Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Excerpt from: Essay on the Negro's Creative Genius by James Weldon Johnson - The year 1922

 The Negro in the United States has achieved or been
placed in a certain artistic niche. When he is thought
of artistically, it is as a happy-go-lucky, singing, shuffling,
banjo-picking being or as a more or less pathetic figure.
The picture of him is in a log cabin amid fields of cotton
or along the levees. Negro dialect is naturally and by
long association the exact instrument for voicing this
phase of Negro life; and by that very exactness it is an
instrument with but two full stops, humor and pathos.
So even when he confines himself to purely racial themes,
the Aframerican poet realizes that there are phases of
Negro life in the United States which cannot be treated
in the dialect either adequately or artistically. Take,
for example, the phases rising out of life in Harlem, that
most wonderful Negro city in the world. I do not deny
that a Negro in a log cabin is more picturesque than a
Negro in a Harlem flat, but the Negro in the Harlem
flat is here, and he is but part of a group growing every-
where in the country, a group whose ideals are becom-
ing increasingly more vital than those of the traditionally
artistic group, even if its members are less picturesque.

(Could this be what Johnson was speaking about?)

What the colored poet in the United States needs to
do is something like what Synge did for the Irish; he needs

to find a form that will express the racial spirit by
symbols from within rather than by symbols from with-
out, such as the mere mutilation of English spelling
and pronunciation. He needs a form that is freer and
larger than dialect, but which will still hold the racial
flavor; a form expressing the imagery, the idioms, the
peculiar turns of thought, and the distinctive humor and
pathos, too, of the Negro, but which will also be capable
of voicing the deepest and highest emotions and aspira-
tions, and allow of the widest range of subjects and the
widest scope of treatment. 
(Yes, something like this!)

Johnson wrote the words above in in the early part of the 20th century. It would appear that the  African American of his future more than rose to the occasion, in creating multiple, lasting forms of  art that not only impacted the Black American but provided a means of expression to people the world over. 
 Click here to consult The book of American Negro Poetry and
 see the Preface for more of the Essay on the Negro's Creative Genius

No comments: