The Prize Winner list published in June 1925 from Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life
The worth of a Black person’s life has always been in question in the United States. The 13th Amendment, adopted on December 18, 1865, allegedly abolished slavery. This led to freed African descendants who weren’t provided with guidance or resources to adjust well into society as worthy. Are Black people worthy of a normal life? Does society benefit from them having the opportunity and space needed to live well? The white community weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about acknowledging Black people’s contributions to society. However, there is evidence supporting how Black people have always contributed and strived to be actively helpful in society. Returning to the past unveils evidence of Black contributions to society, connecting dots and strengthening our understanding of the past.
Digging up the past contributions of Black people is an important for reminding members of the white community that Black people are worthy beyond physical labors. According to Arthur A. Schomburg, returning to the past serves the purpose of understanding it in order to move forward and ensure a better future. In his essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past” he declares: “The American Negro must remake his past in order to make his future.” (Schomburg, 670) The reading offered strong conclusions from systematic and scientific findings of propaganda related to the Negro’s past. One conclusion highlighted Black people’s struggle for their own freedom and advancements, even in cases when they pioneered these advancements for society. Another established conclusion in the reading was, “the Negro has been throughout the centuries of controversy and active collaborator, and often a pioneer, in the struggle for his own freedom and advancement. This is true to a degree which makes it the more surprising that it has not been recognized earlier.” (Schomburg, 670)
Since the late 1860s, Black people obtained education and adjusted into spaces seeking equal working opportunities. New Negroes didn’t aim to be lazy in society; they aimed to find their rightful place. “History must restore what slavery took away for it is the social damage of slavery that the present generation must repair and offset.” (Schomburg, 670) The social damage of slavery is continuously being repaired as Black people progress into their capabilities and their talents. Opportunity magazine was a sophisticated, academic journal which kept published record of African American experiences during the Harlem Renaissance. The article titled, “A Negro Renaissance” in the Opportunity magazine included published accomplishments of literary contest prize winners. “[…] the American Negro is finding his artistic voice and that we are on the edge, if not already in the midst, of what not improperly be called a Negro renaissance.” (Pourri, 187) During the mid-1920s, Black actors were in serious dramas, Black singers gathered white audiences in places like Carnegie Hall as well as other respected professions. The growing amount of Black talent was viewed as a significant phenomenon in publications like the Opportunity magazine and The Survey Graphic magazine. The most unique part of the new era of Black excellence was about how up and coming “New Negroes” weren’t, “trying to intimidate the white man nor repeating the professional white story-teller’s dreary stencils of the ‘darkey.’ ” (Pourri, 187)
Belligerent behavior should not be faulted solely as the Black man’s agenda for himself. A logical person would not continuously choose to self-sabotage themselves when they have history of perseverance. Black people didn’t regard perseverance as a thing of the past; their perseverance were a present and future efforts. Even when a Black person displays behavior that mirrors an obliterate one, there are plenty of Black people who progressed towards a great name for themselves and their works. The Harlem Renaissance birthed the intellectual movement of African American art, dance, fashion, literature, politics, scholarship, and theater. African Americans did not create and excel during this magnificent movement to resemble belligerent or self-sabotaging behavior. The Opportunity journal magazine highlights first prize winner and NYC student, James Pleasant and first prize winner Branches Bowman and eminent composer/ singer Harry T. Burleigh, as well as the countless others who are adding worth to the African American legacy.
“The Negro must know that he is wanted within the ranks of the labor movement and efforts must be employed to get him in.” (Pourri, 192) This portion of the Opportunity magazine is problematic in a way that limits African descendants value in society. Labor work should not be a known synonym with African slaves. On the contrary, European colonizers diabolically and disrespectfully called Black people lazy, yet they always insisted on using Black people for labor. Europeans claims that African people were belligerent and self-sabotaging their lives doesn’t reflect the accomplishments and perseverance of African American. True equality is still a destination Black/ African Americans have yet to reach. European colonizers disproportionally placed African Americans in unfortunate circumstances. Revisiting and understanding the past unveils evidence of Black contributions and their true worth in society.