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The New Negro and Social Democracy during the Harlem Renaissance, 1917–37

  • Cornelius L. Bynum (a1)
Abstract

This essay focuses on the conception of social justice devised by A. Philip Randolph, noted socialist, co-founder of The Messenger, and organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Frank R. Crosswaith, a general organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and one-time Messenger correspondent, in the aftermath of World War I. Weaving together a socialist critique of modern industrial society with a powerful vision of human freedom and equality, Randolph and Crosswaith articulated a distinctly egalitarian conception of social justice that asserted the equal right of all to benefit from society's advances. Arguing that genuine social justice was predicated on the open participation of all, they fashioned a program of reform that drew on black racial identity to frame their vision of class consciousness and, in so doing, planted the roots of an independent strain of black radicalism that was not intellectually beholden to whites. Although historical writing on the New Negro recognizes the importance of Randolph and to a lesser degree Crosswaith, this writing overlooks their innovative thought and its philosophical and political basis.

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1 Lewis David Levering, When Harlem was in Vogue (New York, 1997), 46.

2 Williams Chad L., “Vanguards of the New Negro: African American Veterans and Post-World War I Racial Militancy,” Journal of African American History 3 (Summer 2007): 347–49.

3 Huggins Nathan Irvin, Harlem Renaissance (New York, 1971), 5354.

4 “If We Must Die,” The Messenger, Sept. 1919, Alderman Library Microfilm, University of Virginia.

5 Dawahare Anthony, Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature between the Wars: A New Pandora's Box (Jackson, MS, 2003), 16; Brandt Nat, Harlem at War: The Black Experience in World War II (New York, 1996), 31, 4748.

6 Lewis, When Harlem Was in Vogue, 115–16; Allen Ernest Jr., “The New Negro: Explorations in Identity and Social Consciousness, 1910–1922” in 1915: The Cultural Moment, eds. Heller Adele and Rudnick Lois (New Brunswick, NJ, 1991), 48.

7 Kusmer Kenneth L., A Ghetto Takes Shape: Black Cleveland, 1870–1930 (Urbana, IL, 1976), 236, 247–48.

8 Nadell Martha Jane, Enter the New Negro: Images of Race in American Culture (Cambridge, MA, 2004), 3739, 68–70; Winter Margaret Crumpton and Reymond Rhonda, “Henry Ossawa Tanner and W. E. B. Du Bois: African American Art and ‘High Culture’ at the Turn into the Twentieth Century” in Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem: African American Literature and Culture, 1877–1919, eds. McCaskill Barbara and Gebhard Caroline (New York, 2006), 237; Carroll Anne Elizabeth, Word, Image, and the New Negro: Representation and Identity in the Harlem Renaissance (Bloomington, IN, 2005), 122; Lorini Alessandra, “‘The Spell of Africa is Upon Me’: W. E. B. Du Bois's Notion of Art as Propaganda” in Temples for Tomorrow: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance, eds. Fabre Genevieve and Feith Michel (Bloomington, IN, 2001), 159–61; Charles John C., “What Was Africa to Him?: Alain Locke, Cultural Nationalism, and the Rhetoric of Empire During the New Negro Renaissance” in New Voices on the Harlem Renaissance: Essays on Race, Gender, and Literary Discourse, eds. Tarver Australia and Barnes Paula C. (Madison, NJ, 2006), 34.

9 Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Negro at the Crossroads,” folder 5, box 2, Frank R. Crosswaith Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; A. Philip Randolph, Statement to Educational Political Conference in Chicago, Illinois, at the International House, “Speeches ND,” box 2, A. Philip Randolph Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

10 Foner Philip S., American Socialism and Black Americans: From the Age of Jackson to World War II (Westport, CT, 1977), 210; Richard B. Moore, “Afro-Americans and Radical Politics,” folder 7, box 9, Richard B. Moore Papers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

11 Salvatore Nick, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana, 1982), 60.

12 Cruse Harold, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (New York, 1967), 472.

13 Dawahare, Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature, 17–18.

14 Frank R. Crosswaith, “To the Negro Members of the I.L.G.W.U.,” folder 2, box 2, Crosswaith Papers.

15 Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans, 215.

16 “The Hun in America,” The Messenger, July 1919.

17 Parascandola Louis J., “Look For Me All Around You”: Anglophone Caribbean Immigrants in the Harlem Renaissance (Detroit, 2005), 184; Frank R. Crosswaith, Speech of Frank R. Crosswaith made at Negro Labor Committee Conference, Freedom House, June 28, 1952, Negro Labor Committee, box 23, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Papers, Manuscripts Division, Library of Congress.

18 Crosswaith, Speech of Frank R. Crosswaith made at Negro Labor Committee Conference, Freedom House, June 28, 1952.

19 Ibid.

20 Cornelius L. Bynum, “Fighting for Identity: A. Philip Randolph and the Search for Class-Consciousness in the Age of the Harlem Renaissance” (PhD diss., University of Virginia, 2004), 37.

21 Henry Keith S., “The Black Political Tradition in New York: A Conjunction of Political Cultures,” Journal of Black Studies 7 (June 1977): 456–58.

22 Frank R. Crosswaith, Speech of Frank R. Crosswaith Made at Negro Labor Committee Conference, Freedom House, June 28, 1952.

23 Frank R. Crosswaith to A. Philip Randolph, General Organizer, my other colleagues, and the membership of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Apr. 23, 1928, folder 8, box 2, Crosswaith Papers.

24 A. Philip Randolph and Willard S. Townsend, Solicitation Letter for the Negro Labor Committee, U.S.A., Negro Labor Committee, box 23, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Papers.

25 A. Philip Randolph to Hon. Fiorello H. LaGuardia, Sept. 22, 1939, LaGuardia, Fiorello H., box 18, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Papers.

26 Parascandola, “Look For Me All Around You, 186.

27 A. Philip Randolph, “A New Crowd—A New Negro,” The Messenger, May-June 1919.

28 Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Future is Ours,” Black Worker, Aug. 1936, folder 1, box 5, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Papers.

29 Bynum, “Fighting for Identity,” 95; Judith Stein, The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society (Baton Rouge, LA, 1986), 46.

30 A. Philip Randolph, “Socialism,” folder 4, box 2, Randolph Papers, Schomburg Center.

31 Stephens Michelle Ann, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914–1962 (Durham, NC, 2005), 5, 99100.

32 In a 1936 pamphlet co-authored with Alfred Baker Lewis titled “True Freedom for Negro and White Labor” (published by the Negro Labor New Service), Crosswaith insisted that all “racial and national hatreds must be wiped out” for there to be any chance of winning the “battle against poverty, against war, against human exploitation, against race prejudice, against all that stands in the way of human brotherhood and a noble life” (p. 58); A. Philip Randolph, “Black Zionism,” The Messenger, Jan. 1922; Dawahare, Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature, 16–17.

33 “The New Negro—What is He?” The Messenger, Aug. 1920.

34 Moore, “Afro-Americans and Radical Politics”; Stein, World of Marcus Garvey, 42–43; In his article, “Vanguards of the New Negro,” Chad L. Williams outlines the shape of racial militancy among returning black veterans and notes that many gravitated toward the radical politics of postwar Harlem. In addition to writing for outspoken black newspapers like The Messenger, organizing black veterans groups like the League for Democracy, and joining Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, some black veterans like Harry Haywood (a former member of the highly decorated 370th Infantry Regiment) joined the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB), a secret paramilitary group committed to black self-defense, African liberation, and the overthrow of global capitalism (p. 347–48).

35 Harold Claudine N., “Marcus Garvey” in Harlem Speaks: A Living History of the Harlem Renaissance, ed. Wintz Cary D. (Naperville, IL, 2007), 391, 396–97; Lewis Rupert, Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion (Trenton, NJ, 1988), 6263.

36 A. Philip Randolph to Henry Williams, Oct, 31, 1972, folder 3, box 42, A. Philip Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

37 Both Dan Carter, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South (Baton Rouge, LA, 1979), and Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression (Urbana, IL, 2004), detail the Communist Party's involvement in Harlem especially and illustrate that there were radical alternatives to Randolph and Crosswaith's left as well.

38 “The New Negro Woman,” The Messenger, July 1923.

39 Randolph, “A New Crowd – A New Negro.”

40 Dawahare, Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature, p. 18.

41 Randolph, “A New Crowd—A New Negro.”

42 Jones William P., “‘Nothing Special to Offer the Negro’: Revisiting the ‘Debsian View’ of the Negro Question,” International Labor and Working-Class History 74 (Fall 2008): 215–16.

43 Frank R. Crosswaith, “The Negro Press,” folder 2, box 2, Crosswaith Papers.

44 Crosswaith, “The Negro at the Crossroads.”

45 Randolph, “Socialism.”

46 Randolph, Statement to Educational Political Conference in Chicago, Illinois, at the International House.

47 Randolph, “Socialism.”

48 Crosswaith, “The Negro at the Crossroads.”

49 Arnesen Eric, “A. Philip Randolph: Labor and the New Black Politics” in The Human Tradition in American Labor History, ed. Arnesen Eric (Wilmington, DE, 2004), 176.

50 A. Philip Randolph, Text of Address Given by A. Philip Randolph, International President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porter, at the Union United Church, “Speeches 1955–58,” box 2, Randolph Papers, Schomburg Center.

51 Randolph, Statement to Educational Political Conference in Chicago, Illinois, at the International House.

52 Weinstein James, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912–1925 (New York, 1967) 2829; Howe Irving, Socialism and America (New York, 1985), details how “regionalism” proved to be “a source of grave trouble for the party” as it came to confront “overriding national issues” in the years leading up World War I (6–7).

53 Interview with A. Philip Randolph, reel 1, folder 5, box 42, Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

54 Shannon David A., The Socialist Party of America: A History (New York, 1955), 2125; Howe, Socialism and America, 16–17.

55 Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans, 307.

56 Trotter Joe William, Black Milwaukee: The Making of an Industrial Proletariat, 1915–1945 (Urbana, 1985), 5455; Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans, 315; Howe, Socialism and America, 19.

57 A. Philip Randolph, Address by A. Philip Randolph at Reunion of Old Timers, “Speeches 1955,” box 35, Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

58 Foner, American Socialism and Black Americans, 306–07.

59 Randolph, Address by A. Philip Randolph at Reunion of Old Timers.

60 Ibid.; Dawahare, Nationalism, Marxism and African American Literature, 19–20.

61 Crosswaith, “The Future Is Ours.”

62 Crosswaith, “The Negro at the Crossroads.”

63 Crosswaith, “The Future is Ours.”

64 Howe, Socialism and America, 7–9.

65 Davis Colin J., “Eugene V. Debs: From Conservative Unionist to American Socialist” in The Human Tradition in American Labor History, ed. Arnesen Eric (Wilmington, DE, 2004), 9798; Dubofsky Melvyn, We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (1969; Urbana, 2000), 52.

66 Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 71–72.

67 Moore, “Afro-Americans and Radical Politics.”

68 Frank R. Crosswaith, “Working for Workers,” Community, Jan. 1957, “Negro Labor Committee,” box 23, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Papers.

69 “Negroes Organizing in Socialist Party,” The Messenger, July 1918; A. Philip Randolph, Outline—Autobiography, folder 4, box 42, Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

70 Dubofsky Melvyn, Hard Work: The Making of Labor History (Urbana, 2000), 7374.

71 Dubofsky, Hard Work, 90–91; Weinstein, Decline of Socialism, 12–13.

72 Griffler Keith P., What Price Alliance?: Black Radicals Confront White Labor, 1918–1938 (New York, 1995), 2223.

73 Dubofsky, Hard Work, 36; Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 9–10.

74 Davis, “Eugene V. Debs: From Conservative Unionist to American Socialist,” 91–92.

75 Chace James, 1912: Wilson Roosevelt, Taft and Debs—The Election That Changed the Country (New York, 2004), 6768.

76 Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs, 68; Davis, “Eugene V. Debs: From Conservative Unionist to American Socialist,” 96–97.

77 A. Philip Randolph to Melvin Yoken, June 11, 1971, folder 3, box 42, Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

78 A. Philip Randolph, Interview with John Slawson, Apr. 20, 1970, folder 2, box 42, Randolph Papers, Library of Congress.

79 Crosswaith, “The Future is Ours.”

80 Howe, Socialism and America, 20–22; Davis, “Eugene V. Debs: From Conservative Unionist to American Socialist,” 93; Buckingham Peter H., “Visions from the ‘Beautiful Trinity’: The Drawing of the Cooperative Commonwealth in the Popular Socialist Press” in Expectations for the Millennium: American Socialist Visions of the Future, ed. Buckingham Peter H. (Westport, CT, 2002), 7678.

81 In discussing Debs's participation in the 1888–89 Burlington Railroad strike in Eugene V. Debs, Nick Salvatore explains that Debs came to understand the strike as the “ultimate” defense of workers' “basic integrity as men and citizens” (72, 79). This kind of framing of labor activism overlapped with the notion of social justice that Randolph and Crosswaith were devising.

82 “The Negro and the New Social Order,” The Messenger, Mar. 1919.

83 “Negro Workers: The A.F. of L. or I.W.W.” The Messenger, July 1919.

84 Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs, 68–72; Shannon, Socialist Party of America, 16–20.

85 Dawahare, Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature, 36–37.

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