Hum Column: Weeks 8 & 9

The second and third weeks of the Harlem Renaissance have passed, complete with some less-than-ideal lectures. On Monday, March 18, Professor of English Nathalia King lectured on Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series. King argued that Lawrence’s work uses two key ideas of color theory: that colors in art are understood in relation to each other and that these colors can evoke certain emotions. The Migration Series, a series of 60 paintings created simultaneously and finished in 1941, uses rich and vibrant colors to depict the the Great Migration. Together, the 60 paintings create a unified narrative that, King argued, advocate for black empowerment and collective action.

On Wednesday, March 20, Associate Professor of Political Science Tamara Metz and Visiting Associate Professor of History Paddy Riley gave a joint lecture on Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, pan-Africanist activists and political leaders. Garvey, a separatist pan-Africanist, advocated for the creation of a free black state by moving black Americans to Africa because he believed black Americans could not achieve freedom in the United States. DuBois, a political pan-Africanist, believed black Americans would achieve freedom in the United States because racism would eventually subside over time. The lecture had some hiccups, with Riley speaking for most of the time, forcing Metz to condense her portion into less than ten minutes.

For Friday, March 22, students read selections from the March 1925 edition of Survey Graphic, titled “Harlem, Mecca of the New Negro” and edited by Alain Locke. Assistant Professor of History Radhika Natarajan and Associate Professor of Philosophy Paul Hovda each gave a 25 minute lecture. Hovda lectured on Alain Locke, an important member of the Harlem Renaissance. A writer, philosopher, and educator, Locke was known for his philosophical idea of The New Negro. (The Quest would like it to be noted that Hovda creates his handouts in LaTex) Natarajan lectured on the influence on the Caribbean on the Harlem Renaissance. She emphasized that Harlem was part of a larger international narrative of black empowerment including the effort of African colonies to gain independence. Both lectures were excellent but clearly restrained by time. Many students expressed a desire to hear full 50-minute lectures on both topics.

After spring break on Monday, April 1, Professors of English Pancho Savery and Dustin Simpson lectured on the poetry of Harlem and the black vernacular tradition. Students read Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” George S. Schuyler’s “The Negro-Art Hokum,” and the preface to The Book of American Negro Poetry by James Weldon Johnson. Because of the time constraint, both Savery and Simpson focused on analysis instead of developing an argument. Some students think that both lectures were valuable but could have been better if each were its own full length lecture.

On Wednesday April 3, Savery lectured on the first half of Jean Toomer’s novel Cane. Despite critical acclaim, Cane struggled to find popularity upon release. Now, it is considered a seminal work of the Harlem Renaissance. Savery even praised it as one of the best pieces of Harlem Renaissance literature. Cane, Toomer’s only novel, is a series of vignettes of different styles including poems, play-like dialogue, and short stories. On Friday, April 5, Simpson lectured on the second half of the novel. Some students were disappointed that Simpson talked primarily about form and style and did not discuss race.

I really enjoyed weeks eight and nine. A few of the lectures felt rushed and a little underprepared but overall, they were still interesting and informative. Next week, we’ll study poetry and Duke Ellington. See you then.