TeacherServe Essays

The New Negro and the Black Image: From Booker T. Washington to Alain Locke

Author: Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. (NHC Fellow, 1988–90)

Turning away from the “Old Negro” and slavery, the term “New Negro” recreates the race by renaming it. At the turn of the nineteenth century the term “New Negro” suggested education, refinement, money, assertiveness, and racial consciousness. Booker T. Washington and others sought to craft a public image of the Negro for whites and for blacks. Washington and others deployed the New Negro as testimony to black progress and perfectibility. The New Negro existed in the voice that described, and hence created, him/her as much as in the description itself. The late nineteenth century formulation of the New Negro saw the creation of literature as essential in the quest for respectability. In the years immediately after World War I, the trope of the New Negro took on militant political connotations. With the Harlem Renaissance the New Negro became an apolitical movement of the arts. To combat racist images, writers of the Harlem Renaissance imitated white models and in the process erased their racial selves. Like the New Negro movement of 1895, the New Negro movement of 1925 sought to define who and what a Negro was or could be.

Read More

Subjects: Literature; History; Education Studies; New Negro; African American History; Stereotypes; African American Literature; Racial Identity; Harlem Renaissance