Harlem Renaissance c.a. 1920-1935
Philip Payton The fight I am making has got to be made sooner or later and I see no better time than now. —1905 My first opportunity came as a result of a dispute between two landlords in West 134th Street. To ‘get even’ one of them turned his house over to me to fill with colored tenants. I was successful in renting and managing this house, and after a time I was able to induce other landlords to... give me their houses to manage.
If sweet mama is running wild, And you are looking for a Do-right child, Just come around and linger. Let your papa drink the whisky Let your mama drink the wine But you come to Cora’s and do the Georgia grind. Rent Party Posters
Sterling Brown The Nation(October 16, 1937) The dedication of the town’s first lamp and the community burial of an old mule are rich in humor but they are not cartoons. Many incidents are unusual, and there are narrative gaps in need of building up. Miss Hurston’s forte is the recording and the creation of folk-speech. . . . Though inclined to violence and not strictly conventional, her people are not naive primitives. About human needs and frailties they have the unabashed shrewdness of the Blues.
Richard Wright, New Masses(October 5, 1937) Miss Hurston seems to have no desire whatsoever to move in the direction of serious fiction. . . . Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theater, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the ‘white folks’ laugh. Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears. . . . The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought. In the main, her novel is not addressed to the Negro, but to a white audience whose chauvinistic tastes she knows how to satisfy.
Zora Neale Hurston I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. . . . No, I do not weep at the world—I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. To me, bitterness is the underarm odor of wishful weakness. It is the graceless acknowledgement of defeat.
Walt Whitman The little one sleeps in its cradle, I lift the gauze and look a long time, and silently brush away flies with my hand. The youngster and the red-faced girl turn aside up the bushy hill, I peeringly view them from the top. The suicide sprawls on the bloody floor of the bedroom, I witness the corpse with its dabbled hair, I note where the pistol has fallen. The blab of the pave, tires of carts, sluff of boot-soles, talk of the promenaders, The heavy omnibus, the driver with his interrogating thumb, the ciank of the shod horses on the granite floor, The snow-sleighs, clinking, shouted jokes, pelts of snow-balls, The hurrahs for popular favorites, the fury of rous'd mobs, The flap of the curtain'd litter, a sick man inside borne to the hospital, The meeting of enemies, the sudden oath, the blows and fall, The excited crowd, the policeman with his star quickly working his passage to the centre of the crowd, The impassive stones that receive and return so many echoes, What groans of over-fed or half-starv'd who fall sunstruck or in fits, What exclamations of women taken suddenly who hurry home and give birth to babes, What living and buried speech is always vibrating here, what howls restrain'd by decorum, Arrests of criminals, slights, adulterous offers made, acceptances, rejections with convex lips, I mind them or the show or resonance of them---I come and I depart.
Walt Whitman I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. I loafe and invite my soul, I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass. My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air, Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same, I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, Hoping to cease not till death.
I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees Asked the Lord above, have mercy now, save poor Bob if you please Standin' at the crossroads, tried to flag a ride Whee-hee, I tried to flag a ride Didn't nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by Standin' at the crossroads, risin’ sun goin' down Standin' at the crossroads baby, the risin' sun goin' down I believe to my soul now, po' Bob is sinkin' down You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown You can run, you can run, tell my friend Willie Brown That I got the crossroad blues this mornin', Lord, baby I'm sinkin' down I went to the crossroad, mama, I looked east and west I went to the crossroad, babe, I looked east and west Lord, I didn't have no sweet woman, ooh well, babe, in my distress Robert JohnsonCrossroads Blues
I woke up this morning with a awful aching head I woke up this morning with a awful aching head My new man had left me, just a room and a empty bed Bought me a coffee grinder that's the best one I could find Bought me a coffee grinder that's the best one I could find Oh he could grind my coffee, cause he had a brand new grind He's a deep sea diver with a stroke that can't go wrong He's a deep sea diver with a stroke that can't go wrong He can stay at the bottom and his wind holds out so long When my bed get empty make me feel awful mean and blue My springs are getting rusty, sleeping single like I do He give me a lesson that I never had before When he got to teachin' me, from my elbow down was sore He poured my first cabbage and he made it awful hot When he put in the bacon, it overflowed the pot When you git good lovin', never go and spread the news Yes he'll doublecross you, and leave you with them empty bed blues Bessie Smith,Empty Bed Blues
Bessie SmithBlack Mountain blues Out in Black Mountain a child will smack your face I'm saying out on Black Mountain a child will smack your face The babies cryin' for liquor, and all the birds sing bass Well, those people in Black Mountain are mean as they can be And those people in Black Mountain are mean as they can be Now they uses gun powder just to sweeten up their tea
Weary Blues Droning a drowsy syncopated tune, Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon, I heard a Negro play. Down on Lenox Avenue the other night By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light He did a lazy sway . . . He did a lazy sway . . . To the tune o’ those Weary Blues. With his ebony hands on each ivory key. O Blues! Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool. Sweet Blues! Coming from a black man’s soul. O Blues!
Song for a Dark Girl Way Down South in Dixie (Break the heart of me) They hung my black young lover To a cross roads tree. Way Down South in Dixie (Bruised body high in air) I asked the white Lord Jesus What was the use of prayer. Way Down South in Dixie (Break the heart of me) Love is a naked shadow On a gnarled and naked tree.
Goin' down the road, Lawd, Goin' down the road. Down the road, Lawd, Way, way down the road. Got to find somebody To help me carry this load. Road's in front o' me, Nothin' to do but walk. Road's in front o' me, Walk ... an' walk ... an' walk. I'd like to meet a good friend To come along an' talk. Hates to be lonely, Lawd, I hates to be sad. Says I hates to be lonely, Hates to be lonely an' sad, But ever friend you finds seems Like they try to do you bad. Road, road, road, O! Road, road ... road ... road, road! Road, road, road, O! On the no'thern road. These Mississippi towns ain't Fit fer a hoppin' toad. Bound No’th Blues