Category Archives: Charles Johnson

“Is Violence Ever the Answer?”

Articles that stood out in Opportunity Magazine were both “Gandhi” authored by Rene Maran and “Better Human Relationships” by Caroline G. Norment. The intent of  intellectual pieces like Opportunity, The Crisis, Survey Graphic was to display various capabilities and ideals of the Negro people, and ultimately record Negro history from the Negro perspective. This is a sharp divergence from the Negro narrative being created by non-Negros and it was this manufacturing of the Negro image that circulated negative stigma about Negros.

In Objectivity and Social Change, a chapter in Word, Image and the New Negro by Anne E. Carroll, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations which studied the root of the Chicago race riots concluded that “the Chicago Defender had stirred up bitterness of its black readers against whites, and that the Chicago Tribune had ‘served hatred for the Negroes with the breakfast of Chicago’s white population.’ The commission also concluded that ignorance fueled that hatred: it found that white Americans knew very little about black Americans, and their perception of African Americans were largely shaped by images ‘that cause the Negro to appear only as a criminal or a fool.’ The commission advised that if similar violence was to be avoided in the future, better understanding and attitudes between black Americans and white Americans were necessary, and it argued that the press had to play a major role in promoting these changes.” (Objectivity and Social Change, 59) Johnson felt that having “inflammatory text” in writing would fuel the race tensions and thus cause more violence, where DuBois felt that one could not remain cool and collected while fellow brothers and sisters were getting “lynched, murdered, starved.” (Social Change and Objectivity, 61) DuBois understood that in order for Blacks to be represented accurately, the authors and the one telling the stories had to been black which is partly the reason why he had a strong desire to mass-produce race-related magazines. He wanted the negro to be seen in a way never seen before, as an equal human being.

Johnson liked using facts and using less provocative imagery. DuBois felt there was a need for a call to action. He spoke his mind and used inflammatory imagery. He felt that nothing would be accomplished if he had done otherwise. I believe that Gandhi was mentioned in Johnsons’ Opportunity because he essentially fought off oppression and gain freedom without the use of violence. He had set the precedent to MLK Jr’s nonviolence campaign during the Civil Rights Movement and had shown the world that colored (albeit Indian instead of Black) can fend for themselves, be their own people, and make history too. Given that Johnson wanted a more conservative approach he valued peaceful cooperation because the root of the rift is that the two peoples were essentially divided, and forcing people to like each other given with the use of force just isn’t going to happen. Here was an opportunity to overcome oppression without the use of violence. Not only does Gandhi break the stereotype of having to use force to force out oppression, he breaks the stereotype of what people imagines as a world leader. His differences in characteristics such as his height, his health and his skin color had made him contrast the notion of world leaders. And it is because of his difference of character would inspire more and more “different” world leaders including aforementioned MLK Jr. and Nelson Mandela. And a final distinction between Gandhi and other world leaders: Nonviolence was embedded within Gandhi. Given that he was Hindu he believed that nonviolence had to start from the soul or one’s religion. He made it clear (although it was already known) that the black struggle against whites in America wasn’t only exclusive to blacks living in America, there had been black against white problems in South Africa, Indians against British in India, there was a group struggle against an oppressor force all over the world.  Violence motivates for change. British in India inspired for the Independence of India, and also inspired democracy in India. Violence against blacks inspired the Harlem Renaissance and other Renaissances across the country that proved their worth.

taken from wikipedia:

A picture of Mohandas Gandhi

When Gandhi was in South Africa, he realized that colonizers “be it French, Belgian, Dutch, Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, or American – that brutality, pillage, death, sudden assassination, incendiarism was used as the only method of communication and understanding between them and other peoples who have committed the inexpiable crime of not belonging to the same race.” (Gandhi, Opportunity, 41) Human history has been riddled with conflict and violence, whether it is race-related, religion-related, or politically related. And Gandhi (and Mr. Johnson) are trying to break this cycle of violent behavior to solve our problems. Since when do civilians benefit from war? They hardly ever do. It is only their leaders who potentially profit the most (if they win, of course). Does using violence to solve violence ever work?

This video by NBC news provides a quick summary to Gandhi’s impact on India and India’s power struggle against the British. Notice also how important community is to Gandhi as he is seen always with a large group. He is much different than kings who believe that they are superior to their subjects and look down upon them. This person instead struggles with his people to show strength, unlike anything that we’ve seen before.

Caroline Norment in “Better Human Relationships” asserts that inter-human conflicts exists due to “Humanity, striving for place in the sun, has formed habits of selfishness, acquisitiveness and self-protection. Naturally enough, groups have formed which are antagonistic to other groups which are even slightly dissimilar.”(43) When you think of what it means to be a human, you might think we are intelligent beings, being able to reason and understand consequences for actions. We think of being friendly, or humane, open to new experiences, but yet it is said that is ‘human nature’ to have fights with one another. Do we really fight wars for survival or do we fight wars for status and belonging? When we’re in fear it’s us or them because they are not like us, and we tend to think that they are inferior to us, or even, them existing threatens our existence. We call ourselves friendly and welcoming but also don’t mind resorting to violent tendencies when we feel threatened. To be human is to be a hypocrite, we are welcoming but we form groups to isolate ourselves from others, we fight and kill each other but yet we are not animals, will we ever learn that violence leads to more violence?

Works cited:

Carroll, Anne E., (2005) “Objectivity and Social Change: Essays and News Stories in Opportunity.” Word, Image, and the New Negro pg. 59, 61

Maran, Rene, (1925) “Gandhi”, Opportunity Magazine pg. 40-41

Norment, G. Caroline, (1925) “Better Human Relationships.” Opportunity Magazine pg. 43-59


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

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.