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Archive for the 'USH: Modernism vs. Traditionalism in 1920’s' Category

“Soviet Russia and the Negro”– An Essay by Claude McKay

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

“The average Europeans who read the newspapers, the popular books and journals, and go to see the average play and a Mary Pickford movie, are very dense about the problem of the Negro; and they are the most important section of the general public that the Negro propagandists would reach. For them the tragedy of the American Negro ended with “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and Emancipation. And since then they have been aware only of the comedy–the Negro minstrel and vaudevillian, the boxer, the black mammy and butler of the cinematograph, the caricatures of the romances and the lynched savage who has violated a beautiful white girl.”

McKay’s essay in Crisis December 1923

A biographer speaks up for Calvin Coolidge

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Coolidge is, in American memory, a cluster of anecdotes, a minor legend embraced largely for its irony: the taciturn figure at odds with the jazzed-up, boozing, and crazily acquisitive decade over which he came to preside; a tortoise reigning over hares, cutting budgets while the citizenry bought their way, on margin, toward doom. Only a few years after the Great War turned the United States into a world power, he set out to shrink the size and reach of its government, to hark back instead of race forward.

William Allen White, the Kansas newspaperman, nicely captured the mismatch between President and nation in the title of his Coolidge biography, “A Puritan in Babylon” (1938). As White saw it, America felt moved to “erect this pallid shrunken image of its lost ideals and bow down before it in subconscious repentance for its iniquities.”

In Coolidge’s time, the nation had not yet piled high its commitments to the sick and to the poor and, especially, to the old, whom we will have with us—who will be us—for longer and longer stretches. Coolidge was indeed able to “swing it,” but in a world that we have since—gradually, deliberately, and with a fundamental bipartisanship—exchanged for another. If he did come back to us in a dream, and looked up at the fiscal cliff over which we teeter in mutual bad faith, he would likely offer no more than an uncomprehending shake of the head and a disbelieving question: “You built that?”

In the New Yorker, Thomas Mallon urges us to reconsider Cal

PBS American Experience: Monkey Trial

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

This documentary is worth a watch.

A cursory glance at the comments section makes it clear that this battle between modernists and traditionalists is alive and well.

Intro to the Black Chicago Renaissance

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

This is a good place to get started. It’s the intro chapter to a groundbreaking book on the BCR.

A Midcentury Travel Guide for African-American Drivers Navigating Jim Crow

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

As historian Cotton Seiler points out, the Green Book flourished during a time when cars were getting cheaper, and travel by automobile was becoming more common. For black drivers, however, freedom of the road had its limits. These travelers had to navigate segregated accommodations, couldn’t join AAA, and received disproportionate levels of attention from the police and local racists.

Fitzgerald Letters

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

On August 8th of 1933, author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote the following letter of advice to his 11-year-old daughter, “Scottie,” who was away at camp.

On May 10th of 1934, a month after the publication of his new novel, Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to his friend, Ernest Hemingway, and asked for his honest opinion on the book — a tale about Dick and Nicole Diver, a couple based largely on mutual acquaintances of both Fitzgerald and Hemingway: Gerald and Sara Murphy.

Hemingway certainly responded with honesty. His engrossing reply — a letter that contains plenty of advice for any writer — can be read below.

A Lynching Map of the United States, 1900-1931

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

This map, compiled using data gathered by the Tuskegee Institute, represents the geographic distribution of lynchings during some of the years when the crime was most widespread in the United States. Tuskegee began keeping lynching records under the direction of Booker T. Washington, who was the institute’s founding leader.

How the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

F. Scott Fitzgerald to His 11-Year-Old Daughter in Camp

Saturday, March 10th, 2012


I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy– but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed page, they never really happen to you in life.

All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

I think of you, and always pleasantly, but I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?…

Half-wit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:

Worry about courage
Worry about cleanliness
Worry about efficiency
Worry about horsemanship…
Things not to worry about:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about dolls
Don’t worry about the past
Don’t worry about the future
Don’t worry about growing up
Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault
Don’t worry about mosquitoes
Don’t worry about flies
Don’t worry about insects in general
Don’t worry about parents
Don’t worry about boys
Don’t worry about disappointments
Don’t worry about pleasures
Don’t worry about satisfactions
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(a) Scholarship
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?

With dearest love,

GM & Harlem Renaissance Lecture

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The Great Migration & The Harlem Renaissance