Spirit in the Dark was featured yesterday, in the November 7th issue of The Revealer, published by the Center for Religion and Media at NYU. What follows is the beginning of that essay, which is a slightly revised excerpt from Chapter 1—titled “The Church and the Negro Spirit”—of Spirit in the Dark, which focuses on tensions between religion and aesthetics as they informed debates about black art and culture during the 1920s.
THE SPIRITUAL POLITICS OF NEGRO ART
Ninety years ago last month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) publication, The Crisis, printed an essay by its editor-in-chief, W.E.B. Du Bois. While Du Bois’s commentary often graced the pages of the Crisis, this time was slightly different. Four months earlier Du Bois had taken the stage at the NAACP convention in Chicago to deliver a speech that he later titled, “Criteria of Negro Art.” He had been asked to speak at a ceremony awarding Carter G. Woodson the organization’s highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Owing to popular demand, The Crisis printed Du Bois’s speech in its entirety in October of 1926.
Like Du Bois, Woodson was a Harvard-trained historian; and he was being honored for, among other contributions in the field of history, founding “Negro History Week” in February of that year. Yet Du Bois made the arts, and not history, his primary topic. To be clear, his decision to take the arts as his subject at the convention was no spontaneous gesture. By 1926 talk of a “Negro Renaissance” abounded; and although it was most commonly associated with Harlem, Chicago played a significant role in this nascent black literary movement. Alain Locke’s The New Negro, commonly considered the movement’s bible, was published in 1925. Crisis had since begun sponsoring a dialogue on race and literature on its pages. And, most recently, two of Harlem’s rising literary stars—George Schuyler and Langston Hughes—had just finished debating the idea of “Negro art” on the pages of The Nation. In fact, as a rebuttal to what Schuyler identified as “The Negro Art-Hokum,” Hughes’s now famous essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” appeared in The Nation on the same day that the NAACP opened its seventeenth national convention.
To continue reading, go to The Revealer