He had been powerfully moved by the image of a young girl, Dorothy Countsbraving a mob in an attempt to desegregate schools in Charlotte, North Carolinaand Partisan Review editor Philip Rahv had suggested he report on what was happening in the American south. Baldwin was nervous about the trip but he made it, interviewing people in Charlotte where he met Martin Luther King Jr. Joining CORE gave him the opportunity to travel across the American South lecturing on his views of racial inequality.
However, for purposes of this discussion, Defining African American protest poetrysome parameters might be drawn. Protest, as used herein, refers to the practice within African American literature of bringing redress to the secondary status of black people, of attempting to achieve the acceptance of black people into the larger American body politic, of encouraging practitioners of democracy truly to live up to what democratic ideals on American soil mean.
Protest literature consists of a variety of approaches, from the earliest literary efforts to contemporary times. These include articulating the plight of enslaved persons, challenging the larger white community to change its attitude toward those persons, and Lorraine hansberry essays specific reference points for the nature of the complaints presented.
In other words, 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, Some of the questions motivating African American protest poetrythat inequality began with slavery.
How, in a country that professed belief in an ideal Lorraine hansberry essays, 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? In addition, how, in a country that professed belief in Christianity, could one group enslave persons whom Christian doctrine taught were their brothers and sisters?
How could white Americans justify Jim Crow? Inequalities in education, housing, jobs, accommodation, transportation, and a host of other things? 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. Since this category is so large, three arenas of protest poetry will constitute its parameters. The first will deal with protest poetry during slavery, the second with protest poetry during the period of segregation and Jim Crow, and the third with protest poetry after political obstacles to equality were presumably removed.
Protesting against slavery came easily to most African American writers who took up pens before One of the primary objectives of black Protest poetry during slavery timeswriting during slavery was to bring about the end of slavery.
Since slavery existed foremost in the South, writers often directed appeals for freedom to northern whites, whom they hoped would influence their slaveholding counterparts in the South.
That audience was especially important given the fact that the majority of African Americans not only did not have the power to change their condition, but they were mostly illiterate. It would be well into the twentieth century before a substantially measurable black audience emerged to respond to the commentary of black writers.
Among protestor poets during slavery, scholars debate about the extent to which Phillis Wheatleythe first published African American poet publishing in the s and sshould be included in that category. She remarks in the poem about General Wooster: Also, she did not hesitate to depart the premises on which she was enslaved as soon as she was granted permission to do so.
More prominent in the poetic protest vein during slavery is George Moses Horton. Enslaved in Pittsboro, North Carolina, a short distance from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Horton used his trips to Chapel Hill to sell produce to forge relationships with students at the University.
He offered to compose poems for them—although he could not yet write—and recited them on return Saturday outings to Chapel Hill. By the time he published his second volume of poetry inhe was skilled in the art. His first volume, The Hope of Libertywhich Hentz transcribed and which was published inwas the first volume of poetry published by an enslaved person who could not read or write.
Even in his politest appeals, however, Horton never strayed from labeling slavery the evil he believed it to be. Although their poems were published following slavery, both Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and Paul Laurence Dunbar had much to imagine in verse about how things had been for their enslaved ancestors.
He was keenly aware of the poverty of blacks after slavery; indeed, he started a night school to assist some in developing reading skills.
Both Harper and Dunbar complained in their poetry about the conditions of black people after slavery. Protest poetry during the Jim Crow eraThey thereby straddle the divide between protest directed against slavery and protest during the period of segregation and Jim Crow.
In addition to issues internal to the black community, Harper depicted politicians who pressured those blacks who could vote to change their votes, or they simply bought their votes.English Literature Essays, literary criticism on many authors, links to internet resources and bookshop.
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Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English, Emerita at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During , she was a resident Fellow at the National Humanities Center. She has written and edited more than a dozen books on African American literature and folklore.
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Take a peek at the hard life and many accomplishments of Maya Angelou, Pulitzer Prize nominated poet and author of 'I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.' Learn more at rutadeltambor.com