The vogue of the black race in the decade following the First World War was not confined to France.
In the United States several aspects of the Negro life assumed new dimensions and began to be viewed in a new light. Black masses had risked their lives in France where they had met humane treatment, some for the first time in their lives.
American soldiers who had served in France in the First World War returned to the United States with a change in attitude and were refusing to settle again in the strongly undesirable position that had been theirs in American society.
At the same time, the exodus of rural masses towards northern industrial cities in the U.S. which afforded them better living and working condition, accelerated the grouping of people, intensified race consciousness and, in many centers, increased racial tension.
Meanwhile, black people had attracted the attention of the white world in a different manner. Jazz orchestras ands blues singers who had taken Paris by storm were becoming popular in the United States.
Profiting from the growing “vogue of ebony”, white and colored writers began finding in the Negro a new source of literary material.
The decades of the 1920s brought on black American writers and poets like Claude McKay, Countée Cullen, and Langston Hughes.
Langston Hughes who had a close intellectual friendship with famed Haitian writer, poet, and revolutionary Jacques Roumain, translated his famous novel from the French Gouverneurs de la Rosée in the English language: Masters of the Dew, which would eventually be translated again and again in at least thirty, or more tongues all over the world.
Langston Hughes wanted to meet Jacques Roumain the Haitian poet, who was then one of the few cultured Haitians who appreciated native Haitian folklore, and who became a friend of the people without shoes. Roumain was from an aristocratic Haitian family.
So when Langston Hughes found himself again in Port au Prince, he dressed up for the occasion, and put on his only coat to go and meet Roumain and had his shoes shined.
The fame of one of the black American poets had reached Haiti. La Revue Indigène of October 1927, in Haiti, carried an article by Haitian writer Dominique Hippolyte on Countée Cullen.
Contemporary Haitian writers’ interest increased in the literature of the people whose problems were somewhat similar to theirs.
In the 1900s contemporary poets of Haiti had lost faith in the writings of their ancestors. Events within Haiti and world events from which Haitians could not remain isolated caused them to divorce their interests from those of the writers of their past and to feel a closer bond with post world war writers elsewhere. In their distress, Haitians turned to Africa and sought comfort for their wounded pride.
That many of her descendants in parts of the Western world were being recognized and feted by France added importance to their search and significance to its results.
Meanwhile, American Negroes were fast becoming a symbol to blacks everywhere. Black American writers seemed to have lost their self-consciousness and had forgotten that their works would be placed before a jury of white critics. As a result, their writings evinced a sincerity that increased their intrinsic value.
Like black American writers of the 1920’s, Haitians had become race conscious and were beginning to feel for their American brothers a kinship born of similarity of interests. It boosted their morale to discover that in their search for information about their African past, they were not alone; common cause had been found with American blacks who, too, were ceasing to be ashamed of their heritage and were able to look upon themselves and their brothers with objectivity.
Haitians learned that in the United States black American poets were taking part in a rebellion and voicing a resounding protest against the same type of injustice from which they had suffered. Haitians learned too, that these black American poets were becoming the voice for the more inarticulate masses and were finding much of their inspiration in the lives and emotions of the common black American people. This served to increase the Haitian’s determination for greater self expression and their desire for a literature of their own.
The reaction of the young writers of Haiti against the “ancien régime” i.e. ancient regime, was to crystallize into a quasi rupture with their literary predecessors during the second quarter of the twentieth century. The older Haitian poets had obstinately imitated the French and remained at least a quarter of a century behind their role models.
The chief concern of the old Haitian poets, it would seem, had been to refute the claims of their detractors by proving that Haitians had the same capabilities and aptitude as white people whose ancestry had not been tainted with the blood of Africa, and that they were Frenchmen who, though of a somewhat different color, no longer had cultural ties with black Africa. It was the irony of fate, therefore, the very features the older Haitian poets had tried to dissemble were the ones held to be of the greatest importance by their successors.
The last half of the 1920’s saw a new group of Haitian intellectuals assume a place of importance as writers. There rose upon the scene a “pléiade” i.e. a multitude of young Haitian intellectuals: Normil Sylvain, Emile Roumer, Jacques Roumain, Philippe Thoby-Marcelin, Antonio Vieux, Daniel Heurtelou, and Carl Brouard, most of whom had lived in France, to the exception of Antonio Vieux and Daniel Heurtelou who had not lived or studied abroad at that time.
Source : Naomi M. Garret, courtesy of Carl Fombrun.
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