African American Poetry (1870-1928): A Digital Anthology

Progress & Racial Uplift

This page collect poems featuring themes of progress, protest, and racial uplift for the African American community. 

The 1910s and 20s were particularly intense periods of activity for the nascent African American Civil Rights movement. The Niagara Movement (1905-1909) led to the creation of the NAACP in 1910. The Crisis would be the official magazine for that organization, and it was edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. Starting with some of the very first issues, Du Bois includes poetry in the magazine, often oriented towards racial justice themes. Other magazines such as Opportunity would also publish a fair amount of poetry starting in the late 1910s. 

Other poems related to topics such as Black excellence / the 'Talented Tenth', Black involvement in highly visible public roles, and poems in tribute to Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass may fall under this category. (There is also a separate Tag category for Tribute poems to Frederick Douglass...)

One of the most famous poems in this category might be James Weldon Johnson's "Fifty Years," which was first published in the New York Times in January 1913, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. 

Gwendolyn B. Bennett's 1924 poem "To Usward" was published in connection with the publication of Jessie Fauset's novel There is Confusion, a major event in the emerging Harlem Renaissance. This poem contains a self-consciousness that was fairly unique for the moment of its publication -- Bennetti is aware of the diversity of ways of experiencing Blackness as a dynamic affirmative identity, and sees the transformative potential in embracing it as such: "Not self-contained with smug identity / But conscious of the strength in entity." 

And Otto Bohanan's "The Dawn's Awake" is a broad celebration of the beginning of a new era, which might be intepreted as linked to the growth of the civil rights movement around the NAACP. 

Contents of this tag: