As you can see by the date at its bottom, the first edition of the poster included with this blog entry was created just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to flood America’s, and the world’s, collective healthcare system with its deadly presence. It was a joy to design this at the request of Live Oak Library officials in Savannah, Georgia. But that joy, to a large extent, was then eclipsed by a painful irony when the pandemic forced libraries to close their doors for a time.
We’ve all experienced a lot of life-changing history since then. Both the pandemic, and deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement officials (or imitators of the same) and gang-bangers, continue to reveal how social injustices and inequities impact realizations of the “American dream” for indigenous Blacks.
Harlem Renaissance Revolutionaries and Tools of Protest
Among the lasting gifts bestowed upon America, and for that matter upon the world, by African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance are strategies for addressing social injustice with intelligently-designed tools of protest. This first quote on the poster, from Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays, celebrates one approach to resolving racial tensions of the period:
“The artists, poets, authors, musicians, and educators of the Harlem Renaissance were advocates for social and political justice by default. Simply daring to express and share their artistic impulses made them revolutionaries of a kind. The weapon of choice in their battles for freedom and equality? It was always inspired life-affirming creative genius.”
This second statement, from the book Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah, places attempts at racial reconciliation within the context of that “bigger history” which incorporates accounts of human and environmental progressions:
“…History is a lover of grand epics as well as small miracles and therefore allows for exceptions.”
The word ‘exception’ as used above is a big one because it can be, and often is, applied to events characterized as either favorable or unfavorable. Such characterization depends on the observer doing the interpreting.
Tactics and Influencers
At the time of the Harlem Renaissance, many witnessed the astounding power of the July 28, 1917, Silent Parade protest march in New York City. It was staged to demonstrate against the numerous lynchings of African-Americas, the overtly-racist Jim Crow system prevalent throughout America, and the violent riots which began to occur as a result. The very nature of the Silent Parade–– organized by author and activist James Weldon Johnson, Black beauty products pioneer and philanthropist Madame C.J. Walker, sociologist and author W.E.B. Du Bois, and other influencers––demanded respectful acknowledgement.
Throughout the 1900s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) perfected its process for dismantling apartheid in America through litigation. Taking on such controversial cases as the tragic Scottsboro Nine in 1931, and the more triumphant Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1953 (the historic decision was handed down in 1954), the organization helped advance practices of democracy when presidents and members of the U.S. Congress were failing to do so.
And while racial and social conflicts filled the streets of America during the 1960s and 1970s, educators dedicated to the Black Arts Movement pressed for balanced representations of diverse cultures in classroom textbooks. Their goals were very similar to supporters of Critical Race Theory in this current historical moment.
A question often raised during public discourses on the tumultuous nature of present-day U.S. society is: Where do we go from here? And: How do we get there? Maybe the answer is as simple as choosing to exercise a little more faith in our capacity for embodying love and compassion instead of nursing heedless addictions to fear and hateful destruction. We do now, after all these many decades, know well the differences between the two.
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.