English 276lr. The New Negro Renaissance, 1895 - 1930

Instructor: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
TBA| Location: TBA
Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

This course traces the history of the metaphor of a “New Negro” from its inception at the dawn of Jim Crow to the end of the New Negro Renaissance in the Great Depression. The period of Reconstruction (1865-1877), following the American Civil War, ushered in a “Second Founding” of the nation through the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, establishing birthright citizenship, due process and equal protection of the laws, and the right to vote for black male citizens. While revolutionary, the period of Reconstruction was also short-lived, and the long, violent roll-back against it, curiously known as the “Redemption,” witnessed the curtailing of these rights along with the rise and institutionalization of Jim Crow segregation in what one newspaper editor coined the “New South.”  A key aspect of Redemption was a propaganda war designed to debase the image of African Americans, and thereby justify the deprivation of their rights. Resisting it, African Americans, starting in the mid-1890s, employed the concept of a “New Negro” to combat racist images of an “Old Negro” fabricated by apologists for Jim Crow. The trope of a New Negro underwent several revisions between the 1890’s and 1920’s, when—in the midst of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North—the Harvard-trained philosopher, Alain Locke, revised and appropriated the term  to describe a remarkable flowering of art and literature that he named “The New Negro Renaissance,” and which later would be labeled “The Harlem Renaissance.”