Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Harlem Renaissance in Literature and History

Tomorrow's collaboration between U.S. history and American literature classes, the subject of which will be the Harlem Renaissance, will feature a discussion of the poetry of Langston Hughes, and dramatic, cinematic renderings of "The Weary Blues." We will also see a version of "Strange Fruit."

In addition, we'll survey some of "The Black Christ," (1929) a famous Countee Cullen piece, as well as other representations of a Black Jesus during this period and beyond.

W.E.B. Du Bois, for example, wrote short stories for The Crisis that featured Black Christs as prophetic, redemptive figures, either teaching about hard work and economic equality, such as in a story titled "The Sermon on the Tower," or as a lynched figure where the noose is considered a sign of salvation (i.e., "The Son of God" from a 1933 Crisis issue).

We will discuss the importance of these stories in light of recent "noose incidents" (see map) and images of a Black Jesus in 20th and 21st century culture. This provides an interesting contrast to Mel Gibson's depiction of a European-looking Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.

These topics and many more will complete the discussion by analytically incorporating art, culture, and religion.

We will examine selections from the Countee Cullen pieces below.

"Christ Recrucified" (1922)

The South is crucifying Christ again

Christ's awful wrong is that he's dark of hue
The sin for which no blamelessness atones;
But lest the sameness of the cross should tire,
They kill him now with famished tongues of fire,
And while he burns, good men, and women, too,
Shout, battling for his black and brittle bones.


"The Black Christ" (1929)

O Form immaculately born,
Betrayed a thousand times each morn,
As many times each night denied,
Surrendered, tortured, crucified!
That love which has no boundary;
Our eyes have looked on Calvary (135-136).

[Source: James H. Smylie, “Countee Cullen’s ‘The Black Christ,’” Theology Today 38/2 (July 1981): 160-73]

Here's a link to the slideshow about images of Christ, as well as a BBC story that asks why so many depictions of Christ are "white."

[Photo credits here and here.]

1 comment:

Nikolas said...

Well the idea of having a different view about Jesus' physical appearance really doesn't bother me but when you look at it from the perspective of the Color of the Cross producers then I begin to have issues. The idea that Christ died because of his race or skin color is absurd. He died for the purpose of salvation and to free us of our sins not to make one people group feel more like they deserve something or that other people owe them something on account of the past. I will never deny that the actions of people from the past deserve some form of compensation but to hold the idea that you are owed something due to the treatment of your ancestors from many years past is ridiculous. I respect people who overcome adversity but some people use the very adversity they overcame to cause more strife between different races and people groups. People who loosely claim the "Race Card" whenever they believe someone is against them truly show a lot of character flaws and should rethink how they conduct their arguements and their view of the world. On the same note there are still people who are racist and I know they will always be present but I am addressing certain public figures who use the issue of race far too freely and use it shamelessly also.