TeacherServe Essays

African American Protest Poetry

Author: Harris, Trudier (NHC NHC Fellow, 1996–97; NHC NHC Fellow, 2018–19)

Given the secondary position of persons of African descent throughout their history in America, it could reasonably be argued that all efforts of creative writers from that group are forms of protest. The intention of protest literature was—and remains—to show inequalities among races and socio-economic groups in America and to encourage a transformation in the society that engenders such inequalities. For African Americans, that inequality began with slavery. How, in a country that professed belief in an ideal democracy, could one group of persons enslave another? What forms of moral persuasion could be used to get them to see the error of their ways? How could white Americans justify Jim Crow, inequalities in education, housing, jobs, accommodation, transportation, and a host of other things? In response to these “hows,” another “how” emerged. How could writers use their imaginations and pens to bring about change in the society? Protest literature, therefore, focused on such issues and worked to rectify them. Poetry is but one of the media through which writers address such issues, as there are forms of protest fiction, drama, essays, and anything else that African Americans wrote—and write.

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Subjects: Literature; History; Education Studies; Poetry; Protest Literature; African American Literature; Poets; Racial Discrimination; African American History