Examine Alain Locke's views on "The New Negro."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Locke's view of the "New Negro" was a way to highlight the change that had become evident in the African- American community.  Following the First World War, Locke wanted "to document the New Negro culturally and socially - to register the transformations of the inner and outer life of the Negro in America that have so significantly taken place in the last few years."  For Locke, the "New Negro" was a stark contrast to the bondage and limitations featured in the "old Negro" setting.  Locke believed that the "New Negro" was a source of vitality and transformative independence of thought:  "With this renewed self-respect and self-dependence, the life of the Negro community is bound to enter  a new dynamic phase, the buoyancy from within compensating for whatever pressure there may be of  conditions from without."  

Locke's views on the New Negro were enhanced by the Great Migration.  Locke saw African- American migration to both Northern and urban centers as realms in which social, cultural, economic, and political growth and progress could emerge.  Locke believed that a source of strength in being African- American could emerge as part of the consciousness of the "New Negro."  Locke believed that this new figure would not be inclined to embrace the paternalism and dependence of previous generations.  Rather, Locke viewed "the New Negro" as one where African- Americans would "be delivered both from self-pity and condescension."  The America that Locke saw was one in which African- Americans could seize to transform what was into what can be, and change what is into something filled with vitality.  A "spiritual coming of age" is a part of the ethos of the "New Negro."  Locke saw this as critical in defining African- Americans in the new era.

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