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Harlem Renaissance Essay

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Claude McKay was Jamaican American who moved from Jamaica to the United States in 1912. He attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. This is where he received his first taste of racism here in America and this would have a drastic effect on his future writing. He left the Tuskegee Institute to attend school in Manhattan, Kansas. Mr. McKay then moved to New York invested in a restaurant and got married. The restaurant fell through and McKay moved back to Jamaica. He later became an editor of the Liberator and wrote some of his own poems during the time period known as the red summer.

One of his poems he wrote in protest of the harsh times would later be used by Winston Churchill during World War II to motivate the soldiers. (Modern American Poetry, 2011) “If We Must Die”, written by Claude McKay during the summer of 1919, is a mantra for people to stand up against those who wish to keep them down or in Churchill’s case to kill them during battle(Sayre, 2012).

He is saying even if they must die they should do it with dignity. They may only have the grave to come, but he does not wish them to just lie down even in the face of adversity. Claude McKay displays double consciousness from the time he comes to America. He is first an intelligent Jamaican man who has come here to America in search of an education. Here he was seen by the white Americans around him in Alabama as nothing more than just another “colored” man. Claude had to deal with both being “colored” or “Negro” and being an American. In his poem “If we must die” McKay shows the idea of double consciousness all the way through. He shows the pride of a dignified man who will not just sit back while anyone attempts to push down into the grave. His writing is not specific to one race or ethnicity, as proven when the British Prime Minister used it to motivate the British and American soldiers. (Sayre, 2012) Langston Hughes was a young poet, writer, and musician during the Harlem renaissance period.

According to Sayre (2012), Langston was like many African-Americans searching for a freedom they could not find in America moved to Paris. In France he was subjected to a music very similar to jazz and ragtime. Harlem was quickly becoming the Paris of America to African-Americans because they were free to be who they want to be and accepted by all those around. When Hughes moved backed to Harlem he became one of the most powerful voices for the African-Americans in Harlem due to his abilities, according to Sayre. His capability to speak to your emotion and to create a feeling empathy, as well as his use the local speech, grammar, and dialect made his works attractive to all.

According to the Kansas Heritage Group (n.d.), Langston Hughes had only been in college a year before finding the allure of Harlem, where he met many other famous poets of the times. Langston Hughes wrote the poem “As I grew older” describing how he has a dream but because he is a “Black” man he has walls that rise up between himself and his dream. This is a perfect example of double consciousness, because like all Americans he has these dreams that are always growing within him. However because of his ethnicity he has walls that are placed in his path. He feels because he is black man he is being forced down into the shadows and blocked from his dreams. He also is persistent enough in the poem to not lie in the shadows and let the wall win. He breaks through the wall and pursues his dreams despites the efforts to block him. (Poemhunter.com, 2003)

The poetry of the times brings out the views and emotions of the people who were writing it. These poems bring out the feelings desire to be free to chase their dreams that write about as well. There are many poems that display thoughts of death and dying. Some of the themes were being brought on by the war, while others are themes were brought on by the feelings of oppression and racism. The biggest theme of them all is the fact we are American, whether we are black or white, Jamaican, German, or French descent, we are American. In Langston Hughes poem “Theme for English B” he states he is black and “You are white- yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American”. We are all American and we are all one. We all have similar desires not identical but similar in nature. We want to be free to be what and who we want to be without being held back by others who wish to hold us back in order to advance themselves.

In his poem “As I grew older” he writes about oppression, “And then the wall rose, Rose slowly, Slowly, Between me and my dream”, The wall rising is the oppression brought about by the racism he faced here in America. Claude McKay in “If We Must Die” he writes a poem that can used to motivate a group of people as Churchill used to motivate the soldiers of WWI or to motivate the African-Americans here in America. He wants his people to have their honor even in death. “If we must die-oh, let us nobly die,” He wants to be seen with honor and dignity as he wishes for all his people. In the poem Christianity I write about beliefs and faith in a world where it seems to shun anyone who openly believes in Jesus Christ and his teachings.

In today’s society Christians are often told they are cannot display their crosses in public spaces, because “we are pushing our beliefs on others”. This country was formed with the idea that people would have their freedoms. Freedoms that their previous government denied them, and one of the biggest freedoms they searched for was freedom to practice the religion of their choice. Christianity in its many forms was the biggest religion at the time of this country formation and you can see that in many ways even still today, however publically today there seems to be a push to hide all forms of religion. Christianity seems to be the religion that people wish to hide the most. This is why I chose to use this theme for my poem.

Belief in only one
Love all – even my enemy
They don’t want love
They don’t want faith
Will Science ever agree
Where is your evidence
Is your truth, My truth
Freedom to live
Freedom to Love
Freedom to believe
Freedom to question
Who wants it
Who needs it
Why have it
They certainly do not want it

Modern American Poetry (2011). Claude McKay. Retrieved from http://www.english.illinois. edu/maps/poets/m_r/mckay/mckay.htm PoemHunter.com (January, 2003) As I grew older by Langston Hughes. Retrieved from http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/as-i-grew-older/ Sayre, H. M. (2012). The Humanities: Culture, continuity and change, Volume 2 (2nd ed.). (2011 Custom Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education. Kansas Heritage Group, (n.d.). Langston Hughes Biography. Retrieved from http://www. kansasheritage.org/crossingboundaries/page6e1.html

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