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The New Negro in the Old South

The New Negro in the Old South

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The New Negro in the Old South
    Book Description:

    Standard narratives of early twentieth-century African American history credit the Great Migration of southern blacks to northern metropolises for the emergence of the New Negro, an educated, upwardly mobile sophisticate very different from his forebears. Yet this conventional history overlooks the cultural accomplishments of an earlier generation, in the black communities that flourished within southern cities immediately after Reconstruction.In this groundbreaking historical study, Gabriel A. Briggs makes the compelling case that the New Negro first emerged long before the Great Migration to the North.The New Negro in the Old Southreconstructs the vibrant black community that developed in Nashville after the Civil War, demonstrating how it played a pivotal role in shaping the economic, intellectual, social, and political lives of African Americans in subsequent decades. Drawing from extensive archival research, Briggs investigates what made Nashville so unique and reveals how it served as a formative environment for major black intellectuals like Sutton Griggs and W.E.B. Du Bois.The New Negro in the Old Southmakes the past come alive as it vividly recounts little-remembered episodes in black history, from the migration of Colored Infantry veterans in the late 1860s to the Fisk University protests of 1925. Along the way, it gives readers a new appreciation for the sophistication, determination, and bravery of African Americans in the decades between the Civil War and the Harlem Renaissance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7481-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-7)

    In 1925 the Howard University professor Alain Locke edited an ambitious anthology entitledThe New Negro. Building on the March 1925 “Harlem number” ofSurvey Graphic, which emphasized the significance of New York City as an African American cultural center for blacks, Locke’sNew Negroincluded historical essays, social studies, and various creative representations of black culture written by influential black and white artists, scholars, and intellectuals from the period. According to Locke, countless volumes of literature had been written “about” the Negro but very few were “of him.”¹ In light of northern migration by large numbers of blacks seeking...

  5. 1 The New Negro Genealogy (pp. 8-34)

    As early as 1745 an anonymous eighteenth-century writer contributing to theLondon Magazinenoted that the phraseNew Negrowas used by black slaves in America to describe slaves who were newly arrived from Africa.¹ Although this reference is an isolated one, it highlights an early transformation inAfrican Americanidentity. Not yet representative of “an entity or group of entities,” this New Negro label exists “as a coded system of signs, complete with masks and mythology.”² Though the label appears to be used only among blacks, its usage has a decidedly somber if not ironic tone. While maintaining their...

  6. 2 Nashville: A Southern Black Metropolis (pp. 35-54)

    If the New Negro is a figure of resistance, it was resistance, as the histories of lynching and Jim Crow have made clear, to very formidable forces. No matter what the inclination of southern African Americans—and until a few decades into the twentieth century most African Americans were southern—only a few sites in the South permitted the possibility of resistance. These included cities such as Richmond and Jacksonville. And even among those places Nashville, because of specific historical circumstances, was preeminent. Unlike most urban centers in the South, Nashville escaped the Civil War relatively unscathed, a circumstance that...

  7. 3 Soul Searching: W. E. B. Du Bois in the “South of Slavery” (pp. 55-78)

    William Edward Burghardt Du Bois epitomized the qualities that would come to be called the New Negro, and the fact that some of his major work antedates the consolidation of that concept is evidence that his work was as influential as it was prescient. He was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, on February 23, 1868. At just fifteen Du Bois began an intellectual career that spanned nearly a century. After graduating as valedictorian from Great Barrington High School, he attended Fisk University in Nashville, where he completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1888. Du Bois then returned to Massachusetts,...

  8. 4 “Mightier than the Sword”: The New Negro Novels of Sutton E. Griggs (pp. 79-113)

    In Sutton Elbert Griggs’s novelThe Hindered Hand(1905), a young African American boy named Henry Crump stands before a judge in an Almaville, Tennessee, courtroom.¹ He has been tried and found guilty of assault for throwing rocks at a group of white boys who had also thrown rocks but had the presence of mind to appear empty-handed when approached by a white city policeman responding to the disturbance. As punishment for his crime, the young boy is sentenced to ten months on the Almaville County Farm. Well aware of the conditions there and of the treatment of its African...

  9. 5 “Tried by Fire”: The African American Boycott of Jim Crow Streetcars in Nashville, 1905–1907 (pp. 114-133)

    On August 27, 1905, sixteen African American men entered the downtown office of the county clerk in Nashville’s Court House. Among the group were influential businessmen, politicians, and religious leaders from the city’s African American community. The purpose of their visit was to file a charter of incorporation to establish the Union Transportation Company, a corporation authorized to “purchase automobiles, omnibuses, carriages, horses and run the same for conveyance of passengers and the transportation of goods, wares and merchandise, from one to another point in the city, or from one to another point in any county in the state.”¹ Their...

  10. 6 “Before I’d Be a Slave”: The Fisk University Protests, 1924–1925 (pp. 134-175)

    W. E. B. Du Bois arrived in Nashville on June 2, 1924, to deliver the Fisk University commencement address before students, faculty, alumni, and members of the administration. It was not the first time he had been given such an honor, having delivered a commencement address in 1898 and participated as an alumnus speaker in 1908. However, for Du Bois this occasion was both personal and political. He sought to witness the graduation of his daughter Yolande and to indict a system of inequality he believed existed at Fisk. His opening lines revealed a guilty conscience: “To my long continued...

  11. Epilogue (pp. 176-180)

    The concept of the New Negro has now become as archaic as the wordNegroitself, so much so that we may be in danger of losing sight of its historical importance. If this study has added some understanding to the origins of the New Negro, it is also important to note the legacy of that figure in its nineteenth-century southern context. Although the New Negro was no Black Panther, the autonomy of that Oakland community in the 1970s may have owed as much to the independence of African Americans in Nashville as did the Black Arts movement toImperium...

  12. Notes (pp. 181-218)
  13. Index (pp. 219-226)
  14. Back Matter (pp. 227-227)