’s child in a black man’s skin (D. Johnson 1), the New Negro will never be included. The New Negro will always succumb to the pull of gravity on the arch of a rainbow; that is true s**t.

D. Johnson and M. Johnson introduce their personal and crucial statements about the New Negro experience during the Harlem Renaissance. Both New Negro women are using Opportunity to highlight and focus their voices on their experiences in a society that did not have them in mind. Both New Negro women are inflating that the integration of the audience and writers in Opportunity to highlight the issues the New Negro face is an act ludicrous. They create puzzles through their poems to further emphasize the dark humor in expecting the white audience to understand the New Negro experience through Opportunity. They make a good joke. And as one knows, a good joke contains true s**t!

Johnson, Helene M. “My Race.” By Helene M Johnson – Famous Poems, Famous Poets. – All Poetry, 1930, https://allpoetry.com/My-Race.

Lindley, Robin. “Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South: An Interview with Historian Keri Leigh Merritt.” History News Network, 2017, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/167224.

Johnson, Charles S. “Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life.” Encyclopedia of Black Studies, 2005, https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412952538.n200. Published by National Urban League

Johnson, Georgia Douglas. “The Riddle.” African American Registry, 1930, https://aaregistry.org/poem/the-riddle-by-geogia-douglas-johnson/.

Lamb, Nick. “Georgia Douglas Johnson.” Medium, Medium, 30 Mar. 2017, https://medium.com/@njacoblamb/georgia-douglas-johnson-4468ba21729b.

Different Sides of The Same Coin: the marginalization, objectification of African Americans

While reading the Opportunity by Charles Johnson, the passages that stood out to me were The Corner By Eunice Hunton Carter and The High Cost of Keeping the Negro Inferior By John C. Wright because of the way perspective is utilized in each passage to explain the subtle and not so subtle wealth and class disparities in and outside of Harlem, and how such disparities are influenced by race and blinded outsiders on how rich not only Harlem’s culture was but the culture of black people in general

In Carter’s The Corner,  from the very beginning and throughout we can see a stark contrast in the lifestyles the narrator describes. In the very first paragraph, the narrator states, “My friend lives in the house on the corner. She lives high above the street in a doll’s house of white enamel and soft blues with lovely old furniture and oriental rugs of faded brilliance on dark polished floors; in a miniature home with a real fireplace and polished grasses and flowers all about in crystal bowls (Carter 114).” This vivid description is given to us from the viewpoint of the narrator who then goes through the rest of her day seeing one by one how the cars commute from Harlem to seek pleasures and entertainment and back to the suburbs located in the city. She goes on to then compare and kind of even scold the “aliens” who passed through, and reflect on how even though the night was coming to an end the city was still alive with people, sounds, and lights. She was particularly critical of how the “aliens” moved so fast that they were missing out on what was happening right in front of them, “the young boy in the corner dancing and singing the man without legs wheeled himself along on a wooden platform and with an instrument or two gave the effect of a whole brass band (Carter 114),” and how even to this day we still see this happening with street performers. 

1910 — 1922 Vol. 20, No. 1 Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt

Another example that demonstrates this is the first modern jazz band to ever be heard in New York City. They played and sang in a dancing orchestra at The Marshall in Harlem and became the first to make use of banjos, saxophones, clarinets, and trap drums in combination to create what we now know as jazz. Comparing this to the Survey Graphic: Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro, “The Making of Harlem,” by James Weldon Johnson he talks about how Harlem is a “city within a city,” and how “a stranger is struck with surprise at the transformation which takes place after he crosses One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street (Johnson 635).” He uses such a marker, as does Carter when she compares the house above to the street below to signal how different and unique Harlem was to the rest of the city at the time, especially illustrating how easily communities can change from just turning a corner or crossing a bridge.

The High Cost of Keeping the Negro Inferior By John C. Wright (p. 116) also stood out to me because of how he discusses and analyzes that because people in the south have these views and prejudices towards black people, basically caricaturing them, and how this perspective also with the years of generation after generation being taught this same information that the majority of white Americans in the South have little actual knowledge of black people. Wright illustrates this when talking about the overwhelming number of black people incarcerated in Florida and how propaganda stating that the “Negro is naturally trifling, dishonest, low and vicious,”  is used to “keep them inferior they must be huddled in segregated ghettos without drainage, light, pavements, or modern sanitary conveniences they must be denied justice and the right to make a decent living. They must be insulted and bullied and mobbed, discriminated against in public places, and denied access to parks and recreational centers (Wright 116).” This yet again illustrates another perspective, and just how to stark a contrast it is to Carter’s passage where the people of Harlem are overlooked or only seen as a pastime in comparison to the dehumanization and degradation Wright describes – except that they’re both describing different sides of the same coin, both groups being marginalized just in different extremes.

1910 — 1922
Vol. 18, No. 5
Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt

The DuBois magazine, The Crisis, and its covers also showcase both visually and in writing the thoughts and concerns of African Americans at the time. To quote Elizabeth Carroll “The Crisis offers a different collective portrait of African Americans and demonstrates that the changing identity of African Americans necessitated changes in American society and the functioning of American institutions (Objectivity and Social Change: Essays and News Stories in Opportunity Anne Elizabeth Carroll, Word, Image, and the New Negro : Representation and Identity in the Harlem Renaissance).” Two covers that exemplify this in relation to the passages mentioned previously are the cover for May of 1920, which featured the portrait of Mattie Flemming by Frank Walts, and the cover for September of 1919 which featured a drawing of soldiers returning back from WWI by Laura Wheeler. Both of these covers show contrasting images – one of affluence and the other of violence and war, and yet on the inside of their covers, both mention lynching and their continued struggle to just achieve the right to vote. The covers are direct parallels of each other and show how affluence and place did not stop the marginalization and mistreatment of black people.

 

                                         works cited 

Modernist journals: Crisis. A record of the darker races. vol. 20, no. 1. Modernist Journals | Crisis. A Record of the Darker Races. Vol. 20, No. 1. (n.d.). Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://modjourn.org/issue/bdr512980/

Chapter 2 Objectivity and Social Change:Essays and News Stories in Opportunity” from Word, Image, and the New Negro

Harlem, Mecca of the new Negro.

  opportunityhttps://modjourn.org/issue/bdr512980/#