Category Archives: W.E.B. Du Bois

It takes perspective; Harlem in the eyes of the few

Illustration/ Poetry and photography appear to be two different creative forms of art because while one uses words, the other uses images. But they have more in common than one may believe. Photos are good for providing a visual description and getting the viewer to see what the artist has captured, while illustration leads to more room for interpretation and understanding of what the artist was going for.  

In Survey Graphic: Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro “The Making of Harlem” by James Weldon Johnson we are able to see how Johnson portrayed this and to answer this question of what creates a place if it isn’t necessarily ownership? is really the people, and the culture how one can create a place by finding people who can connect and relate to the same ideas and want the same outcome. “Harlem is not merely a Negro colony or community, it is a city within a city, the greatest Negro city in the world, It is not a slum or a fringe, it is located in the heart of Manhattan and occupies one of the most beautiful and healthful sections of the city. It is not à “quarter” of dilapidated tenements but is made up of new-law apartments and handsome dwellings, with well-paved and well-lighted streets. It has its own churches, social and civic centers, shops, theatres, and other places of amusement. And it contains more Negroes to the square mile than any other spot on earth.”(Johnson, page 635) 

With that in mind, on page 637 there is a picture of a map “This sketch map shows approximately where Negroes live in Harlem, according to a housing survey made in 1024 by the New York Urban League. The fringe of houses in which both Negro and white tenants live is not indicated. The first houses occupied by Negroes were On I34th Street east of Lenox Avenue” I include this picture because it shows Harlem it shows a visual of Harlem and how it a “city within a city” and how much history lies there, how even today walking in some parts of the city their brown street signs instead of green to showcase that (landmarks)

As well in  The Crisis covers where there are both photography and illustrations they are realistic since they depict the New Negro in their daily lives, one must both see and read to fully understand what  Du Bois was going, for example, to answer the question “How are African Americans or Black people (Negros in the language of the magazine) What makes them American? du Bois show many examples like the Vol. 18, No. 2 (1919-06-01) shows the soldiers go to war ready to fight for their country and stand for it, standing up for America. Also how in  Vol. 25, No. 2 (1922-12-01) cover of the magazine, features a photo of a young black woman in a cap and gown with a bright feature ahead. I would say this can make her American by following the “American dream” of getting higher educating and pursuing what comes after like a good job etc

Reality versus expectations: how media shapes reality past present and future

The covers of The Crisis communicate the “normality” as well as the Black perspective about the Black experiences in America because it is a direct parallel of their experiences at the time and their perspective and contributions to the different movements including art, and the first world war it shows or is an example of both the alienation and representation that Black people at this time wished to have and see in media that they didn’t have so that they made for themselves. It is media that showed them as actual humans and people and not racist caricatures (sambo as an example below/ means cartoon).  

 Like Henry Louis Gates, Jr. mentioned in The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black

“These two figures bear an antithetical relation to each other, and function in a relation of reversal. Whereas the image of a “New Negro” has served various generations of black intellectuals as a sign of plenitude, of regeneration, of a truly reconstructed presence, the image of the black in what I like to think of as “Sambo Art” has served various generations of racists as a sign of lack, of degeneration, of a truly negated absence. The two sets of figures can also be said to have a certain cause-and-effect relation, with the fiction of a Negro American who is “now” somehow “new” or different from an “Old Negro” generated to counter the image in the popular American imagination of the black as devoid of all the characteristics that separate the lower forms of human life from the supposedly higher forms.” (pgs 130-131)

 He explains how this Sambo figure and art that was constructed by white people at the time dehumanized and made Black people no more than a caricature that wasn’t taken seriously or seen as capable of any “real” contributions to society especially intellectually. This is why publications such as The Crisis became popular especially among well educated Black people because it showed to them that they weren’t this caricature and they weren’t a “lower life form” than white people but that could do and contribute the exact same things be it art, media or politics regardless of the color of their skin or what racist cartoon and stereotypes showed. This “new” and “old negro” as the reading mentioned, were direct parallels of each other –  the creation of the one caused the creation of the other so that each of these images opposed each other, one seen as part of a distant past and the other as the present and future but only to the people who would put their prejudices aside to see it as such. 

 The pair of covers from the Crisis that I think represents this best are Vol. 18 no.1 and no.2  which shows a black soldier (1919-01-05)  craving the words “loyalty’’ on a plack after fighting in a war for a country that didn’t even want and then in Vol. 18, No. 2 (1919-06-01) shows the soldiers go at war ready to fight