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African American Literature

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African-American Influence on American literature

African American literature can be summarized as the writings of authors from African descent. In the United States, African descendents have had very different experiences from each others depending on where they lived. In the southern states of the United States, Blacks have been really oppressed until the Civil War, with the big part being illiterate well into the end of 1800. In the northern states ,Blacks had a considerable greater freedom, and with the end of the Civil War, a new and educated African American social class emerged. African American literature was influenced by these factors, and it varied greatly but it always held undeniable similarities, circling the Black experience in America.

The very first African American writings tried to put into perspective the role of Black Americans in American. What it meant to be an American was often explored in literature and served as a central theme in many works of literature. African American literature tried, and still does, to illustrate the implications of the African-American presence in the United States. The writings of many early authors have confronted the Declaration of Independence's "allegation" that in America all citizens had a right to freedom and equality. Prior to the Civil War the country's opinion that all men were created equal had it limitations; it was unofficially agreed on that it really only all "white" men were created equal.

The very beginnings of a Black literature in American was confused, there was resistance from the white community in allowing Blacks to be educated, but as late as the 1700's some authors African descent managed write and to publish their writings. Is it believe that Jupiter Hammon is the first African American to have ever published a work of literature in the United States (Wikipedia); his poem "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries" was published in 1761. Phillis Wheatley was another early author; her book of poems, entitled Poems on Various Subjects was published in 1773. During this era discrimination was so strong that many people doubted that Wheatley actually had written her poems, she had to prove in court that she was the author.

Literature also offered some African Americans power and influence, Frederick Douglas was one of these; he had been born in slavery, but eventually escaped and became and a lecturer, orator and author. His speeches addressed issues on abolitionism. Frederick Douglas' autobiography Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which was published in 1845 made him the most influential African American of his time. At the time some critics attacked the book, not believing that a black man could have written such a good work. Independent of this, the book was an immediate bestseller.

After the end of slavery and the American Civil War, a number of African American authors continued to write nonfiction works about the condition of African Americans in the country.

One of these writers is W.E.B. Du Bois who lived from 1868-1963. At the turn of the century, Du Bois published a highly influential collection of essays titled The Souls of Black Folk. The book's essays on race were groundbreaking and drew from DuBois's personal experiences to describe how African Americans lived in American society (Wikipedia). Du Bois also believed that since Blacks had a common interest they should work together to bring to end discrimination and social inequality.

Another important author of this time is Booker T. Washington who was an educator and the founder of the Tuskegee Institute, a Black college in Alabama (Wikipedia). In contrast to Du Bois, who adopted a more confrontational attitude toward ending racial strife in America, Washington believed that Blacks should first educate themselves and prove themselves equal to whites before demanding equality. Although his view was popular during his time it did not endure. The African American community became tired of trying to integrate themselves into a society that continuously marginalized them. It became obvious to the African American population that they would not be able to equalize themselves with the White population, simply because they were not equals. Blacks had a strong sense of heritage that was linked to Africa, and their history in America had worked to make them into different Americans, with their own particular desires, folklore and culture.

It was only in the 1920's that a new literature genre that had been appearing gradually would be classified and identified as an African-American literature. The movement that promoted this new notion of a literature that had its foundation built on the African American experience was the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance marked a historical period in African American history. This movement offered the African American community an active voice, a way through which the African American community could for the first time transport to the greater America their history, life, culture and afflictions. The most important publishers and critics for the first time took African American literature seriously, and with this recognition came national attention and notoriety. No longer was the rich African American literature for his own community, this literature gained momentum and established the African American community as part of America.

The Harlem Renaissance was made possible by a change in the social status of African Americans. With the end of the Civil War (1861-1864) a Black middle class was created (Wikipedia). The emerging African American middle class became well educated and politically conscious. There was also a massive migration of Blacks from the south to the north where political and economic freedom was more possible. Eventually Harlem went from a Black New York neighborhood to the political and cultural African American center of the United States.

Charles W. Chesnutt was the first African Americans to receive national recognition and appreciation. Works by James Weldon Johnson and the poetry of Claude McKay helped to open the door for the literature that would eventually appear in the 1920's. Their literature as well future ones tell the reality of the African American life and their suffer, bringing to light all the suffering and difficult that African Americans had always endured.

Three literary works that were published in the 1920's established the creative explosion that identified the Harlem Renaissance. McKay's volume of poetry, Harlem Shadows came out in 1922 and became one of the first works by a black writer to be published by a mainstream, national publisher. Cane by Jean



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