When reading the short essays and poems in the first half of Voices from the Harlem Renaissance I was surprised to find that I was learning as much as I was. Even though I have learned about the African-American political and social struggles, I was only taught the historical facts about them. I was never able to look at essays and poetry
from African-American writers of the period. When I had finished reading the first half of the text, I feel like I had a better understanding of exactly what the struggles of the African-American were and also what their reactions were to the treatment of African-Americans both politically and socially.
I found the first few essays to be extremely dense, and it was hard for me to get myself in to the mindset of understanding what the issues were that were discussed. For example, in A. Philip Randolph’s “A New Crowd-A New Negro” I was surprised to find that the “old” group of activists such as Du Bois were being renounced and basically pushed aside, and this “new Negro” was emerging. This new Negro displays “Ã¢Â?Â¦Ability, radicalism, and sincerity.” (20) which was apparent throughout the entire first half of the text.
Another essay that was significant to my understanding of the new Negro was Alain Locke’s “The New Negro.” In this essay Locke talks about how the “old Negro” is a stereotypical black man who “Ã¢Â?Â¦had long become more of a myth than a man.” (47) and this was surprising to me because I had never known there to be such a distinction between the different generations of African-Americans during their struggle for equality. Locke goes on to give the reader the short poem on page 48 which references to symbolism such as flames, sunrise, and sunset, which are all used in order to illustrate the falling of the “Old Negro” and the rising of the “New Negro.” After reading a few essays on what the “New Negro” was, I found this short poem to be a very fitting and symbolic way to capture the ideals of the “New Negro.”
The piece that I found the most difficult to understand was “Smoke, Lilies and Jade” by Richard Bruce. It is possible that I only shy away from such pieces because of the “James Joyce-phobia” I have, in which I have developed a very strong fear of odd punctuation in a piece of writing. I think that the form of this piece made it somewhat difficult for me to understand as I was reading. The only thing that helped me to understand what the piece was about was the fact that despite the punctuation and sentence fragments, there was a flow to the writing. While there were not complete sentences, the fragments all fit together to make a flowing narrative.
I think that the most important thing I have learned while reading the first half of the text is that there was much more to the African-American movement than simply what was documented in the white upper-class male’s textbooks and history books. There is a preponderance of essays in this text that I feel are detrimental to the understanding of the struggles of the African-American, but I feel that, unfortunately, I may have never read them if I were not assigned this text to read because they would not be in any of the text books that I would have read.