Contemporary Reflection – Past Vs. Today

Many things throughout history have changed, to the point where if a person from the past were to somehow travel to the future, they would be utterly loss in insane sorts of ways. The advent of technology means that the person from the past would see people talking to themselves on glowing screens, strange forms of food they’ve never heard of before, and how everything is connected to a cloud. To add on further, the products they used to use and eat would have been replaced with all sorts of food from General Mills and Kellogg’s.

But there would always be one thing they would recognize, and something that’s really stood the test to time. Frankly, it would be the infrastructure of the buildings in Harlem and even though some of the buildings have been torn down due to repair and other circumstances, the familiar brick walls and characteristic staircases would remain.

The corner piece of it all would be the parks, because even throughout the ages, it does not change beyond the addition and removal of some potentially playground equipment.

Many things have changed in Harlem, so it’s almost wonderous in a way to look at what has stayed.

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Blog #3: Nostalgia and Rain

What was it like to be a black child during the Harlem Renaissance?

It’s a question that seldom seemed to be asked, and only answered in retrospect by autobiographies sold about half a century afterwards.

An adult of that time would be happy to tell you how it was different, and how they got to experience so many new things that they never would’ve thought they’d get to experience when they were younger.

Unfortunately, we can’t purely look at things at the point of view of an adult, because the children in question have their own experiences. And what they say is true, they wouldn’t be able to imagine the younger experience, but to add on even further, each successive generation, the experiences they face during childhood are completely different from the last.

It’s not wrong to say that we are cagey about these divisions as each generation has their own separate childhood cultural phenomenon that help bond the generation together, and accordingly, they had their own challenges to face.

However, delving into the literature and environment the children lived through will help paint a picture of their experience.

So what were the childhood experiences for Black children that they all collectively experienced during this tumultuous time?

The previous generation was rife with a struggle to change what it meant to be black. They created magazines, gave speeches, and made an entire neighborhood their own. But even then, that generation was unable to solve the problem of the rampant racism they faced.

What was a child supposed to take from that?

Would they idealize the fighter for social justice as something that they would strive to become in the future? Or would it break them and force them down a path of despair?

This quote by W.E.B Du Bois contained in the website ‘The Magazine that Helped 1920s Kids Navigate Racism’ encapsulates it best:

This was inevitable in our role as [a] newspaper—but what effect must it have on our children? To educate them in human hatred is more disastrous to them than to the hated; to seek to raise them in ignorance of their racial identity and peculiar situation is inadvisable—impossible.

The Crisis magazine was showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of everything the Negro community was facing, but an unfortunate truth about the full truth is that the ugly tends to take in more space of a person’s mind, and in a child’s case, the cornerstone of their thoughts. If the children act on this hatred, nothing would change and the change that the previous generation had fought oh so hard for could’ve been lost. If children were to give into hatred and such, it would continue a cycle of violence and racism to the next generation and a life led by such hatred would rarely turn out to be a blessed one.

The media wasn’t kind to the neighborhoods these children lived in. But maybe the people were better.

Children have role models to base their behavior around. They are there to create an ideal image in their minds to live up to and to strive to become. It’s no secret that many pursued the fields they do as adults because there was a role model to guide them.

What did the children see? What did they learn? What did they start to believe?

Did the adults want them to continue the fight, or would they hope that it would end in their generation?

 

Hughes, L. (1925). The Weary Blues. Opportunity, 3(29), 143–143.

This poem by Langston Hughes on p.145 of Opportunity magazine, is a moving piece about the struggle and the misery that pervades the Negro community. It oozes with a feeling of being beaten down, and yet, there’s an accepting tone that they’re forgiven even in spite of their defeated figure. More importantly, it was written from the perspective of someone watching a man be so weary, and he can’t even fake being chipper.

The blues are a form of weeping for the suffering inflicted. What would a child see in this?

In the eyes of a child, they’d start to notice a pattern. A strange pattern of every kind adult empathizing with a beaten down man who looked as if he’s seen better days. The children would have a front row seat to this. They’d gain a sense of dread about the future, and the nigh-insurmountable wall of the future from their very young perspective. Maybe once they’ve grown, they’ll see the wall for what it is, but as a child, it’s frightening.

There is nothing a child understands more than their own helplessness to the world. This wall is going to block them, and it must be scaled with blood, or they would have to walk away from it entirely.

However, stories did offer a form of respite.

The Brownies’ Book was created by W. E. B. Du Bois, to educate and promote literary skills for both black and white children.

3 Covers for ‘The Brownies’ Book’ dated Jan, Feb, June, of 1920

It was a much lighter publication in comparison to Crisis magazine. It focused more on literature for children and stories that depicted black children in a much more natural way in comparison to the very ‘narrow-minded’ takes other magazines were publishing. These magazines were targeted to both white and black children, in order to foster stronger relations between the two, since if they had a common to speak about, prejudices could be broken. Children are innocent and unknowing, so they’ll treat others how they see their role models and media tell them to treat certain people. This magazine hoped to show children that hatred was a incorrect choice and that it would be better to

And the children did do something that many were screaming they couldn’t.

Education had been a raging issue at this time, with many convinced that a black child and a school were like oil and water. However, education is the cheapest way to raise one’s position in society, so having children who could advance and truly apply themselves to learn and obtain vital jobs to a society would indisputably improve the general Negro community standing. But there are barriers to education nonetheless, namely in the form of monetary payments to attend educational institutions.

Grants are a blessing in this case as they provide that monetary assistance desperately needed by students struggling to pay their debts. But it’s not as if this money from these grants are able to appear out of thin-air. This money had to be managed and appropriately awarded to the students who needed it most, and the “Go to High School-Go to College” program by Alpha Phi Alpha was a shining standout as shown in the quote below by Opportunity magazine:

Fraternities and Sororities. (1925). Opportunity, 3(26), 48–50.

They had managed to create and maintain such a well-maintained program that even political figures gave their praises onto their efforts. These programs are representative of hope, and with such advancements and the removal of economic barriers, it would mean the inspiration of scholars to be limited solely by their efforts in academia which would lead to a strengthening of their position in society.

The struggles and boons of all these children defined and shaped their course in life. Their experiences gave a base to their opinions and their beliefs. To truly understand the change that happens to a community, the one thing that should be watched above all else is the ideas the children are exposed to, the things people say about them, the adults they watch and who they are closest to, the items that they read, and the ways they improve themselves.

 

Fraternities and Sororities. (1925). Opportunity, 3(26), 48–50.

Holmes, A. (2021, February 18). The magazine that helped 1920s kids navigate racism. The Atlantic. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/02/how-w-e-b-du-bois-changed-black-childhood-america/617952/

Hughes, L. (1925). The Weary Blues. Opportunity, 3(29), 143–143.

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Blog #2: The Real Vs. The Ideal

Between fiction and non-fiction, which one is better?

Imagine, for a very literal metaphor, two different books which laid out in front of a person: a non-fiction book and a fictional book.

Which one should a person choose and read?

Generally speaking, people tend to name non-fiction as the greater of the two genres. People always speak about being realistic and staying grounded, and sure, that may work in a pure business setting, however, for true ideological change, they have to learn to embrace fiction, or ideals.

Survey Graphic itself realized this, as when they first began to publish articles about the negro community, it was all non-fiction literature, and focused on a much more analytical perspective on how to change and the accomplishments of those in the community. This is representative of the non-fiction book.

The non-fiction book, the real, would do it’s best to convey matters as they are, point to the factors that caused it, and the possible consequences of such a thing occurring. It is knowledgeable. For example, in ‘The Making of a Harlem’ by James Weldon Johnson:

 

Johnson, James. “The Making of a Harlem.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6, 1925, p. 636.

This passage is a recounting of how housing prices in a neighborhood completely tanked after colored folk began to move in. It’s a record of the historical racism and push-back the negro community had suffered, and how it led to the formation of Harlem. It’s an issue that they want all in the negro community to learn about, and to fight against.

But after a decade after the magazine began it’s first publication, they began to shift gears and began to publish fiction, or the ideal, in the form of poetry. These poems are emotional, they warn their readers, they wish for the best but are frustrated with what reality has dealt them. In particular, ‘Like a Strong Tree’ by Claude Mckay exemplifies this best:

McKay, Claude. “Like a Strong Tree.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6, 1925, p. 662.

The tree is an ideal of the strength of self. The strength to hold onto their beliefs and how McKay wishes to stand tall like this tree for ages to come. That through a tree’s long and extended life, in particular the beginning of the second passage ‘Touching the surface and the depth of things’, they will learn and internalize everything they can reach their roots towards. With that knowledge supporting their trunk, they won’t ever falter and they’ll endure and enjoy all things that come their way and never fall.

The non-fiction passage above made me chuckle at the absurdity of it all which a tinge sense of animosity that people could really go that far. The fictional poem inspired me with it’s imagery and depictions of tenacity. If I were to think about the changes of a century ago, a tree would sit rooted in the forefront of my mind.

Which book would you choose? No matter your choice, understand that these books are not binaries, but instead, a spectrum that is absolutely critical to our daily lives.

They represent the real vs the ideal.

Both are fundamental parts of the human condition.

The Ideal

The Real

The Real

 

Lacking either one would mean that a person completely loses perspective.

A complete realist is a robot who doesn’t strive for something greater, who will keep the status quo and never turn the world into something more.

A complete idealist is a blind lunatic who can’t see the world for what is it, only spouting ideals and never the means to achieve them.

Everyone is a mix of the two, with their perspectives leaning one way or the other. And as such, it’s important to take a step back and reevaluate where you stand.

The best answer to my earlier question is to read both books, well, if you have the time.

 

Works Cited

Johnson, James. “The Making of a Harlem.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6

McKay, Claude. “Like a Strong Tree.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6, 1925, p. 662

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Overview

It’s the turn of the twentieth century, and the first generation of black men & women who have been born free, have all reached maturity. However, even if the law states they were free, social elements that despised their existence still lingered, so they travelled to places where they wouldn’t be persecuted as such. This led an exodus of black men and women all to New York, where they congregated into a neighborhood named Harlem. And from there, desires and hope merged, and the Harlem Renaissance began.

Now, there is only one thing that doesn’t change throughout life, and it’s the fact that we change.

Through every moment, memory, and connection in our lives, we change. We try to find aspects of ourselves, the community, and our society to alter and tinker with until we become something new and different.

But why do we do something new? Isn’t what we have already good enough?

We do all these things because of a deep rooted belief that we can become something greater. A better version of an environment or self. They all are in the pursuit of what we believe to be the best it can be.

The ideal of an idea.

Ideals were the life blood for the Harlem Renaissance, where they flowed through every man and women, whose dreams and hopes clashed with the social order to create change .

Within this site, I shall explain how ideals were the pivotal role in the development of the culture that defines Harlem to this day.

To understand the ‘ideal’ that they encapsulated, it must be first defined. Blog post #2 (The Real Vs. The Ideal), explores in-depth what idealism is and how it clashes and intermingles with it’s counterpart, pure realism. To borrow from the second blog’s understanding, and ideal is: the understanding of an ideal is varied and verbose, as each person holds their ideals differently.

So to define an ideal: it’s the most excellent form of a concept.

There have been many disparagements about the practicality of following an ideal because they don’t always mesh well with what is truly possible. They also may not match with what another believes is ideal.

However, the act of pursuing an ideal is not wrong. It’s the pure desire to change something for the better that will push a stone of change uphill until they reach the precipice where thanks to all the fruits and efforts of all the change comes tumbling down the mountain ever so faster.

Because ideals are weapons. They glitter and shine in the hearts of those who pursue them, which can charm all those who watch and believe.

An exemplary example of this can be found within the ideal of beauty. In the Blog Post #1 (Beauty of a Century), we explore how Opportunity magazine managed to sway all their readers thoughts and actions with a very loud cover that constantly tries to be beautiful.

And it’s a great idea. It can easily be found that no matter the culture and no matter the country, beauty is celebrated. And this lends itself to the question, what is beauty? How do we know something is beautiful, and how do we define that in literal word? Even with a brief glance through history, what is considered beautiful vastly differs between cultures and time periods.

So how did Opportunity magazine manage to be beautiful when the definition of beauty is so malleable? They went for a very wild approach, but yet, effective none the same. Through sheer variety, they created covers that would be beautiful in some way to a vast array of audiences. And the cherry on top is that most of them included a black female figure to prove that black people are just as beautiful as everyone else.

It’s a powerful example for the strength of a group that earnestly strives for their ideals. And this movement will not burn out in their generation, but the torch will be passed down through generation as the new blood carries the flame. Though they may carry their torches in a different way. Namely, the Fire!!! Magazine was published by the younger generation, attempting to direct the movement to better represent what it meant to be black to them.

There is a noticeable difference in the idealism of children and adults. I attempt to compare and contrast the two in the following Blog Post #3 (Nostalgia and Rain), where I bring up the difference in the world view between an adult and a child. Where the child doesn’t understand, the adult understands all too well, and almost tries to shield the eyes of the child in an attempt to buy just a little more time to change the world before they have to confront it for themselves. And we can find this kind of effort with a side publication of the same company who created Opportunity Magazine known as The Brownies Book. This book was meant to give children of the time literature that they could act in the same way as the other children, and that the stereotypes portraying them in other forms of media, weren’t accurate at all.

Ideals can be found in every part of the culture of the Harlem Renaissance and is one of the most defining features of it. It’s not making the best of a bad situation, but changing the whole situation outright with the tools they had on hand. The most pivotal point is that they didn’t give up. They didn’t accept their bad hand, but worked to stack the deck in their favor.

Keep your ideals strong and let them shine like a torch. It’s incredibly frustrating to have people say to you, “Look at reality” and completely dismiss your vision out of hand for being way too outside the norm as a vast majority just don’t feel like it’s feasible. But no matter what they say, change that astounds the world can still happen, even if it’s going to be a long time in the future. The Harlem Renaissance was able to show that complete and magnificent change, that echoed throughout the nation.

Bibliography:

The Brownies’ Book Magazine

Fire!!! Magazine

Fraternities and Sororities. (1925). Opportunity, 3(26), 48–50.

HARRIS, 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.

How it feels to be Colored Me by Zora Houston

Holmes, A. (2021, February 18). The magazine that helped 1920s kids navigate racism. The Atlantic. Retrieved March 8, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2021/02/how-w-e-b-du-bois-changed-black-childhood-america/617952/

Hughes, L. (1925). The Weary Blues. Opportunity, 3(29), 143–143.

Johnson, James. “The Making of a Harlem.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6, 1925, p. 636.

Locke, A. (1925). Enter the New Negro. Survey Graphic: Harlem of the New Negro, 53(11).

McKay, Claude. “Like a Strong Tree.” Survey Graphic, vol. 6, no. 6, 1925, p. 662.

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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).

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