We Have Tomorrow Essay - Critical Context

Arna Bontemps

Critical Context

Written prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s, We Have Tomorrow is devoid of anger or blame; it is predicated instead on the individual’s capacity for self-motivation and ability to take responsibility for his or her own future. It makes a quiet but eloquent case for the need for racial equality in all fields of endeavor. To some extent, the book reflects changes in the racial climate engendered by Reconstruction and furthered by the rising industrialism of the world wars. An increasingly technical world was seen as being more hospitable to the contributions of African Americans. In some ways, the outlook and terminology of We Have Tomorrow are certainly dated, but the book’s emphasis on the value of education and perseverance is a timeless message. All twelve of the book’s subjects avoided or conquered self-pity and pursued as much formal training as they could obtain.

Bontemps must have seen himself in them, for as a young man he was already a major literary figure in the Harlem Renaissance. A poet and novelist, Bontemps promoted the works of other African Americans throughout his lifetime. He collaborated with Langston Hughes on anthologies as well as on a children’s book entitled Popo and Fifna: Children of Haiti (1932). Bontemps’ most highly regarded single work is probably the novel Black Thunder (1936), based on an actual slave rebellion that occurred near Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. Bontemps wrote many works of African-American history and biography, including a large number of books for children.