This Caribbean Immigrant Was A Central Figure In The Harlem Renaissance

The content originally appeared on: News Americas Now
Caribbean immigrant writer and poet Claude McKay (1889 – 1948), 1926. (Photo by Berenice Abbott/Getty Images)

Compiled By NAN Staff Writer

News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Mon. June 20, 2022: Caribbean immigrant and poet, Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay, was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Born in Jamaica, McKay first traveled to the United States to attend college, and encountered W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk which stimulated He moved to New York City in 1914 and in 1919 wrote “If We Must Die,” one of his best known works and a widely reprinted sonnet responding to the wave of white-on-black race riots and lynchings following the conclusion of the First World War.

He also wrote five novels and a novella: Home to Harlem (1928), a best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature; Banjo (1929); Banana Bottom (1933); Romance in Marseille (written in 1933, published in 2020), a novella, Harlem Glory (written in 1938-1940, published in 1990), and in 1941 a novel, Amiable With Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, which remained unpublished until 2017.

Besides these novels and four published collections of poetry, McKay also authored a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932); two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and My Green Hills of Jamaica (published posthumously in 1979); and Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940), consisting of eleven essays on the contemporary social and political history of Harlem and Manhattan, concerned especially with political, social and labor organizing. His 1922 poetry collection, Harlem Shadows, was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance and his novel ‘Home To Harlem,’ was a watershed contribution to its fiction. His Selected Poems was published posthumously, in 1953. His Complete Poems (2004) includes almost ninety pages of poetry written between 1923 and the late 1940s, most of it previously unpublished, a crucial addition to his poetic oeuvre.

McKay flourished as a poet during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. During this time, his poems challenged white authority while celebrating Jamaican culture. He also wrote tales about the trials and tribulations of life as a black man in both Jamaica and America. McKay was not secretive about his hatred for racism, and felt that racist people were stupid, shortsighted, and possessed with hatred.

In tales such as Home to Harlem (1928), his depictions were initially criticized as a negative portrayal of Harlem and its lower-class citizens by prominent figures such as W. E. B. DuBois, but McKay was later applauded as a literary force in the Harlem Renaissance.

In 1977, the government of Jamaica named Claude McKay the national poet and posthumously awarded him the Order of Jamaica for his contribution to literature.

In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed Claude McKay on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.

Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” was recited in the film August 28: A Day in the Life of a People, which debuted at the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.