To the Home Page of the National Humanities Center Web Site National Humanities Center Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
contact us | site guide | search
Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachers
The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Migrations

People We Can Get Along Without, cartoon, Chicago Defender, 1921, detail
"People We Can Gat Along Without"
Old Timers, Newcomers
- Leslie Rogers, "People We Can Get Along Without," cartoon, Chicago Defender, 9 July 1921
- "Where We Are Lacking" & "Some Don'ts," Chicago Defender, 17 May 1919 (PDF)

Panel 53 in Jacob Lawrence's series The Migration of the Negro depicts a white-gloved black couple walking arm in arm (see #10: Painting the Migration). The lady wears what appears to be a full-length fur; the gentleman, cane in hand, sports a top hat, white scarf, and a long formal black coat. Their faces, looking down, are skeletal. The caption reads: "The Negroes who had been North for quite some time met their fellowmen with disgust and aloofness." Indeed, relations between old timers and newcomers were strained. In some ways the tensions echoed the relationship between free Northern blacks and newly-arrived escaping slaves in the antebellum period. (See The Making of African American Identity, Vol. I, Mutual Benefit, The Black Press, and Abolition.) During the Great Migration, newcomers, unsophisticated and unaccustomed to city life, often behaved in ways the black urban gentry considered rude and uncouth. The central issue was respectability. The old timers saw the behavior of the new arrivals as a threat to their status as upstanding citizens. The migrants' struggle with respectability paralleled the plight of European immigrants who flooded into American cities at this same time. (See the Toolbox The Gilded & the Gritty.)

Just as foreign-language newspapers advised European immigrants on how to live in their new surroundings, so, too, did the Chicago Defender and other black papers guide black migrants as they made new lives for themselves. In "Where We Are Lacking," the Defender preaches against "corner loafing," boisterous behavior in street cars, and loitering after church. In a piece that appeared in the same edition, the paper calls attention "to some things which should be observed by our people": "Don't allow yourself to be drawn into a street brawls," "Don't allow children to beg on the streets," "Don't be a beer can rusher or permit children to do such service." As "People We Can Get Along Without" illustrates, the Defender also employed cartoons to admonish against behavior that would reflect badly on African Americans. The condemnation of such practices represents the application of the ideology of racial uplift, born in the nineteenth century, to the new circumstances of black urban life in the early twentieth. (See The Making of African American Identity, Vol. II, Associations I and Associations II.) (4 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. What class perspective do these three texts represent?
  2. In what ways are they distinctly urban?
  3. What standards of behavior do they uphold?
  4. How do they contrast the North and the South?
  5. Compare the concerns of the cartoon with Bessie Smith's "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do" (see #5: The Blues).
  6. Compare the tensions suggested by the cartoon with the tensions described by Langston Hughes in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (see Theme IV: COMMUNITY).

Framing Questions
  •  What migrations did African Americans undertake in the twentieth century?
  •  What were the effects of these migrations?

Cartoon: 2
Articles: 2
4 pages
Supplemental Sites
Chicago Defender, brief overview, from the Chicago Defender

Robert S. Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, overview, in The Black Press: Soldiers without Swords (PBS)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: Leslie Rogers, "People We Can Get Along Without," cartoon, Chicago Defender, 9 July 1921, detail. Digital image reproduced by permission of the American Social History Project, Center for Media and Learning, Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY).

1. Leaving, 1920   2. Writing for Help   3. The Chicago Riots   4. Promised Land?
  5. The Blues   6. Old Timers, Newcomers   7. Leaving But Staying
8. New Consciousness   9. New Art   10. Painting the Migration   11. Leaving, 1960

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

Contact Us | Site Guide | Search

Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History and Literature
National Humanities Center
Web site comments and questions, contact:
Copyright © National Humanities Center. All rights reserved.
Revised: August 2007