James Weldon Johnson


James Weldon Johnson asked in 1921, why if Europe could have its Pushkin, its Dumas, or a composer like Samuel Coleridge-Taylor — all with African heritage — how is it the American Negro did not? His answer turned to the race struggles of the South, and surprisingly, the burdens the Southerners themselves bore:

“The Negro in the United States is consuming all of his intellectual energy in this grueling race-struggle. And the same statement may be made in a general way about the white South. Why does not the white South produce literature and art? The white South, too, is consuming all of its intellectual energy in this lamentable conflict. Nearly all of the mental efforts of the white South run through one narrow channel. The life of every Southern white man and all of his activities are impassably limited by the ever present Negro problem. And that is why, as Mr. H.L.Mencken puts it, in all that vast region, with its thirty or forty million people and its territory as large as a half a dozen Frances and Germanys, there is not a single poet, not a serious historian, not a creditable composer, not a critic good or bad, not a dramatist dead or alive.”

Preface The Book of American Negro Poetry (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922)

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