Following the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, African-Americans experienced setbacks towards their struggle for racial egalitarianism: For example, the Supreme Court upholding of segregationist policies in Plessy v. Ferguson, despite being counter to the aims of the 14th Amendment. In spite of this a broad range of African-American leadership personalities emerged such as Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker Washington. Such personalities are significant insofar as they constituted the beginnings of a different mainstream identity for African Americans: The New Negro.
Alain Locke maintained that the New Negro subverts the victim socio-psychology which had previously defined much of African American identity politics by stressing assertiveness and self-confidence in spite of the inequality and negative perceptions foisted upon them by white American culture. (Locke, 1925) Locke did not coin “New Negro,” but his articulation of this new empowering archetype was defined largely within the context of the cultural and political energy following The Great War: African Americans participated in World War I in order to earn respect and prove their entitlement to equal rights.
Positive experiences fighting alongside Europeans rekindled their confidence and following their return, they brought with them a bold spirit eager to speak out against racial injustice. (Up South, 2008) Locke concluded that these veterans and the people they inspired were the New Negroes, unwilling to compromise their human right to social equality. The New Negro holds continuing relevance today.
Few high profile figures make race a focal point of their identity in asserting their individuality and self-worth, including a certain Presidential candidate, primarily because of the contentiously taboo nature of racial politics. However, there is another more implied sentiment: that the New Negro is not a racial object to be viewed with sentiment, whether as loud-mouth domestic mammies or Sambos, but subject to the same kind of class differentiation and individuality which defines any race. It is therefore ludicrous to compartmentalize a whole section if individuals according to race because of this emergent plurality.
The New Negro emerged to declare that race cannot contain self-worth and identity, and despite changes in the racial zeitgeist over the decades, it is a perspective that cannot be discounted.
Locke, A. (1925, March) “Enter the New Negro. ” The Survey Graphic Harlem Number, 6 (6). Retrieved August 20, 2008 from: http://etext. virginia. edu/harlem/LocEnteF. html American Social History Project / Media Center for Learning. “Up South: African-American Migration in the Era of the Great War. ” Retrieved August 20, 2008 from: http://www. ashp. cuny. edu/video/south. html