Instructor: Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Day & Time: TBD | Location: TBD
The "new birth of freedom" that Abraham Lincoln hoped to see rise out of the death and destruction of the Civil War manifested itself during the twelve years that followed it. Reconstruction (1865 - 1877) 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. As revolutionary as Reconstruction was, it was also short-lived, and the long, violent roll-back against it, curiously known as the "Redemption," witnessed the curtailing of these rights and 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. Thus began what we might call America's first "social media" race war. The trope of a New Negro underwent several revisions between the 1890's 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." Later commentators would label the period "The Harlem Renaissance." Locke and his contemporaries thought that "armed with culture," as W.E.B. Du Bois wrote much later, they could efficaciously wage the struggle against anti-black racism through what an historian of the period cleverly called "civil rights by copyright." 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.