The Vital Elements of the Harlem Renaissance
It is impossible to define how the Harlem Renaissance thrived in 1920s without a discussion of immigration. The black population streamed from the rural South to industrial Northern cities, and migrated to urban centers such as New York City. In addition, there was also a second wave of immigration from the West Indies whose countries were British Colonies. Who were these groups? How were they represented? How did they interact with each other? Alain Locke and W.A. Domingo, two African American writers during this time, distinguished these two immigration groups. Locke and Domingo defined how they reacted between each other and how they were represented within the Harlem Renaissance through their journals: “Harlem” and “The Tropics in New York” both printed in the March 1925 edition of Survey Graphic. Both Locke and Domingo agreed that Southern Migrations, African Americans, and the West Indians shared the same low social status experience in their homeland, suffering from a lack of opportunity and unequal treatment. The result was that these groups were equally motivated by a hopeful, new vision of freedom in Harlem. Even though Domingo highlights many conflicts that two groups faced, and portrays Harlem as racial and culturally segregated, Locke expresses how Harlem was a unique and exciting place where all kinds of races intermingled. Harlem is represented as “a city of migrants” and as “a race center” during the Harlem Renaissance.
Consequently, Locke’s essay “Harlem” developed a great image of a free land where people of mixed colors were able to change their own destiny with their own choices, and their own power. Locke recognizes that many immigrants from the South were forced to endure “the pressure of poor crops coupled with increased social terrorism in certain sections of the South and Southwest” (Lock 629). He lists these as the main reasons why African Americans left their hometowns in the South. He used “poor crops” to emphasize African Americans’ miserable financial and living conditions. He also uses the term “Social Terrorism” in order to portray a life threatening social aspect whereby African Americans often became victims of White Racism. Locke further explains that Harlem represented a “new vision” of equal education and employment opportunities. “Social and economic freedom” of self-expression and human rights were the essential elements for why African Americans flocked into Harlem. (629) He characterizes the people who lived in Harlem as the “heterogeneous millions” and a “kaleidoscope.” Beside African Americans, other race groups included “Irish, Jew, Italian.” Asians also shared in this diverse range of cultures, languages, and religions in Harlem. Over time, Harlem developed into a unique place where people savored “racy music and racier dancing” that those diverse race groups brought into Harlem.
Similarly, in “The Tropic of New York”, Domingo discusses a second immigration group. Domingo introduced immigration workers, mainly the West Indians who were “British Subjects.” (Domingo 648) Domingo asserts that this immigration group came to America for “economic reasons.” After World War I there was a high demand for workers in the “war industry” especially in industrial cities like New York City. In fact, their original homeland living conditions were not different from the ones Locke outlines that African American confronted in America. They were oppressed under British Authority, limited in human rights and freedoms, and social status was the lowest. Much like African Americans, “new vision” and “freedom” were what the West Indians desired to attain. Domingo presented them as “ambitious, eager for education, willing to engage in business, argumentative, aggressive and possessed of great proselytizing zeal for any cause they espouse.” (649) He used the terms of “ambitious,” “eager” and “aggressive” to explain how they were determined and serious about their goals in life and social improvement. As a result, they were the ones who produced the first colored college graduate “John Brown Russwurm,” and they began competing with White America attaining more skilled and professional job positions.
Although two “Negro Groups” were sharing the same experience in surviving in harsh treatments, and sharing the same goals of “new vision” and “freedom,” each group had strong feelings of animosity and discriminated against each other. At first, Domingo defines that African Americans perceived the West Indians as “proud and arrogant.” While African Americans were still struggling from a lack of self-assertiveness and self-determination, the West Indians lost “servility” and “deference” to British Authority soon after they came to America and achieved superior positions in business, education and politics in New York City (Domingo 650). Domingo also introduced the challenges West Indians had with African Americans. “American Negroes are reluctant to concede them the right to political leadership even when qualified intellectually.” (650) In fact, an enormous increase in the West Indians’ population in New York City combined with their serious and aggressive attitude toward life threatened African Americans who felt they might lose social privilege in the USA. As a consequence, African Americans held an antipathy for the West Indians and showed no goodwill toward this group, attempting to not share social power with them. In turn, this behavior provoked the West Indians to embrace race prejudice, discrimination and hostility against African Americans.
While Domingo illustrates that “dissimilation” of these two groups divided Harlem by “tradition, culture, historical background and group perspective,” (648) Locke insists that the people in Harlem still united and found one another because of “a problem in common.” According to Locke, since these two groups faced the same difficulties in race discrimination, limited opportunity, and the lowest social status, they identified with each other. Consequently, a great image of Harlem as “a city of migrants and as a race center” was created by the combination of their race and cultural. (Locke 630)
In conclusion, new vision for the future and freedom were the main factors why two “Negro Groups” African Americans and the West Indians, migrated in great numbers into Harlem. Both writers, Locke and Domingo, illustrate how these people developed their lives and how they flourished living in Harlem. However, they failed to disclose the story of two groups equally. If Domingo overemphasizes how and what the West Indians goals attained in Harlem and underestimates African American achievements, focuses on dissimilarities between the two groups. Locke just portrays the sunny side of Harlem and avoids exposing conflicts that the two groups confronted during the Harlem Renaissance. Despite what these two writers document, how these two groups reconciled their differences, and thrived within the Harlem Renaissance together still remains questionable.
Locke, Alain. “Harlem.” Survey Graphic March 1925
Domingo, W.A. “The Tropic of New York.” Survey Graphic March 1925
Revise Response (optional):