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LANG, Phyllis Martin, 1938-


University of Illinoi s at Urbana-Chanrpaign, Ph.D., 1972 Language and. Literature, modern

THE LATER YEARS, 1934-1948.

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Except for quotations from all hitherto unpublished writings of Claude McKay

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A.B., Nebraska Wesleyan University, I960 M.A., University of Nebraska, 1962


Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy In English in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1972

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I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the encouragement and assistance provided me in the prepa- ration of this dissertation by Professor Keneth Kinnamon. I am also grateful to Ted and Vicki Seitz who offered constant encouragement throughout the research and the writing. In addition, I wish to acknowledge the assistance provided me through released time from teaching duties and financial support by MacMurray College. I owe much grati- tude to Terry Fields, who translated the newspaper articles in Pravda and Izvestila; to the staffs of the Schomburg Collection in the New York Public Library and the James Weldon Johnson Collection at Yale University, who were most helpful In providing the manuscripts which were essential in this dissertation; and to Carl Cowl, who arranged for me to cite the unpublished materials. Finally, I would like to thank my husband, Wayne, whose devotion to me and to my intellectual developments made this dissertation possible.







Introduction. ••• ••




Expository Prose


III. Fiction






V. Conclusion















CHAPTER I. Introduction

Claude McKay, Jamaican-born poet, novelist, and essayist, is one of the most quoted black American writers. The popu- larity of his one poem "If We Must Die" is evidenced by a recent article in Time Magazine which described the prison riots at Attica, New York. In discussing the prisoners, the writer of the article states: "They passed around clandestine writings of their own; among them was a poem written by an unknown prisoner, crude but touching in its would be heroic style." 1 Reproduced in neatly printed letters with the article was part of that "crude but touching" poem—the first four lines of "If We Must Die." This episode is but one of several attesting to the popular acceptance of the poem. Winston ChurchMl quoted it to the British during one threat of German invasion; 2 Churchill also read it when he addressed Congress to urge the United States to enter the war effort.3 McKay himself recounted that the poem was found on the body of a dead white American soldier.^ The poem seems to be almost universally accepted as a plea to a struggling people to continue the fight.

But, ironically, Claude McKay, the man who created that intense poem, is little known. Nearly every anthology of Afro-American literature contains at least a summary sketch


of his life, but no complete biography has yet been written. Discussions of McKay are often limited to comments on his birth, death, date of published works, trip to Russia, and conversion to Catholicism. Although McKay published four volumes of poetry, three novels, a book of short stories, an autobiography, a collection of essays, and some seven dozen articles,* little recognition has been given the man and his work. Even during his own lifetime he was often overlooked when distinguished black artists were recognized. A few scholarly works on McKay have appeared recently, but none so far has considered the total creative production of McKay, Sister Mary Conroy in "Claude McKay; Negro Poet and Novelist"° considered the themes of Harlem, return to the soil, and vagabondage in the published fiction and selected poems. Wayne Cooper in "Claude McKay: The Evolution of a Negro Radical, 1899-1923"? discussed McKay's growing radi- calism, but Cooper's work ends with a discussion of McKay's visit to Russia in 1922-23, An earlier thesis by Ralph Johnson, "The Poetry of Dunbar and McKay: A Study,"° compared the dialect poetry of McKay as found in Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads with the dialect poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar. The most complete analysis of McKay's poetry is found in Jean Wagner's book, Les poetes negres des


McKay's life might be divided into four parts. From the time of his birth In 1889 until coming to America in 1912, he lived in Jamaica, where he educated himself. At the end of that period he published two volumes of poetry, Songs of


Jamaica (1912) and Constab Ballads (1912). Between his arrival in America in 1912 and his departure for Russia in 1922 he tried various careers; his occupations ranged from student to poet to railroad worker to editor. During that period he published two more volumes of poetry, Spring In New Hampshire (1920) and Harlem Shadows (1922), as well as many essays on diverse topics. Between the years 1922-193^ he visited Russia and then lived in France, Spain, and North Africa. During those European years he created his four fictional works, Home to Harlem (1928), Ban.lo (1929), Glngertown (1932), and Banana Bottom (1933). In early 193*» he returned to the United States; during the last fourteen years of his life he published two books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and Harlem: Negro Metropolis (19^0), forty-five essays, and some new poetry. Several unpublished works in manuscript form including three unfinished novels, various essays, and over one hundred poems survive the last two periods. The last period (193^-19^8) Is particularly interesting because McKay was writing non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. In the first period he wrote only poetry, which was recog- nized and highly commended. In the second period, he wrote poetry and non-flctlon; both brought him recognition. In the third period, he wrote fiction which established for him a reputation which equaled and probably exceeded his early reputation for poetry. During this time, though, he admitted he could no longer write poetry. In the final period he attempted all three forms of writing. But his creative


impetus seemed to have shifted from fiction to expository prose. These works sold while the fiction went unpublished. During this period he also returned to poetry, some of which continues his old vein of protest, some of which reflects his growing Interest in the Catholic Church. Most of the poetry, like the fiction of this period, was not published. One of the last things he wrote before his death was "My Green Hills of Jamaica," a reminiscence of his childhood in Jamaica. Perhaps this prose piece fittingly completes McKay's literary life because it returns to the setting, themes, and attitudes of his initial volumes of poetry.

This dissertation, then, is concerned with scrutinizing all the works, both published and unpublished, which Claude McKay produced in the last period, 193^-19*18. Although the focus will be upon these last works, they will be, whenever possible, related to earlier published works. To facilitate discussion, this body of materials will be divided into three parts. Chapter II will consider the expository prose. Most of this material was published; an early consideration will provide biographic and thematic backgrounds. The expository prose will Include the two published books, the forty-five published essays, and some unpublished essays. Chapter III will consider fiction. The unpublished novel Harlem Glory will be discussed and related to Home to Harlem and the first stories from Gingertown. Chapter IV will consider the poetry written in those last years. Much of the poetry was unpub- lished; many of the poems are directly connected with the themes examined in the prose written during this period.


The primary focus of this dissertation, therefore, will be descriptive, rather than biographical or sociological or critical. These poems, essays, and novels written during the last few years of McKay's life deserve inspection and placement within the total body of McKay's works.



x "War at Attica:

Was There No Other Way?"

September 27, 1971, p. 20.

2 Stephen Bronz, Roots of Negro Racial Consciousness:

The 1920's: Three Harlem Renaissance Authors (New York:

Libra Publishers, 196*0, p. 7^.

3 Lucius Harper, "Dustin' Off the News: What We

Thought When They Buried Claude McKay," Chicago Defender. June 12, 19^8, p. 2.

^ Claude McKay speaking and reading, Anthology of Negro Poetry, collected by Arna Bontemps, Folkways recording,


•5 Selected Poems of Claude

McKay (New York: Bookman

Associates, 1953) was published five years after his death.

° Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, English Department, University of Notre Dame, 1968.

? Unpublished master's thesis, History Department, Tulane University, 1965.

° Unpublished master's thesis, English Department, University of Pittsburgh, 1950.

9 Paris; Llbrairie Istra, 1963, pp. 211-281.


CHAPTER II. Expository Prose

Claude McKay returned to the United States early in 193^» following twelve years of roaming through Russia, Europe, and North Africa. During the last five years abroad, he had published four volumes of fiction; upon his return he was determined to continue writing fiction which would display his understanding of Europe and North Africa as well as his perceptions of the changes in Harlem. But despite his hopes of creating a fine new novel, nearly all of the published works between 193^-19*18 belong in the category of expository prose. Although McKay continued to write fiction and poetry, only the autobiographical works and the essays on diverse topics found publishers. 1 These published works vary greatly in subject matter, but they have in common McKay's continued examination of the world and his role in that world. Perhaps it is better to start with these works of expository prose because they establish some of the biographical details of McKay's life and display the issues which concerned him throughout the last fourteen years.

The expository prose between 193^-19^8 can be divided into three large categories; the autobiographical, including A Long Way from Home published in 1937t "My Green Hills of


Jamaica," an unpublished essay written shortly before his

death, and an autobiographical essay published posthumously

in Phylon which contained part of the unpublished essay; the

sociological, including Harlem: Negro Metropolis, published

in 19^0, and numerous other essays describing international

situations, presenting conditions in Harlem, and arguing for

black nationalism; and the religious, including three pub-

lished essays regarding his conversion to Catholicism and

one unpublished essay "Right Turn to Catholicism." The

categories are not exclusive; the autobiographical and

religious essays, especially, overlap.

Two published works reveal McKay's life to the reader.

A Long Way from Home published in 1937 discloses the details

of his life between 1919 and 193*1. Evidently McKay did not

write a segment describing in detail his life after 193**.*

shortly before his death, however, he did write "My Green

Hills of Jamaica," which captures his memories of his island

home. "Boyhood in Jamaica," published in Phylon in 1953»

presents a few pages of "My Green Hills." The editors

included the explanatory note that this article was taken

from McKay's

part of the autobiography of brown childhood by Cedrlc Dover and himself, entitled East Indian, West Indian (In manuscript),, The emphasis in

selection has been on scenes, events and reflec- tions which may add something to his autobiog- raphy . • . , and to the revelations of motiva- tion and circumstance contained in his Selected


standing of such a significant Negro poet implies a more sensitive appreciation of the problem of which he was a part. ("Boyhood," p. 134)

We feel that a deeper under-


In this short article McKay quickly traces the years from his childhood in Sunny Ville to his arrival in America and concludes with the realization that he will never see his green hills again. Throughout the article he recalls the natural beauties of Jamaica—pimento trees, lush blossoming mango trees, as well as natural destructive forces—floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. He also recalls things which are typically Jamaican: tea meetings which were the popular entertainment, moonshine babies made of pieces of broken crockery and glistening in the moonlight, the village of Sunny Ville where he was born.

But above all, he remembers the people and relates them to the other groups of people he encountered during his life. He speaks of Jamaica as "a beautiful garden in its human relationships" ("Boyhood," p. 139)J under the influences of English, Spanish, Jewish, Indian, Chinese. Hindu and Mohammedan, "we lived cooperatively, we lived together" ("Boyhood," p. 137). He recalls the work songs of Sunny Ville as "community songs for community work. They were not made in the mind of an individual intent on his individualism. They grew from a way of life" ("Boyhood," p. 138). From his vantage point in the mid-19^0's he sees the Jamaican people as "a rising people, and sometimes I think that the Negroes amongst them will give leadership to the Negroes of the world in the great struggle that lies ahead" ("Boyhood," p. 1^3).

Perhaps the most striking thing about the article Is

McKay's changes in attitudes after he left Jamaica. While a

young man In his green hills, "people of all kinds were just

people to me. I had a romantic feeling about the different

kinds of human groups and nations, until I came to America

and saw race hatred in its most virulent form" ("Boyhood,"

p. 141). As a result of his American experiences, McKay

began to view his world differently. When he arrived at

Charleston, South Carolina, in 1912, his perceptions were

already changing. The older man looking back on that first

glimpse of America wrote: "Where in all America could one

land and find more beauty and moral ugliness at the same

time?" ("Boyhood," p. 145), And that moral ugliness, which

repelled him as much as the beauties of America itself

attracted him, led him to write:

The carriers [of Americanization] are prejudiced and materialistic. Most Americans, it seems to me, from the extreme left to the far right, believe that what the rest of the world needs is more sanitation and material luxury: enamel bathtubs, gleaming wash basins, and two bottles of milk for every person. • • • Sometimes I wonder if this dominating materialism is not the major problem of the modern world. Communism and Christianity can become reconciled, as Islam and Christianity were reconciled. But how can we reconcile the conquering forces of American industrial materialism—the American Way of Life—with those vast forces that still cling to the traditional human values which America holds in such contempt? ("Boyhood," p. 143)

But the article is not entirely negative. Although

McKay despised the things he had witnessed, he comments that

his writing


is the farewell testimony of a man who was bitter because he loved, who was both right and wrong because he hated the things that destroyed love, who tried to give back to others a little of what he had got from them and the continuous adventure of being a black man in a white society. Happily, as I move on, I see that adventure changing for those who will come after me. For this is the century of the coloured world. ("Boyhood," p. 145)

For McKay these words describe his entire life. The ambiv-

alence in the man was reflection of the society which con-

fronted him. The struggle of the "continuous adventure"

challenged and Inspired him. But even at the end of his

life he strongly felt the optimism of a changing world.

The article ends with a most poignant paragraph which

seems to capture much of the despair of an aging, ill poet

but also captures much of the joy of his remembered home-


I was in another world, a new world which grew into many worlds that engulfed me, though some- thing of me was always separate, something that belonged to the beautiful green hills of my boy- hood. I have sought to recapture their charm and influence, which in a wider sense is the shaping influence that makes the difference between the white and the coloured worlds. I have tried to do this simply and honestly, without bitterness or excessive comment, as my final literary duty. For the creeping pressure of disease tells me this is my last book, and I will never again see my green hills and the people I loved so much. ("Boyhood," p. 145)

"My Green Hills of Jamaica," written in 1946, is a far

more extensive version of the first twenty-three years of

McKay's life. The essay is divided into sixteen sections of

varying lengths beginning with a long section on the history

of Jamaica.-^ The remaining fifteen sections describe


Jamaica and its people and recount the major events in McKay's life until he leaves for America. The section on the history of Jamaica begins with the discovery of the island by Columbus, then recounts other pieces of historical interest such as the rebellion of the blacks in 1866, the manumission of quadroons and octoroons about 1800, and the diamond Jubilee of Victoria. Throughout its history, Jamaica was a "haven of welcome for people who have been uprooted in other countries" (GH, p. 6) ; as a result McKay feels there was "no acute racial antagonisms- no white suppression of blacks and browns, East Indians and Chinese, sanctioned by traditions or laws. • . • [They doj

not feel they are suppressed because of their color, because anyone with talent can rise out of the masses" (GH, p. 8) . McKay insists there was no hatred of whites because ninety- five percent of the people are brown and black: "no Jamaica £slc, McKay consistently used "Jamaica" as both noun and peasant imagines he is inferior to anybody but

God" (GH, p. 13) . In addition, although the whites of

island controlled administrative justice, actual law enforcement was carried out by blacks, thus reducing hos- tility against the enforcer. In McKay's eyes, the "racial" problems of the island were not between black and white but between the light mulattoes of the lower middle class, who were clerks and civil servants, and the blacks who were



McKay also comments that in many respects Jamaica was too "Englandized" (GH, p. 15) . Houses, for instance, were not of native architecture, and education made the children into "little black Britons" (GH, p. 7).^ Points made in "Boyhood In Jamaica" such as his comments on the acceptance of bastardy and on the traditional human values which Americans so despise are echoed in this section. Each of the remaining sections of "My Green Hills" is much shorter. Again, many of the descriptions and comments closely resemble those presented in "Boyhood in Jamaica." Many of the segments are in chronological order. He describes Sunny Ville, where he started to school when he was four years old. There, he encountered the "first awakening to the warm human world around me" (GH, p. 2) . At age six, he went to live with his brother U'Theo and during the next few years read Arnold, Haeckel, Draper, Spencer, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Kant, and Berkeley. But McKay admits, "Of course I was never a militant free thinker. And I never had any desire to deride the church and religious He Ql'Theo] always said to me that an agnostic should so live his life that Christian people would have to respect him" (GH, p. 8) , When McKay was fourteen years old, U'Theo decided to return to Sunny Ville and leased an estate, Palmyra. At this point McKay breaks the chronolog- ical narrative to describe his mother and father, the growing of sugar cane, and the great flood. In the midst of these descriptions, he stops once again to tell the story of two


local characters, Old Tom Fool and Uncle Jim. Then McKay shifts ahead to his constabulary service to narrate the story of a rude American who when arrested for pushing a peasant woman off a streetcar adequately shows his prejudice through his strenuous objections to black policemen and judges. The narrative then returns to Sunny Ville and McKay tells of his brother's choir which achieved renown by singing the "Messiah," of the Great Revival from which McKay remained personally aloof, and of the Woolsevs who controlled the village. At this time (the chronology is unclear; McKay is perhaps sixteen years old), he is reading Marie Corelli, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Mrs. Gaskell, Mrs. Henry Wood and such publications as the Jamaica Times. The Outlook, and the New York Herald.

In the eleventh segment (1907; McKay is eighteen years old), he describes going to Kingston to attend a trade school. Much of Kingston, however, including the trade school, was destroyed in an earthquake, and McKay once again returned to the green hills of Clarendon. The next two sections characterize his parents. His mother "loved people and believed in being kind to everybody. She was quite different from my father who believed in jus- tice, a kind of Anglo-Saxon Justice" (GH, p. 55). His father had become a successful farmer. Through diligent labor and frugal habits he had acquired at least one hundred fertile acres. Since his father believed so strongly in


justice, he became a mediator in order to settle the differ- ences of the peasants. From his father McKay learned of his Ashanti heritage. When McKay was sixteen, his mother died of dropsy. He describes her beauty in death: "she lay in her coffin almost fragile, brown and beautiful" (GH, p. 60). He concludes the section with these words: "I never thought that in three decades, I'd be laid low with the same disease that killed my mother" (GH, p. 61). McKay loved his mother intensely. Both she and Jamaica represented home to him. He later described her in poems which show his affection for this woman who was beautiful and vital, as was Jamaica.-' The last three sections of "My Green Hills" describe his apprenticeship to a wheelwright (the two years before his mother's death); his continuing attempts to write poetry; and most importantly, his meeting with Mr. Jekyll, who read his poems and singled out for praise his dialect poems:

"Poems seemed to flow from my heart, my head, and my hands. I just could not restrain myself from writing. When I sent them to Mr. Jekyll, he wrote back to say that each new one was more beautiful than the last. Beauty! A short while before I never thought that any beauty could be found in the Jamaica dialect. Now this Englishman has discovered beauty and I too could see where my poems were beautiful" (GH, p. 67), It was Mr. Jekyll, an English nobleman who chose to live like a peasant in Jamaica, who encouraged his reading and thinking. By allowing McKay the full use of his library, Jekyll continued the liberal education begun by U'Theo,


Jekyll's curiosity and open acceptance of many divergent beliefs greatly influenced the thinking and the sensitivity of the young McKay. McKay does not describe in precise detail his service with the Kingston constabulary, but clearly that vocation was not suitable for him. Through Mr. Jekyll's influence, he was dismissed from the constabulary before his five years term was up. Probably the most important event recounted in all of "My Green Hills" is the publication of Songs of Jamaica in

1912. The twenty-three year old poet suddenly found himself

the center of much adulation: "The praise of the book in the island press was amazing. It was all praise—praise-

not a derogatory word. Then later, when the reviews came in from different parts of the British Empire it was all the

same. Praise, Praise, Praise! •

everywhere my book of

poems was a sensation" (GH, p. 74). Constab Ballads soon followed and McKay became the noted poet of Jamaica. As a result of the two volumes he received the Medal of the Institute of Arts and Sciences of Jamaica, which included a cash award and a silver medal. McKay became friends with Lady Henrietta Vinton-Davis, who later worked with Garvey. She encouraged him to go to Tuskegee and Initiated his great belief In America, "the new land to which all people who had youth, and a youthful mind turned" (GH, p. 80). Against warnings of American prejudice and predictions that prejudice would change him, McKay said


good-bye to his green hills and Its people and left for


Although McKay chose to leave the island, his love of

Jamaica remained throughout his life. For McKay, Jamaica

was the soil in which he was rooted and which revitalized

him.' He continually attempted to find substitutes for the

land he loved, but neither Harlem nor Europe could recapture

the vitality of the island. The orderly life of Jamaica in

no way prepared him for the confusion and discrimination he

was to find in America.° Bishop Shell in his introduction

to "My Green Hills" wrote;

Claude McKay arrived in this country

from -a

land in which racial prejudice posed no great problem. Distinctions were made in Jamaica, of course; but nothing like the often violent manifestations in the United States happened there. It was a bitter experience to this young man fresh from his green hills, the knowledge that even here in the land of the free, Negroes were denied the enjoyment of basic rights. It was for him a strange fruit on the tree of democracy. (GH, pp. 2-3)

McKay was not an outsider in Jamaica. The race structure was

also a class structure; the rigid organization made its mem-

bers secure. The home for which McKay searched for the

remainder of his life he had left behind in Jamaica.

That love for Jamaica is apparent throughout his pub-

lished works. His affection for the natural beauty of

Jamaica never diminished nor did his love for its peasant

peoples. Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads depict the

scenes and people of the island.9 in Spring in New Hampshire

and Harlem Shadows several poems recall the island. 10 The

love poems are closely related to the longing for Jamaica because they frequently utilize lush natural descriptions. 11 In Home to Harlem the setting and actions are far from Jamaica, but Sister Conroy argues that Harlem is a substi- tute for Jamaica; Harlem is equated with the soil of Jamaica as the revitalizing racial home. Even in Banjo, set in Marseilles, the sexual act becomes for Ray a surrogate homeland as the woman's body becomes the soil which is the homeland.-^ The last two pieces of fiction return to the setting of Jamaica. Banana Bottom employs the Jamaican countryside as effective background for Bita's growing real- ization of her connections with the soil. In "Truant," the middle story of Gingertown. Barclay Oram knows he must leave the city. Although Barclay does not reappear in the collec- tion, the next four stories are set in Jamaica implying that Barclay might have escaped to the lush green island. In the published articles and books written during the last years, Jamaica largely disappears, unless Harlem once again becomes a surrogate. Likewise, the published poems of the last period, unlike the earlier poems, do not recall Jamaica. But this last piece of writing does. The streams and hills, the soil and flowers, the animals and people remained always a part of McKay. His wanderings took him to Europe and Africa, but Jamaica remained the symbol of youth and vitality and stability. xy In a sense, "My Green Hills" completes the cycle of McKay's writings. Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads are Jamaica; in "My Green Hills" he


returns to that Jamaica. He could never return physically, but in his last years, his thoughts returned to the hills of Clarendon. This final work of Claude McKay provides a fine intro- duction to his works. Many of the essential themes are here; the vitality of the soil and the people close to the soil, the roles of blacks and whites, the love and fear of America, the need for essential traditional human virtues, £*nd black pride. The nostalgia for times past which traced its way through many of McKay's works is here also. The rural-urban conflict which appears throughout McKay's works clearly had its beginnings in Jamaica. For McKay, Jamaica (rural Jamaica, not Kingston) was peaceful but invigorating. It offered a contrast to the perplexities of the city, controlled by the white man. This attitude stems from his childhood when his world was ordered and protected. During those years in Jamaica the young writer could create his own world.l* But upon leaving Jamaica and coming to America he found a world thrust upon him. The nostalgia for that childhood existence which can create its own world is intense. Thus the country with its peaceful vitality gives strength to the people close to it; the city with its mechan- ical and racial restrictions destroys spontaneity. A world cannot be created in the city; the world there must be accepted.

The style of "My Green Hills" resembles the poetry more closely than it resembles any of the other prose works.


This final work is personal, descriptive, and emotional, as are many of the poems. McKay himself comments that "My Green Hills" differed stylistically from his other works. He said that it resembled a folk story but was much closer to the poetry than to any of the other prose works excepting the stories in Glngertown. But although "My Green Hills" is charming, it is also flawed. In sections the prose lumbers; the scenes are ade- quately described but not vivid. The facility with language which the young McKay displayed appears in this manuscript only occasionally. Too often McKay chooses a trite phrase rather than seeking the precise, powerful word. At times "My Green Hills" is highly personal, as in the lines in which McKay comments he is dying of dropsy as his mother did.

But despite these flaws, the piece merits a responsive reading. The nostalgia is great; the rural existence holds many attractions for the poet. McKay's enthusiasm for his green hills is infectious. As biography, it reveals some aspects of the man who was to engage himself in so many different endeavors once he arrived in America.

A. Long Way from Home begins its narrative in 1919. The events of the years between 1912 and 1919 when McKay was viewing the "violent manifestations" and "bitter experiences" which would illustrate the "strange fruit" are known only sketchily ("Boyhood," pp. 2-3). But "My Green Hills" and A, Long Way together present many insights into the development of the mature Claude McKay. '


4 Long Way from Home received several reviews when it

appeared in 1937? the reviews in periodicals ranging from

Opportunity to the New York Times Book Review were for the

most part favorable. 18 Alain Locke's comments about the

book were mixed. He noted its "picaresque charm" but also

commented rather negatively that the work "exploits a per-

sonality" and concentrates on "cosmopolitan vagabondage and

the pursuit of experience for experience's sake." 1 " In a

second review in New Challenge Locke conceded McKay's

"splendid talent" but McKay's "spiritual truancy" blights


that talent.

Jamaica or the Harlem Renaissance or radicalism or other

expatriates is his worst sin. Locke notes; "Even a fasci-

nating style and the naivest egotism cannot cloak such

For Locke, McKay's lack of loyalty to

inconsistency or condone such lack of common loyalty." 21

The worst indictment is that McKay is the black twin of

Frank Harris, "a versatile genius caught in the ego-centric

predicament of aesthetic vanity and exhibitionism."" Locke

concludes his comments by noting that unfortunately McKay

represents many of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance.

They too have lost their purpose and loyalty and have chosen

"decadent aestheticism" -* rather than discipline and respon-

sibility. Locke believes the young writers must "become

truer sons of the people, more loyal providers of spiritual

bread and less aesthetic wastrels and truants of the

streets," 2 ^


Several other critics comment upon the charm of the book. Horace Gregory noted that the "charm and pathos" of the work "overwhelm the narrative." 2 5 He further observed that the most significant episode in the book is McKay's description of his shoddy treatment at the performance of He Who Gets Slapped. In a negative vein Gregory remarks that McKay was influenced "by the smooth falsetto of the lesser romantics" which at times resulted in a falseness in McKay's comments. Gregory especially objected to McKay's last words of the book. For Gregory, those words are as false as Frank Harris' dyed hair which McKay noted in one of his later encounters with Harris. The critic in The Saturday Review of Literature stressed that McKay "writes with charm, taste, and candor about the matters which engross him, and his intellectual stature grows with the experience encoun-

tered, while the reader follows with pleasure and benefit." 2 " That reviewer also noted McKay's insistent independence from causes and movements and praises his "forthrightness and

clear-sightedness which are admirable

." The commen-

tator in the New York Times Book Review labelled 4 Long Way as an "unusual and very readable book" and noted particularly that two themes, "the Negro workingman and the determined writer, are interwoven in a candid and perfectly natural way." 2 ''' For John LaFarge the fact that McKay was a "charming gentleman with a splendid presence and a gift of intelligent,

humorous speech" 28 could not compensate for McKay's overly strong reliance on senses and passions. LaFarge's review


ends with the criticism that "He seems still to bask in the moonlight of memory." Henry Moon and George Streator wrote rather lengthy and perceptive reviews. Both of them commented upon the value of the book in revealing the complexities of being black in a white society. Henry Moon remarked upon the sense of color which permeates the book: "This ability to enjoy life was made possible, paradoxically enough, by his intense color consciousness. Instead of being thwarted by

his black skin or being submerged in blind and sterile hate,

Mr. McKay was spurred to greater

would be, a black poet determined that in his case the adjective black should not be synonymous with second rate." 2 ? Moon also notes that the autobiography reveals varied aspects of that color consciousness. He observes McKay's insistence upon "group aggregation" rather than segregation or integra- tion. He also notes that McKay adequately defends himself against his many critics: "He swings lustily at smug whites whose view of the Negro is peculiarly distorted. Toward Left critics who have disowned him, he is no less belllg- erant. Nor does he pull his punches in answering the criti- cism of middle-class Negroes whose prissy sensitivities were offended by his 'Home to Harlem.' For all these A, Long Way from Home should reveal new facets of the perplexities of being black." 30

George Streator recognized McKay's position as a spokesman. He wrote: "Claude McKay is a revolutionary poet.

But a poet he


He is a revolutionary thinker. His point of view, no matter how offensive to a small class of relatively emancipated middle-class American Negroes, is the point of view of the


The seething black masses are clear

to his vision because their sense of oppression is his sense of oppression." 31 Streator sees the book has value because it indicates that all black people do not think similarly. Both people and issues are too complex for simplistic approaches. For Streator, McKay illuminates many of those complexities. A, Long Way from Home is divided into six sections; each section has a geographical focus. The first section is set in America; then McKay goes to England; back to New York; to Russia; to Europe; and finally to Africa. In each of the sections McKay is clearly measuring the world which surrounds him. Although each section is told in retrospect, each creates the feeling of witnessing the people and events with McKay.

In the first section, "American Beginnings," McKay tells of the years 1919-1920, the period in which he met Frank Harris and Max Eastman, had his poems published in several periodicals, and embarked, through the aid of a gen- erous benefactor, on a trip to England. Some early bio- graphical details are revealed in this section: his child- hood with no religious training, his reading under the guid- ance of Mr. Jekyll and U'Theo, his early intoxication with poetry, and the creation of "If We Must Die." As he recalls


telling Frank Harris of his background, we too learn of his

early years.

McKay seems to categorize himself accurately when he

refers to his "eclectic approach to literature and my

unorthodox idea of life."

responses, his friends come from all societal and economic

32 As a result of his divergent

levels. His white friends include Eastman and Harris as

well as Michael the pickpocket. His black friends include

his fellow workers on the railroad and Hubert Harrison,

editor of Negro Worlds McKay can be highly intellectual; he

also can enjoy the Intimacy and "native excitement" (ALW,

p. 49) of the cabarets. He is concerned about large racial

problems as well as intensely personal problems. His diver-

gent responses were to remain throughout his life.

Several things which were to become characteristic of

both the man and his writing are apparent in this section.

The double attitude towards America appears in the fourth

paragraph. He is bitter towards America but that resentment

generates his creative expression. The spirit of vagabond-

age is there also; in McKay the vagabondage and the dual

attitude are inseparable:

But after a few years of study at the Kansas State College I was gripped by the lust to

wander and wonder. The spirit of the vagabond, the daemon of some poets, had got hold of me.

I quit college, I had no desire to return home.

What I had previously done was done. But I still cherished the urge to creative expression.

I desired to achieve something new, something

in the spirit and accent of America. Against its mighty throbbing force, its grand energy and power and bigness, its bitterness burning

(ALW, p. 55) . Civilization can both lull and destroy; like America, it nourishes but also ravages. As a result the attitude towards both civilization and America is ambiva- lent. 33 Part two, "English Inning," tells of months spent in England, a period which was not entirely happy. 3 ^ McKay was not in sympathy with the English environment, and he found the people to be largely unsympathetic with him and other black people.35 But during those months he met G. B. Shaw; he began to read Marx and to listen to discussions (he even compare.! Marxists to theologians—in earnestness and seri- ousness*; , he became an active member of the International Socialist, Club; he wrote articles for the Negro World and for Sylvia Pankhurst's weekly, the Workers' Dreadnought; and he saw his third book of poetry published. His job with Miss Pankhurst resulted from a letter he wrote to George Lansbury, editor of the Dally Herald f In response to a series of articles denouncing the use of black troops in Germany. McKay's letter condemned the Herald's racist-sexist position. 36 When the Herald refused to publish the letter, radical Sylvia Pankhurst published it in her Workers' Dreadnought. In this section of 4 Long Way from Home. McKay devotes many pages to Miss Pankhurst and her work. McKay's view of her is complimentary. He found her to be plain but fiery and shrewd. Through her, he became acquainted with the extreme radicals in London. Throughout the section, McKay admits his debt to her—both financially and intellectually.

When the book was published, however, Miss Pankhurst

was not pleased. She wrote Lee Furman saying:

I take very strong exception to many statements therein, and particularly the last four lines on page 78 and the first ten lines on page 79• All the matter contained in those lines is absolutely untrue and a serious libel on myself. I, therefore, ask you Immediately to withdraw the book from circulation and delete those passages. I regret to have to write this, but you as publishers should have been aware that these statements are libellous, and I repeat they are absolutely untrue. It is a pity that Claude McKay should have chosen to libel one who has treated him with consideration and kindness.-^/

The passage to which Miss Pankhurst refers narrates

the events surrounding a story which McKay wrote about a

sawmill strike in London. One mill, controlled by George

Lansbury, employed scabs. According to McKay, Sylvia

Pankhurst refused to print the story because she owed money

to Lansbury and paper to the Dally Herald. McKay speculates

that she allowed personal feelings to moderate her radical

views and Miss Pankhurst objected most strenuously to those

speculations about the episode.

In addition to McKay's growing political radicalism,

one other aspect is apparent in this section: McKay's

increasing awareness of the connections between race preju-

dice and sexual fears. The Dally Herald did not campaign

against the French use of black troops because of economic

or political or moral reasons. Rather, the attack revealed

itself in headlines such as "Sexual Horrors Let Loose by

France" and "Appeal to the Women of Europe." McKay says:


"I think the Anglo-Saxon mind becomes morbid when it turns

on the sex life of colored people. Perhaps a psychologist

might be able to explain why" (ALW, p. 76).

The sexual

issue is apparent again when he reads the reviews of Spring

in New Hampshire, published while he was in England, and


So there it bobbed

up again. As it was among

the elite of the class-conscious working class, so it was among the aristocracy of the upper classJ the bugaboo of sex—the African's sex, whether he is a poet or pugilist. Why should a Negro's love poetry be offensive to the white man, who prides himself on being modern and civilized? Now it seems to me that if the white man is really more civilized than the colored (be the color black, brown or yellow), then the white man should take Negro poetry and pugilism in his stride, just as he takes Negro labor In Africa and fattens on it. (ALW, pp. 88-89)

Black poets should not write love poetry, even though the

black poet Antar had written love poetry twelve centuries

ago. But Claude McKay continued to write poetry—love poetry,

protest poetry, nature poetry, and nostalgic poetry.

Radicalism and racism contributed to the sensitive pursuit

of his craft.

This chapter reveals McKay's growing sophistication.

Away from America, he begins to see even more clearly the

subtleties of racial prejudice. He confronts new political

and social ideas and he struggles to fuse them in his con-

tinuing search for his role In the world.

In section three, "New York Horizon," McKay recounts

the period of his close association with The Liberator: this

period of his life would provide much of the creative impetus


until he returned to Harlem in 1934. Throughout the years abroad he frequently turned to scenes and people he remem- bered from these months. But the New York in this section was not just Harlem, it was also Greenwich Village, Broadway, the Battery, and the Bronx—the entire city stretched before the young poet. The love for New York which is apparent throughout this section begins in the first paragraph: "Like fixed massed sentinels guarding the approaches to the great metropolis, again the pyramids of New York in their Egyptian majesty dazzled ray sight like a miracle of might and took my breath like the banging music of Wagner assaulting one's spirit and rushing it skyward with the pride and power of an

eagle. •

challenging lines, a glory to the grandeur of space" (ALW,

the immense wonder of clean, vertical heaven-

p. 95) • Just as clearly demonstrated Is his hatred for the

city; "

becomes one of a million, average, ordinary, Insignificant" (ALW, p. 95) . For McKay, New York was America and all discriminations could be suffered anywhere.

. visions are broken and shattered and one

During his months with The Liberator McKay met many

outstanding people: entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Florence Mills; white writers such as Elinor Wylie,

H. G. Wells, and e. e. cummings; black writers such as James

Weldon Johnson, W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White, Jessie Fauset; and black radicals such as Hubert Harrison, Grace Campbell, Cyril Briggs. Johnson, White and Fauset would all become


important to the Harlem Renaissance, Just as McKay would be,

even though away from Harlem.

Although appointed co-editor of The Liberator. McKay

was always aware of his color and pre-determined social

position. At one point, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, he refers

to himself as a "black page" for Eastman (ALW, p. 102). But

not so humorously he recalls that restaurants refused him

and that Broadway theatres sent him to the balcony. In lines

which show clearly the effect of this race prejudice on him,

he sayst

I think the persons who invented discrimination in public places to ostracize people of a dif- ferent race or nation or color or religion are the direct descendants of medieval torturers. It is the most powerful instrument in the world that may be employed to prevent rapprochement and understanding between different groups of people. It is a cancer in the universal human body and poison to the Individual soul. It saps the sentiment upon which friendliness and love are built. Ultimately it can destroy even the most devoted friendship. Only super-souls among the whites can maintain intimate asso- ciation with colored people against the insults and insinuations of the general white public and even the colored public. Yet no white person, however sympathetic, can feel fully the corroding bitterness of color discrimi- ,g nation. Only the black victim can. (ALW, p. 135)

The other theme throughout this section is McKay's

desire to move on. 3 ? McKay enjoys his intellectual world.

His creativity was high; he says "I was full and overflowing

with singing and I sang in all moods, wild, sweet and bitter"

(ALW, p. 147). But at the same time, "Where formerly in

saloons and cabarets and along the streets I received

Impressions like arrows piercing my nerves and distilled


poetry from them, now I was often pointed out as an author. I lost the rare feeling of a vagabond feeding upon secret music in me" (ALW, p„ 114). The section ends with the vagabond moving on to recapture the secret music. The action is impelled when his former wife suddenly appears and he realizes he must play truant again and "escape from the pit of sex and poverty, from domestic death, from the cul-de-sac

of self-pity, from the hot syncopated fascination of Harlem, from the suffocating ghetto of color consciousness. Go,

better than

stand still, keep going" (ALW, p. 150).

McKay during this period with The Liberator continued to formulate his own critical and aesthetic theories. He insisted class labels could not apply to art and that art must be judged by aesthetic, rather than social standards. As a result of this position, he and Michael Gold could not continue as co-editors of The Liberator. He also insisted all people were interesting to write about: "It depends on the writer's ability to bring them out alive" (ALW, p. 112). Clearly, these thoughts were preparation for characters such


as Jake and Banjo, to be created in the next few years. In the fourth and longest section, "The Magic Pilgrimage," McKay recounts his visit to Russia from November, 1922, to June, I923. A portion of the section is a rebuttal to an article which appeared in The New Masses severely attacking McKay;^° he also spends several chapters telling of the grand welcome which the people of Russia gave him. He says: "Never before had I experienced such an


Instinctive sentiment of affectionate feeling compelling me to the bosom of any people, white or colored. And I am certain I never will again. My response was as sincere as the mass feeling was spontaneous. That miraculous experience was so extraordinary that I have never been able to under- stand it" (ALW, p. I67). For a man who had experienced bitter racial prejudice, such a welcome must have been exhilarating. He became "a black ikon" (ALW, p. 168) to the people he met in Moscow and Petrograd. An indication of his popularity occurred at the first meeting of the Congress of the Communist International. 4 " 1 Upon entering the Bolshoi Theatre he was immediately "handed from usher to usher like an object that was consigned to a special place" (ALW, p. 122). He thought that he was being sent to the balcony, as frequently happened to him in American theatres. Instead, he was ushered to the platform and seated beside Max Eastman, just behind Zlnovlev.

Although in sympathy with the revolution,

42 McKay was

at no time a member of the Communist Party. He says, "I could never be a radical agitator. For that I was temper- mentally unfit. And I could never be a disciplined member of any Communist party, for I was born to be a poet" (ALW, p. 173). But he was an unofficial delegate to the fourth Congress of the Communist International. In this section McKay mentions numerous newspaper articles written about him, although he does not quote any of them. Between his arrival in November, 1922, and his


departure in June, 1923» several articles appeared in Pravda

and in Izvestlla. including Trotsky's letter to McKay which

appeared in both newspapers. (See the Appendix for summary

and discussion of these articles.)

These newspaper articles indicate that McKay did

receive the recognition which he mentioned in section four

of A Lfl&S. Way from Home. He was black and therefore unusual

but he was also accepted. He met the leaders; he gave inter-

views to the newspapers; he read his poetry. He received

the acceptance and admiration in Russia which he could never

find in America.

But even in this atmosphere of recognition, racial

prejudice, however, reappears. Sen Katayama, a Japanese

educated in America, who arranged for McKay's acceptance at

the Congress, saw clearly the prejudices of the American

delegates. McKay recalls that "He CSen Katayama] said that

though they called themselves Communists, many of them were

unconsciously prejudiced against Negroes because of their

background. He told them that really to understand Negroes

they needed to be educated about and among Negroes as he had

been" (ALW, p. 180). But for the most part McKay was revered

for his blackness rather than despised.

In this section it is clear that even as early as 1922

McKay was formulating thoughts about organizing black groups

to gain power. He recalls a conversation with the mulatto

delegate in which he said:

•What we need is our own group, organized and officered entirely by Negroes, something similar


to the Finnish Federation. Then when you have your own group, your own voting strength, you can make demands on the whites; they will have more respect for your united strength than for your potential strength. Every other racial

group in America is organized as a group, except


but I can see what

group.' (ALW, p. 178)

I am not an organizer or an agitator,

Is lacking in the Negro

These ideas will return frequently in the later years of


For McKay, the visit to Russia was not entirely polit-

ical. He thoroughly enjoyed the cities he visited and the

people he met. Cities always fascinated McKay. He responded

wholly to Moscow and to Petrograd. The streets and buildings

and monuments attracted him greatly. He says of Petrograd:

"Petrograd is poised and proud, with a hard striking strength

like the monument of Peter the Great, and a spaciousness like

the Neva. In its somber might it appeared brooding and a

little frowning of aspect at first. Many streets were desert

stretches, and massive buildings still bore the gaping wounds

of the revolution. But when one became a little more

acquainted with the city, the great half-empty spaces became

Impressive with a lonely

dignity and beauty" (ALW, p. 211).

But for McKay the people of the cities are even more impor-

tant. He mingles freely with them, eats and drinks with

them, visits their homes. Although he spoke no Russian,

language proved no obstacle in his enjoyment of the Russian

people. In "The Magic Pilgrimage" McKay lists the people he

was photographed with. Many of those photographs are in the

Here again is the destroying canker; it appears even in the

most idealistic society.

"The Magic Pilgrimage" is perhaps the most compelling

of all the sections in A, Long Wav from Home. Obviously,

McKay thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Russia where he was

lauded as a hero. And much of his enthusiasm during the

original Journey is evident in this section. Perhaps in

this section, more than any of the others, the reader feels

at one with McKay, experiencing the events and responses.

Section five, "The Cynical Continent," returns McKay

to Europe and spans the years from mid-1923 to early 1928,

when he started writing Banio. Old acquaintances Frank

Harris, Max Eastman, George Grosz return in the section.

During these years McKay also met Sinclair Lewis, Edna

St. Vincent Millay, and Leopold Senghor.

McKay's criticism of other artists in this section

seems sharp and pertinent, McKay admired Hemingway but

denies that Hemingway influenced his writing; "I fall to

find any relationship between my loose manner and subjec-

tive feeling in writing and Hemingway's objective and care-

fully stylized form" (ALW, p, 25). McKay's greatest praise

for Hemingway comes in these words:

I find in Hemingway's works an artistic illumina- tion of a certain quality of American civiliza-


distinguished American writer. And that quality

is the hard-boiled contempt for and disgust with sissyness expressed among all classes of

that is not to be

found in any other

Americans. , • .Mr . Hemingway has taken


characteristic of American life from the streets, the barrooms, the ringsides and lifted it into

the realm of real

• All I can


say is that in literature he has most excel-

lently quickened and enlarged my experience of

social life.

(ALW, p. 252)

McKay also likes D. H. Lawrence. For McKay, the confusion

and turmoil apparent in Lawrence's works clearly represented

the age (ALW, p. 248). Perhaps here McKay is also commenting

on his own work which also creates "ferment and torment and

turmoil, the hesitation and hate and alarm, the sexual

inquietude and the incertitude of this age, and the psychic

and romantic groping for a way out" (ALW, p. 247). In Joyce

McKay found no confusion or doubt but "the sum of two thou-

sand years, from the ending of the Roman Empire to the ending

of the Christian age. Joyce picked up all the ends of the

classical threads and wove them into the ultimate pattern in

Ulysses" (ALW, p. 247).

McKay also responded fully to artists in other mediums

such as Isadora Duncan and George Grosz. McKay comments

that Grosz's Eoce Homo perfectly recreates the atmosphere of

Berlin; "For me that book of drawings is a rare and icono-

clastic monument of this closing era even as Rabelais is of

the Renaissance" (ALW, p . 240) . McKay met Isadora Duncan

twice; on one occasion she danced for him "tragically and

beautifully" (ALW, p. 290) in her studio. Shortly after

their second meeting, she was killed.

But the section is more than a listing of the famous

people McKay met and his opinions of them. Two things raise

it above a diary level. One is McKay's views of his own

work. He says: "Any critic who considers it important


enough to take the trouble can trace in my stuff a clearly consistent emotional-realist thread, from the time I pub-

lished my book of dialect verse (Songs of Jamaica) in 1912, through the period of my verse and prose In The Liberator,

until the publication

of Home to Harlem"

(ALW, p. 250).

Several times in section five he refers to this emotional- realist thread which sets his work apart. During the mid- 1920' s, he admits, he had found the general approach for his prose but he still searched for the form. When the pub- lisher advised converting a group of short stories into a novel, he followed that advice and quickly wrote Home to Harlem. Then just as quickly, he began Banjo, following Senghor's advice to write the truth about the blacks in Marseilles. (ALW, p. 278) His comments about his writing, as well as others; indicate a sharpening of his critical perceptions. The other significant thing about this section is McKay's observations about the differences between other expatriates and himself. In the discussion he again presents his dual feelings about America: "For I was in love with the large rough unclassical rhythms of American life. If I was sometimes awed by Its brutal bigness, I was nevertheless fascinated by its titanic strength. I rejoiced in the lav- ishness of the engineering exploits and the architectural splendors of New York" (ALW, p. 244). Unlike some expa-

triates who lamented the lack of respect for artists, McKay


felt, "I am partial to the idea of an artist being of and

among the people, even if incognito. The puritan atmosphere

of America was irritating, but It was not suffocating. I

had written some of my most vigorous poems right through

and straight out of the tumult and turbulence of American

life" (ALW, p. 244). He also felt that sex was no problem

to him, unlike many of the other expatriates. The thing

which separated McKay from the others was color and no white

person could understand that problem:

For they were not black like me. Not being black and unable to see deep into the profundity of blackness, some even thought that I might have preferred to be white like them. They couldn't imagine that I had no desire merely to exchange my black problem for their white prob- lem. For all their knowledge and sophistication, they couldn't understand the Instinctive and animal and purely physical pride of a black person resolute in being himself and yet living a simple civilized life like themselves. Because their education In their white world had trained them to see a person of color either as an in- ferior or as an exotic. (ALW, p. 245)

Section five indicates that Europe may have been cyni-

cal, but McKay was not. He continued to analyze with

objectivity; he rejected some people and ideas but always

with charm; he began to create novels, a new endeavor for

him. He was still seeking his role, this time as a black

novelist and expatriate searching to be "resolute in being


In section six, "The Idylls of Africa," McKay recounts

many of the events and people in his life from 1928 until

his return to the United States. His attraction to both

Spain and Morocco is strong. Once again he responds fully


to the cities which he visits; for McKay, each has a sepa-

rate atmosphere. Perhaps the quality which is most evident

through the work is McKay's adaptability to any city or

group of people which he happens to encounter. Whether the

city be New York or Petrograd or Barcelona or Marrakech, he

Is able to Immerse himself in the lives of the people. Never

does he exhibit any sense of superiority to a culture but is

always curious about it and eager to understand it. In Fez,

for example, "my days were fully occupied in sampling the

treasures of the city and its environments; in picking up

the trails of the peasants bringing their gifts to the town;

following the Afro-Oriental bargaining; feeling the color

of the accent of the story-tellers in the market places.

And I was never tired of listening to the native musi-

cians playing African variations of the oriental melodies in

the Moroccan cafes" (ALW, pp. 299-300). But when he returns

to Paris to meet the representatives of the Harlem Renais-

sance he discards his native dress so he can be a part of

the sophisticated urban culture.

This section also reports the successes and failures

of Home to Harlem. One chapter discusses the varied recep-

tions of the novel. He defends himself against attacks that

he "betrayed the race" in his novel;

I thought that If a Negro writer were sincere in creating a plausible Negro tale—if a Negro char-

acter were made credible and human in his special environment with a little of the virtues and the vices that are common to the human species—he would obtain some recognition and appreciation.

As if the Negro group had

special secrets

which should not be divulged to the other groups.


I said I did not think the Negro could be be- trayed by any real work of art. If the Negro were betrayed in any place it was perhaps in that Negro press, • • • with its voracious black appetite for yellow journalism. (ALW, p. 317)

The adventures in these last years abroad seem to give

him an even greater understanding of the world in which he

lives. He chooses to call himself an "internationalist" but

he concludes he can never escape "the white terror always

pursuing the black. There was no escape anywhere from the

white hound of Civilization" (ALW, p. 304). ifi< Within this

complicated world of white and black, he attempts to sort

out the repulsions and attractions which each color has for

the other. He discusses sexual attractions with their arti-

ficiality and psychological problems, with one person ever

unable to understand the other. He finally concludes that

white lovers or sociologists or writers can do some good,

but they can never solve the problems of black people:

"Well, whatever the white folks do and say, the Negro race

will finally have to face the need to save itself. The

whites have done the blacks some great wrongs, but also they

have done some good. They have brought to them the benefits

of modern civilization. They can still do a lot more, but

one thing they cannot do« they cannot give Negroes the gift

of a

that somehow a weak, disunited and suppressed group of people

soul—a group soul" (ALW, p. 349). He

goes on to say

must develop group pride and strength and self-respect. For

McKay the greatest hindrance to the development of a group

soul is the misunderstandings about the difference between


"group segregation" and "group aggregation" (ALW, p. 352). A group can win rights only through a group spirit and a strong group organization. The black intelligentsia must be united with the black masses and the unity must come from within, rather than from without. To end the book with these comments about the need for strong unity indicates their importance to McKay. McKay in the last words of the book remains a poet, "a troubadour wanderer, nourishing myself mainly on the poetry of exist- ence. And all I offer here is the distilled poetry of my experience" (ALW, p. 354). But he yearns for a "great modern leader" to celebrate in his poetry. The poet cannot become the leader who unites all the people, but he could herald that leader. A Long Way from Home is an engaging book, in many respects representative of McKay at his best. He creates cities and their atmospheres with precise details; the peo- ple talk and act with much life; the scenes appear accurate and vivid. The hand of a fine craftsman, who is immersed in atmospheres throughout the world, is evident within the book. As the critics noted, this book possesses much charm. Many scenes are Imbued with a chuckle or a sly smile; McKay delights in puncturing those characters who are artificial or who betray themselves in some way. The enthusiasm of this Jamaican poet as he encounters Harlem and Europe is also attractive. McKay is always the optimist. He expects to find pleasant people and experiences in the new situations


and he usually does. McKay's own humanism is also evident throughout the book. He may lean towards socialism, but he was always most concerned for the people and their problems rather than for organizations.

Throughout the book also is the other side of McKay, the man who searches for meaning in his confused world of black and white, the man who attempts to find solutions to the problems which beset black men. Still essentially a poet in the years described, he is striving to find answers

which will enable him to survive in a society which he accepts but which will not accept him. In that sense this book marks the end of McKay, the creative imaginer of scenes and characters, and the beginning of McKay, the analyzer of problems and conditions in the world he views around himself.

A Long Way from Home marks the movement from imaginative literature to expository prose.

Unfortunately, 4 Long, Way from Home was not a finan- cially successful work. Part of the reason, at least in McKay's mind, was that Lee Furman did not publicize the book adequately. Furmans declared bankruptcy shortly after the book was published; It seems McKay chose, unluckily, the wrong publisher. ^ "Boyhood in Jamaica," "My Green Hills of Jamaica," and

A L2HS. Way from Home exhibit many of the personal, biographic

details of Claude McKay's life. Aspects of McKay's thought are evident in the sociological and political prose written between 1934-1948. This second category of expository prose


Includes the last published book describing Harlem and the

published essays analyzing topics including international

situations, labor conditions in Harlem, racial Issues, and


A Long Way from Home appeared in 1937* McKay's next

and last published book was Harlem: Negro Metropolis, which

came out in October, 1940. Between 1934 and 1940 McKay

wrote many articles which were published in various news-

papers and periodicals. He also worked on a novel, Harlem

Glory, which he never finished. Several of the articles

and parts of the unfinished novel were incorporated into

Harlem: Negro Metropolis.

When this last book appeared, it received several

notices which evidently included a recommendation by the

Book-of-the-Month Club and a review by Dorothy Canfield. °

Ted Poston commented that McKay in this book is "unexcelled

in his vivid description, his arrangement of contrasts, his


depiction of light and shadows." ' But Poston disagrees

with McKay's insistence on separatism and with McKay's view

that the masses desire separatism while the intellectuals

consistently oppose it. Poston also sees a weakness in

McKay's support of Sufi Abdul Hamid and Ira Kemp. The critic

contends that McKay overrates both of them. For Poston,

McKay concentrates too much on the "spectacular, bizarre and

exotic side of Harlem." As a result of a tendency toward the

vivid, Poston asserts that "McKay the poet is still superior


Roi Ottley also attacked the book. * He comments that McKay's portraits of the people of Harlem are generally colorful, but when the poet attempts to analyze the move- ments of Harlem, "he gets into interpretative difficulties from which he is unable to extricate himself." Ottley fur- ther suggests that McKay did not thoroughly analyze his sub- ject and as a result is a "captious critic, allowing the deep undercurrents of Negro life and their broad social Import to escape him." The reviewer in Commonweal believes McKay attempted too much.* 0 Even a good story-teller like McKay cannot describe Harlem in such a way as to appeal to all readers. On the other hand, the reviewer in the New Yorker suggests that Harlem: Negro Metropolis is an excel- lent and complete study which reveals much of the real Harlem.-*

Harlem: Negro Metropolis is divided into eleven chap- ters which can be combined roughly into five divisions. "Harlem Vista" and "The Negro Quarter Grows Up" present a description of Harlem. "God in Harlem: Father Divine, 1935 A.D.F.D.," "The Occultists," and "The Cultists" analyze the mystic appeals to the people of Harlem. The chapters "Harlem Businessman," "The Business of Numbers," "The Business of Amusements," and "Harlem Politician" treat the power or lack of power in Harlem. The eleventh chapter, "Marcus Aurelius Garvey," is a sympathetic view of Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. The last chapter, "Sufi Abdul Hamid and Organized Labor," discusses the problems of labor


organizations in Harlem with great emphasis upon the workings of the Communist Party in Harlem. The book is illustrated with photographs of Harlem scenes and of Harlem people.^ The first two chapters of the book trace the growth of the black metropolis as families moved from San Juan Hill and Brooklyn and Manhatten into Harlem. The first apartment house rented to blacks was near 134th St. and 5th Avenue. Then, although the white residents attempted to stop "the

black invasion,"-' 3

Avenue. The power of money allowed Aframerleans to "obtain and consolidate the new territory" (HNM, p« 18) because, unlike white renters, the blacks were willing to pay exorbi- tant rent and so the Aframerlcan realtors devised strategems to develop North Harlem.

As the black masses were attracted to Harlem, so also were churches and cabarets. Between 1910-1922, the large black churches disposed of their downtown property and moved to Harlem. This movement of the churches Induced conserva- tive black families to move also. At the same time, caba- rets moved from downtown to Harlem, making Harlem famous as "an amusement center" (HNM, p. 19) . But national and international attention did not come to Harlem until the rise of Garvey*s Pan-African movement. McKay contends that Harlem is different from all other areas in New York City, which are unified by language or religion. In Harlem the basic bond is "that common yet strange and elusive chemical of nature called color" (HNM,

black families moved west towards 7th


p. 30). Visually, Harlem is congested with Wes*; or East or North Africans, West Indians, South Americans, Aframericans (the term McKay uses throughout the work), who are servants,

numbers kings, bootleggers, doctors, teachers, and janitors. As McKay says: "Harlem creates the Impression of a mass of

people all existing on the same

There is no

other minority group in New York having such an extra-

ordinary diversity of individuals of achievement and wealth who are compelled to live in midst of the mass. Inexorably the individual Is identified with the mass and measured by

As a result of "a mass of

people all existing on the same plane," numerous problems are created which McKay examines in later chapters. But many of the problems seem to grow from the desire of the elite—doctors, politicians, businessmen, musicians, social workers—to establish a separate area for themselves, an exclusive residential district as well as an exclusive philosophical district. But wherever the elite move, the common people follow. Separation is not possible; all the elite can do is make slightly more desirable such areas as

its standards" (HNM, pp. 22-23).

Strivers Row, the Block Beautiful, and Sugar Hill.

Within the movement to Harlem, McKay discerns three individual surges. The first surge he labels "a people's movement" (HNM, p. 26) from downtown to Harlem when families were searching for space and freedom from racial harassment. The second expansion was "the mass elbowing-out of post-war years" (HNM, p. 26) when Garvey reached his peak of


popularity. The third, not as spectacular as the first two,

was the move of the established blacks up Sugar Hill from

"the Harlem valley to the heights" (HNM, p. 26) . This desire

for separation from the masses would create so many of the

labor problems to which McKay devotes the latter half of his


McKay also realized the immediate problems of the move-

ment up Sugar Hill. Landlords profited greatly from the

desire for ostentation. For McKay, a cultural life had to

be based upon a reasonable group economy, and the "identifi-

cation with the hectic pseudo-renaissance period [the Harlem

Renaissance] of the Aframerican elite was not an economic

asset" (HNM, p. 27) . In 1940 he could ridicule the Harlem

Renaissance with these words:

The build-up of a fashionable and artistic Harlem became the newest fad of Manhattanites in the middle nineteen twenties. And the propaganda in favor of it was astoundlngly out of proportion to the economic potentiality of a Harlem smart set and the actual artistic and intellectual achieve- ment. New Yorkers had discovered the existence of a fashionable clique, and an artistic and literary set in Harlem. The big racket which crepitated from this discovery resulted in an enormously abnormal advertisement of bohemian Harlem. And even solid real estate values were affected by the fluid idealistic art values of Harlem. (HNM, p. 26)

The point which ends this section is one which McKay

hammers throughout the remainder of this book and many of

the other essays in magazines and newspapers. McKay con-

tends that the problem of Aframerloans Is not integration or

separatism but "adjustment." So he writes: "The larger

problem is the adjustment of the Aframerlcan as a minority


to fit into the frame of the American composite" (HNM, p. 31) . He turns to that problem of adjustment in the remaining sections of Harlem: Negro Metropolis. The next three chapters analyze the mystic appeals of the cultists and the occultists for the people of Harlem. In the chapter entitled "The Occultists" McKay comments that "the religious heart of the Negro is his golden gift to America" (HNM, p. 73) . McKay stresses that the organized black church is an important institution in America and that the African Methodist Episcopal Church Is the most impres- sive of all the denominations. But because the religion of the black people is so much larger than the organized churches, it overflows into the occult. For McKay, the rituals of the occultists grow from the Guinea fetichists in Northern Africa, who are the "most powerful of magic makers. Their ritual is an elaborate extravaganza of music and wild dancing and shouting" (HNM, p. 74) . The Harlem occultists, though, have refined their work and become numberologists, magicians, oracultists, metaphysicists, and spiritualists. Candles, numbers, Incenses, dreams, seances are Important to the occultists and their followers. Pagan and Christian symbols are used, and the priest or priestess, usually clad in oriental garb, attracts his followers through a combina- tion of "cosmic mysteries and jungle apprehensions" (HNM, p. 76).

The chapter ends with a description of several prac- ticing occultists. The description of one priestess who has


a message for Rosemary from her crippled mother Is the same description which appeared in a 1939 article." McKay finds the most interesting of the occultists to be Madame Fu Futtam, the last wife of Sufi Abdul Hamid, the labor agita- tor who plays such an important role in the last chapter of the book. Madame Fu Futtam, rather than corresponding with the intense sensual stimulation of the other occultists through incense, music, and color, established a Temple of Tranquillity. She "aspires to create tranquillity in Negro character in the hope that Negroes might grow within and develop their spiritual forces like the oriental peoples" (HNM, p. 80). McKay admits to a greater interest in the occultists than in the cultists. Perhaps the intimacy and the exami- nation of self attract him in contrast to the great crowds and the noise of the cultists. Just as the religious fervor of black people overflowed into the occultist movements, so it also overflowed with even more enthusiasm into the cults, which, for the most part, were heaven seekers. In the short chapter entitled "The Cultists" McKay describes George Wilson Beeton, who with his World's Gospel Feast became the first cult leader to compel serious attention. Unlike the other illiterate cult leaders, Becton was


intelligentsia and the common people. His meetings were "patterns of order and grace. The congregation waited in a

Therefore, he appealed to both the


was revealed as a mystic. During the preceding twelve years Father Divine was developing his collective enterprise. He owned a rooming house where lodgers received free room and board in return for all money which they earned. Those not employed performed household tasks. In 1931, Father Divine was arrested because the community of Sayville was disturbed by the deification of Lhe leader, by the orgiastic gospel feasts accompanied by dancing and shouting, and by the mix- ture of black and whites In the worship of Father Divine. His arrest immediately aroused the sympathy of the Harlemites. In May, 1932, he was tried by Judge Smith in the Supreme Court of Nassau County and sentenced to one year's imprison- ment and a $500 fine. But three days after the sentencing, Judge Smith suddenly died. For the followers of Father Divine, this was the supreme miracle: Father Divine was God and God had punished the judge. Two weeks after the death of the judge, the Appellate Court reversed the decision and Father Divine came triumphantly to Harlem. Instead of being God to a few hundred followers, Father Divine now became God to several thousand.

By the time of Becton's death, Father Divine had estab- lished many Kingdoms, not just in New York but throughout the United States. The Kingdoms provided rooming accomo- dations for $2.00 per week. Like Beeton, Father advocated celibacy and divided his kingdoms by sexes; even married couples who joined the Kingdom had to separate. Since members



of a kingdom were both white and black, sexual separation eliminated some of the criticism. The Glory Homes of the Glory Savior closely resembled the Divine Kingdoms of Father Divine. Both fed body and soul. Both insisted on full collective living, always with the restriction of no sex. The residents of the Kingdoms of New York were mostly brown and black, but in California the followers were predominantly white. All the believers were primarily middle-aged, happy in their worship of the God.

Like the Glory Soulers (the followers of the Glory Savior), the Angels of Father Divine danced to express their joy. His words were spiritual nourishment for his followers, but their joy was physical. McKay describes their movements as "anarchy": "Rampant individual steps punctuate the rhythm. Fragments of every conceivable dance measure whirl about: A rare huddle of Guinea fetishers, an ecstatic Senegalese plunging to the call of the tom-tom, a patter of Moroccan flamenco, an Irish jig, a briefly oblique schot- tische, the one-step, the rhumba? altogether they make one glorious variation of all the dances of creation" (HNM, pp. 39-40). All the dancing was individual; here also male and female remained separate.

Songs were also important. The words may be a para- phrased gospel hymn; "This is my story, this is my song, / Praising my Father all the day long" (HNM, p. 40) or new words to a popular dittyt "Though dark the clouds may be today, / My heart has planned your path and Mine, / Have faith


in GOD, / Have faith always

" (HNM, p. 40) or words

designed to further the ritual of the meeting; "An open confession is good for the soul. / Good for the soul, good for the soul, / An open confession is good for the soul, / the half has never yet been told" (HNM, p. 42) . As the song indicates, public confession was an essen- tial ritual. Angels confessed to former sinful lives in order to show the complete change which Father Divine had

worked: "'I was sick and almost crazy seeing that man I killt, until one day I seen Father Divine. Father he takes charge of me and I surrendered to him. Father turned me


out and made a new man outa me.

I did as Father told

he wished me to work. I sleeps as he

put me to sleep.'" (HNM, p. 4l). It was public confession which established Faithful Mary's position in the Angels. Father Divine had raised her from the gutters of Newark to make her his most trusted angel. She told her story over and over again, impressing upon congregations the supreme power of this little god from Sayville. One difference between this account of Father Divine and of the Glory Savior is apparent. Harlem Glory places much reliance upon the sexual overtones of conversion. But in this account of Father Divine, although the singing and dancing may be unrestrained, specific sexual references are unacceptable to the Angels. McKay describes one woman's

me to do. I works as

confession in this way: "She shrieks, agitating her shoul- ders violently: 'I don't want any man, for the sinful flesh


of man Is as cruel as the devil himself playing with the soul of a woman.' • • • The woman quivered all over and

continued: 'Father chased the trouble of man out of my life and plunged his spirit into me. Keep plunging, Father! Oh,

my God, I thank

was that "the congregation seemed to be a little shocked by the savage intensity of the female angel's disavowal of man. There was a kind of awkward lull. The male angels looked slightly sheepish. And indeed, as I scanned the faces of

the female angels, It appeared that some were trying to refrain from derisive laughter. Evidently the woman was out of harmony with the universal spirit of Father Divine" (HNM,

p. 43).

Father Divine himself was a man of wide interests. He protested discrimination against blacks, Jews, and aliens. In 1936 he organized a Righteous Government Convention. Its platform (written by Father Divine) attacked the New Deal, labor unions, medical science, employment agencies, tariffs, and control of crops. It also demanded destruction of fire- arms, abolition of discrimination in the Civil Service, abolition of segregation, and abolition of capital punish- ment. Father Divine proclaimed himself to be against all injustice In the world, a man interested primarily in estab-

you Father'" (HNM, p. 42) . And the response

lishing peace for individuals and peace for the entire world. In McKay's view Father Divine's success grew from the condition of Harlem itself. The Harlemites are "eternal God-

seekers" (HNM, p. 45) . They

seek a god who

is good and


compassionate. And when Father Divine projects himself as

God, he projects that image. He also unifies all religions

within himself; other religions are but "different manifes-

tations of his Spirit" (HNM, p. 44).

Another reason for his success is the removal of things

which confuse people. In his Kingdom there Is no sex, no

race, no color, no money. These problems may be part of the

man-made world, but they do not exist in his God-made world.

Even the body does not exist; the followers become angels.

On the subject of race and color, McKay quotes Father Divine

as saying:

'I have no color conception of myself. I have arisen in Person as an outward expression to manifest that I am personally living even as

I am mentally, spiritually and eternally living.

I came to unify all of humanity. They all need

me: every nation, every tongue and every people, all the different nationalities and all the five races collectively. My Power Is restoring Unity where there is Division. If I were representing race or creed or color or nation, I would be limited in my conception of the universal. I would not be^as I am, that I am, omnipotent.' (HNM, p. 46) 5&

On the subject of money Father Divine is just as force-

ful. No collections are taken, but an angel must give all

money and property to the Kingdom. Father Divine and his

followers absolutely refuse to discuss financial arrange-

ments. But the Kingdom of Peace owns much property, includ-

ing a country estate. Because Father Divine assured his

followers of happiness and security, his power grew.

One interesting aspect of Father Divine is his connec-

tion with the Communist Party. The Communists and the


Divinites demonstrated together, but it was clear that

Father Divine had the greater strength. Co-operating with

the Communists was always to Father Divine's advantage. He

used their platform to denounce his own dislikes such as

trade unions. The division came when Father Divine attacked

the New Deal, which the Communists supported. Quietly the

Communists left Father Divine's support although he still

continued to call them "comrades" and to tell the world he

accomplished what the Communists advocated. To McKay the

linking of Father Divine with the Communists was not strange:

both movements, exploiting the principle of the uplift of the down-and-out masses, have a striking similarity. If one takes the trouble to tear through the gaudy metaphysical and animistic masquerade of Father Divine's Mission and the Communists' highly intellectualized materialistic concep- tion of Society, one discovers the same funda- mental principle: the abnegation of all indi- viduality, collective servitude and strict discipline in every domain of life with one man as supreme dictator. (HNM, p. 48)

In 1937 misfortune struck Father Divine because he

could not control money. He could refuse to recognize money,

but because it was the important symbol of power in the man-

made world, it eventually brought dissension through the

best angel of all, Faithful Mary. Father Divine, in order

to show his complete faith in Mary, deeded property to her.

Evidently, she became obsessed with possessions and began

gathering her own money from some of the followers.* 7 she

refused to return the property or the money and started an

unsuccessful rival cult. After a year of poverty and ill-

ness, she returned to Father Divine. Her rejoining the


Divinites Increased again the power of the little man:

"Father Divine has accomplished miraculous feats. But nothing he has done has so fortified his position and ele- vated his authority than compelling the humble return of penitent Faithful Mary to his Kingdom" (HNM, p. 6l). When she confessed how the spirit of Father Divine had pursued

her until she was once again caught and returned to the fold, she epitomized, in McKay's view, the power of Father Divine:

"she is typical of the potentialities of the Divine people. Their collective Initiative is enormous and they accomplish practical wonders under the leadership of Father Divine. But when they are herd-driven by his power, they are lost souls. Many observers recognized that Faithful Mary was a key per- son in the Divine organization. But she was a key fashioned by Father Divine. And when that key fell out of his hand,


was worthless, it could open no other door" (HNM, p. 63).

Near the end of the chapter McKay argues that Father Divine exerts not just cult or religious power but political power as well. His Righteous Government has given him a forum to speak on political issues. Moreover, he is inter- ested in his followers' political education and insists that they vote. His political power is also evidenced in his early support of the Communist Party and in his attacks on the New Deal. Because he advocated integration, he was admired by the intelligentsia. His power is clearly illus- trated in one of the closing paragraphs:


And that is Father Divine in the grandeur of his glory in the year 1940 A.D.F.D. He has magnif- icently created his kingdom on earth. He has ushered in his own millennium, with angels of all complexions and races cavorting in his heavens in the Metropolitan heart of New York. His arcadian extension of the Promised Land is abundant with all the milk and honey and perhaps locusts that enchant the dreams of the lotus lovers of Paradise. His size, his color, his race, the subtle combination of ignorance, mystery and arrogance all have contributed to his elevation to the throng of Deity. His followers are hypnotized by the strangeness of it all:—God must be like that! (HNM, p. 70)

In this long chapter on Father Divine, McKay presents

an objective view of the man and his movement. He sees

clearly the need in Harlem for such a movement. He also

sees the power which Father Divine wields. Perhaps one of

the most Interesting comparisons is to correlate this

account of Father Divine with the fictionalized account in

Harlem Glory. The fictionalized characters and scenes seemed

to be preparation for this analytical account which in

nearly every way works so much better.

From religion McKay moves his focus to the businesses

and politics of Harlem. The chapters which trace the eco-

nomic growth of Harlem are divided into businessmen, the

numbers game, and amusements.

Although McKay mentions several wealthy businessmen

and discusses at length the businesses which exist in Harlem,

he sees the "chronic sickness" of Harlem to be the "lack of

community commerce among the residents" (HNM, p. 89) . He

continues: "There is no other American community in which

the huge bulk of local business, from the smallest to the


largest, is operated by outsiders" (HNM, p. 89). The trades- men are Greek, Italian, Puerto Rican, Oriental or Jew, but not Aframerlcan. No restaurants or cafeterias are owned by blacks. Until Father Divine came to Harlem, no blacks oper- ated laundries. McKay attributes this lack of enterprise to the blacks' positions as snobbish domestics for wealthy white families. They would rather work in kitchens or dining rooms than operate a pushcart or a small store. But McKay, in spite of his criticism, contends that as a result of Marcus Garvey and Father Divine, "the Negro Community has been awakened to the possibilities of the small business in the basement or a pushcart in the street" (HNM, p. 92) . Both of these movements urged the black masses toward community enterprise with the resulting economic growth. After thus condemning the former lack of economic growth and praising the new urge towards community enterprise, McKay goes on to discuss various successful Aframerlcan enterprises such as the Victory Mutual Life Insurance Co., the Brown Bomber Baking Co., the Amsterdam News, and the Madame C. J. Walker Co. which are controlled by funds from black Investors and employ black workers.

In the chapter on the numbers game, McKay establishes that "playing numbers is the most flourishing clandestine industry in Harlem" (HNM, p. 101). But it, too, is a part of the community enterprise, "a community pastime in which old and young, literate and illiterate, the neediest folk and the well-to-do all participate" (HNM, p. 101). He traces


the history of the game from its Mediterranean background, its establishment in Spanish barbershops between 1910-1920, its hectic spread in the 1920's to its take-over by racke- teers during and after Prohibition. The fascination of numbers is multiple to the people of Harlem. The profits are large; a winning number can con- vert a penny Into six dollars. The game Is open, simple, and Inexpensive. In addition, a winning number brings imme- diate fame to its holder. In Harlem Glory the narrator states: "The ignorant masses were excited by the idea of their big Negroes understanding the magic of Stock Exchange and working out a plan on which all Harlem could participate" (HG, p. 8) . McKay comments in Harlem; Negro Metropolis that "The Magnetism of the game was heightened by its ille- gitimate link to the Stock Exchange. Harlem folk thought that they too had a little part in the ramifications of the stock market" (HNM, p. 109). Along with the numbers game also grew the science of numerology and interpretation of dreams. Since the game was totally chance, any omen was Interpreted as a number. For McKay the growth of mysticism was compatible with the growth of the numbers game. In Harlem Glory the character Ned Rose, who was por- trayed as an unassuming, benevolent numbers king, seems to be based on an actual numbers king, Caspar Holstein. Like Ned Rose, Holstein was phllantropic, donating money to col- leges, benevolent Institutions, and individuals. Holstein also established the literary prizes for Opportunity


magazine. Both were West Indian. Ned Rose, however, was killed in gangland fashion. Caspar Holstein was kidnapped, eventually released, but finally dropped out of the racket altogether. Two factors dramatically changed the numbers game between the 1920's and the 1930's. One was the muscling in of white racketeers. In the early years, whites were con- temptuous of "the nigger pool." But the change came when Holstein was kidnapped in 1928 and held for $50,000 ransom. Harlem earlier had been known as the headquarters of Garvey and the site of an artistic renaissance. Now it was clear Harlem had an "underworld comparable within its dimensions to the dazzling dynamic underworld of the whites, a world in which the shrewd enterprising members of the Negro minority

chiseled out a way to social superiority by the exploitation

of the potentialities

of their own people" (HNM, p. 105) .

Racketeers like Dutch Schultz became aware of the profits involved in the numbers game, which was an agreeable side interest to bootlegging. So whites began to scrutinize more closely "the nigger pool." The other factor was Federal and Municipal investiga- tions. As the profits became known, tax investigators found income tax fraud. And so the numbers kings and queens began to retire. The investigators also discovered that "the sec- ret 'nigger pool' was no child's play. But, disarming as black laughter In Harlem, albeit loosely organized, it was a formidable parasitic growth within the social body of the

blacks" (HNM, p. 105). Finally as a result of the Seaburv investigations of 1931, the Stock Exchange discontinued the publication of the Clearing House reports; consequently the lucky numbers shifted from the Stock Exchange to horse racing. For McKay the numbers game is not all evil. When the game went underground and became controlled by the "invisible white syndicate" (HNM, p. 114), left behind were the little stores operated as fronts for the game. Those businesses faced ruin, but surprisingly they held on and won new cus- tomers. The owners discovered they could successfully com- pete with other small businessmen and so contributed to the growth of small businesses which McKay discussed earlier. The third and shortest chapter of this section mentions the business of amusements. Before Prohibition the Irish owned most of the taverns. During Prohibition the Italians gained prominence. Repeal brought back Aframerican-owned cabarets, but the crowds went to white owned places. In 1940, McKay comments, there is no Aframerlcan owned dance- hall in Harlem; musicians are paid at lower rates; there is no legitimate theatre in Harlem. Once again black people are forced into the role of giving their money to outsiders. The point is clear: Harlemites do not control their world.

The eighth chapter of Harlem: Negro Metropolis, enti- tled "Harlem Politician," is a sprawling, poorly organized section which begins with an account of all the people who held political or municipal jobs in 1939-1940 with salaries ranging from $2,500 to $12,000 per year. Some thirty names are mentioned. McKay then continues to enumerate librarians,


postal service employees, educators, and doctors. The dis- cussion of doctors leads McKay into one of his favorite topics; segregation. McKay firmly believes that separatism is part of the "adjustment" which black people must make. He argues that a fine black hospital should be established in Harlem. Although the white radicals and black intelli- gentsia would be angered by such a proposal, McKay feels that such an institution would compel recognition by the white medical profession. With a quick shift McKay moves from doctors to politi- cians. He traces the history of black politics within the larger framework of New York City politics. Tammany Hall began the recognition of the black minority, but it offered only indirect representation because the black people were represented by "leaders" who In turn were represented by white leaders in the Tammany organization. Political appointments were usually made to those recommended by the United Colored Democracy (the first black Democratic group) rather than to someone who had labored loyally for votes. Indirect representation often did not reward deserving peo- ple. But beginning in 1917 State Assemblymen were elected. In 1920 George Harris became the first city alderman to be elected. During the 1920's and 1930's such men as Herbert L. Bruce, Henri W. Shields, Charles Filmore, William T. Andrews, and Daniel L. Burrows were elected. At the time of writing (1940), however, the black minority had no represen- tative on the City Council although it did have two in the State Assembly.


In McKay's view the Garvey movement initiated the idea of the black minority exerting its own political force and stirred independent political action. That desire for direct political representation created men who could become responsible leaders. With political awareness came the recognition that unity is necessary to elect a candidate. Using Herbert Bruce as a unifying device, this chapter makes another shift to a section entitled "Racial Groups." Bruce is a West Indian and McKay uses this section to compare the Aframerlcan with two other groups—the West Indians and the Puerto Ricans. In speaking of the West Indians, McKay may well be revealing his own experiences when he came to America. To McKay, the sharpest struggle lies between the educated American black and the West Indian because "The educated American Negro is brought up in the old tradition of special protection and patronage for the talented members of his group. He regards the West Indian as an outsider, who should not share in the special patronage" (HNM, p. 132). In addition, the differences in backgrounds create dissen- sion. Most immigrants come to this country hating those who oppressed them in their native country. But West Indians seem to lack that resentment. They boast of better social conditions for blacks in the islands; McKay accuses them of "pretense" (HNM, p. 134). The West Indians do not under- stand the relationships between class and color in the islands. There, the whites are the wealthy aristocrats; the browns are the tradesmen and civil servants; the blacks are


the laborers. There are no rich black or poor white as might be found in America. They do not understand that a black man may earn as much money as a white man in America but not be allowed to spend it as he wishes because of his color. This color discrimination "creates a resentment of which the average West Indian is oblivious until he lands in this country and participates in the life of the Negro minority" (HNM, p. 135). The other group which McKay discusses in this section is the Puerto Ricans. Their background is also different because McKay says that color has never been a major problem in Puerto Rico. They also have retained their Spanish lan- guage, which unifies them. McKay praises the Puerto Ricans because he feels their "adjustment" has been better than the Aframericans'. Rather than moving into larger and costlier apartment houses, the Puerto Ricans concentrated their money and energy on building up small businesses. As a result the group is largely traders—few professional people, but also few laborers. However, there also Is a large criminal ele- ment. But McKay also finds the Puerto Ricans to be more con- cerned with literary culture and he ends the chapter with a lengthy discussion of Arthur Schomburg, the Puerto Rican immigrant who amassed the collection now housed by the 135th Street branch of the New York City Public Library.

The fourth section of Harlem: Negro Metropolis includes only one chapter, "Marcus Aurelius Garvey," which gives a brief biography of the man and traces the development of his


Universal Negro Improvement Association. Much of the chapter concerns itself with the years I916-I927, which span Garvey's arrival in this country and his deportation to Jamaica. This chapter differs from the ones previously discussed in two ways. First of all the sense of the past is much stronger in this chapter. Garvey was not in Harlem in the 1930'sj most of his work was done before his deportation. But the importance of Garvey to Harlem is evident throughout the book. Frequently, McKay comments that the UNIA caused certain political or economic results to occur.It might be argued that since this essay deals with earlier events, it should appear near the front of the collection. Perhaps McKay deliberately placed it near the end so that he could first show Harlem of 1940, the Harlem which grew from Garvey's influence between 1916-1927. The second way In which this chapter differs is that McKay in 1940 is obviously sympathetic to Garvey.59 Perhaps McKay saw much of himself In Garvey. They were both born in Jamaica, Garvey two years before McKay. Garvey's father was an artisan; McKay's father was a well-to-do peasant farmer. Both young men were sent to Kingston to learn a trade; McKay's career was interrupted by the earthquake which destroyed the trade school, but Garvey became a successful printer. Both wished to study under Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee and then return to Jamaica to teach their agricul- tural knowledge to the peasants. McKay came to America in 1912, Garvey in 1916. Both were concerned with the published



word. While still in Jamaica, Garvey established Garvey's

Watchman. In London he was associated with the African

Times and Orient Review. By January, 1918, the Negro World.

the weekly newspaper of the UNIA, was organized. Both men

also spent time in London during a formative period. Garvey

began his Back to Africa thinking while there in 1912-1913.

Both men were interested in the common people: Garvey

preached to themj McKay In his fiction wrote about them. As

a result, both men were ridiculed or ignored by the black

intelligentsia. Both men were also attacked because of their

separatist ideas. McKay says:

Garvey was a fervent admirer of Booker T. Washington's marvellous skill in building up and holding together a modern all-Negro insti- tution. He was a partisan of the Tuskegee school of politics. And this school was espe- cially detested by that northern Negro group led by the powerful National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of New York and the Equal Rights Association of Boston. They accused Garvey of advocating Segregation and of pandering to the worst prejudices of Southern whites. Opposition was erected against him. This opposition was joined by the small but intelligent and influential group of Negroes affiliated with the Labor and Radical movements. And doubtlessly It was this powerful combination of the Negro intelligentsia, aided by wealthy supporters, which finally brought about Garvey's down- fall, (HNM, p, 158)


McKay, too, was severely attacked for his belief that sepa-

ratism was essential at times. Both were converted to Roman

Catholicism, although Garvey was converted in his youth and

later left the Church. McKay is much closer to Garvey than

to any other figure in the book. For that reason the chapter

is both lengthy and highly sympathetic.


The differences between the two men are also numerous. Garvey had an excellent common school educations he even claimed to have studied at the University of London. McKay had little formal education; his university was the librar- ies of U'Theo and Mr. Jekyll. Garvey could attract and manipulate thousands of people through his presence and his organization. McKay was not a forceful political organizer; he chose to write, not to speak. Garvey returned to his Jamaica (not by choice, however); McKay elected never to return to his "green hills." At one point in the essay McKay analyzes the reasons for Garvey's initial success In 1918. At this time confusion and despair were great. No one spoke for the common black man. Both the NAACP and the Equal Rights League were estab- lished and were fighting for the rights of black people, but they appealed to the intelligentsia. The Democrats had been returned to office again in 1916, but they offered no solu- tions, only more problems. Wilson seemed to feel little obligation to his black supporters. Southern whites claimed they did not want blacks, yet prevented blacks f?*om moving north to the industrial centers. In the midst of the War, America had little time for minority pleas or problems. Black soldiers were segregated and mistrusted. There was a general feeling that black people would never be citizens, but would always be the outsider, the Universal Stranger. ^

Into this confusion and despair came Marcus Garvey with his magical appeal of "Back to Africa." Probably most


of his followers did not desire to go back to Africa, but they supported his Black Star Line. The masses listened to his speeches, cheered his parades, supported his pleas. McKay notes; "Inspired by the response of the masses, Garvey outlined a programme for a planned Negro economy. He exhorted Negroes to trade among themselves, to make contacts for trading with Negroes abroad, to start a real Negro Church based upon African religion, build Negro schools and a society of Negro people. He wanted to create a Negro society according to the European plan, with royalty, nobil- ity, laity, priests, workers" (HNM, p. 151)• His presence reached everywhere—the deep South, the Caribbean, and the Congo. He became the modern Moses, the black savior" (HNM, P. 152). 62 By 1919 the Black Star Line had acquired Its first boat with a black captain, black mates, and a black crew. It was tangible evidence that black people would be independ- ent; they could manage their own affairs. Unfortunately, on its first voyage to the West Indies in 1920 with a cargo of liquor, the ship proved unseaworthy. The crew became undis- ciplined, "raided the cargo and went on a boozers' holiday" (HNM, p. 154). 63 Also in 1920 Garvey held the first Universal Negro convention in Harlem. This colorful and exuberant assembly made New York City aware of Garvey and the UNIA. Delegates came from every state plus Africa, Brazil, Columbia, and Central America. The scene was lavish: "Garvey wore a


magnificent uniform of purple, green and black, and a plumed

hat. He stood In his car and saluted the cheering crowds

that jammed the sidewalks. Behind him in full regalia rode

the nobility and the notables of the Universal Negro Asso-

ciation, brilliant sashes denoting their rank. The African

Legion filed past, stiff, erect, left, right, left, right,

and all the auxiliaries of the association and the enormous

mass of the rank and file" (HNM, p. 155)• In his speeches

Garvey praised the people for their work and support and

urged them to greater deeds.

In 1921, according to McKay, Garvey had a chance to

become a political leader. But he lost the opportunity

because he angered the northern black intelligentsia. Black

people had fared badly under Wilson. Booker T. Washington

had been a Republican with great influence, but with his

death no one remained who could deal with both northern and

southern whites and conservative blacks. Garvey controlled

the black masses, but in 1921 he supported Warren Harding's

view of the role of the blacks in politics with this tele-


All true Negroes are against Social Equality,

believing that all Negroes should develop along

their own social

The New Negro will

join hands with those who are desirous of keeping the two opposite races socially pure and work to- gether for the industrial, educational and politi- cal liberation of all peoples. The Negro peoples of the world expect the South to give the Negroes a fair chance. Long live America. Long live

President Harding in his manly advocacy of Social Justice. (HNM, p. 157)

These words angered the northern black intelligentsia.

McKay explains their anger In this way;

For 75 years "Social Equality" has been the red sign of danger between the white world and the Negro. Southern whites interpret it to mean, mainly, intimate social Intercourse between whites and blacks, with resultant miscegena- tion. The Northern Negro intelligentsia challenge this interpretation. They interpret Social Equality to mean equal opportunity for Negro Americans under the American system of economy: aqual opportunity in the industrial, education, political and other avenues of American life. In the West Indies, Social Equality is generally used in the careless way of the Southern whites. And so it meant the same thing to Marcus Garvey as it did to them.

So Garvey, with his inability to make the distinction, lost

the opportunity to be a successful political leader.


By 1922 Garvey was charged with using the mails to

defraud.65 But the case was not tried until 1923, a delay

which infuriated Garvey's opponents but gave him time to

organize another convention, more spectacular than the

previous one. His robes and plumes were grander; he

increased his noble followers (new titles included Duke of

Nigeria and Overlord of Uganda); he received gifts for his

cause, for African Redemption, and for the new Black Star

Line. When Garvey's case came to trial, he chose to act as

his own lawyer. And McKay indicates that he grandly played

the role but nevertheless his sentence was five years in

prison and a fine of $1,000.

About this time Garvey began working in two new areas.

He established the African Orthodox Church with a black

theology, and he established connections with Liberia. The


Black Star Line was reestablished and a boat purchased to take American blacks to settle in Liberia. But during the 1924 Convention of the Association, designed as a farewell party for the new pioneers, the government of Liberia issued a repudiation of the UNIA and refused to recognize the dele- gates who were sent to make arrangements for the settlers. Garvey retaliated by releasing a report made in 1920 by Ell Garcia, sent by Garvey to Liberia to survey the country. The report was highly critical of the practices of the

LiberIan government and as a result "injured the cause of the

Liberians among the

Eventually Garvey lost his investment in Liberia as well as the faith of those who believed in "Back to Africa." McKay says: "Marcus Garvey had dreamed of a vast model colony in Liberia. But it was Harvey Firestone who realized the dream

Negro peoples of the world" (HNM, p. 167).

extensive rubber plantations" (HNM, p. 168).

In 1925 Garvey's appeal to the Supreme Court was rejected and he entered the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. His followers worked diligently for his release: "His lawyer released a memorandum showing that the chief count upon which Garvey was convicted was untenable. Petitions were sent to the President of the United States. The jury that convicted him came out with a statement in favor of his release. Met- ropolitan newspapers, such as the Dally News, which has a large circulation in Harlem, demanded that Garvey be par- doned" (HNM, p. 170). But he was deported in November, 1927.

with his


Garvey spent the last thirteen years of his life trying to keep his organization together from Jamaica. He visited England, where he had a cold reception, and Paris. He hoped to see Africa but was prevented by British authority. He


organized another convention in Jamaica in 1929» hut his manipulations split the organization and a rebel group was formed in New York. He eventually returned to London where he attempted to organize a movement to help Ethiopia during the Italian invasion. When Haile Selassie arrived in London, he snubbed Garvey. Garvey denounced Selassie as "a coward and a traitor to desert his people and run away from his country" (HNM, p. 176). This whole episode served only to weaken further Garvey's power.

When Garvey died in London in 1940, he was still recog- nized by the American black masses as their leader. Few people believed he misappropriated funds from the Back to Africa movement. Even the intellectuals during the 1930's came to admire his Ideas, even if they could never accept his methods. ' But for McKay, the finest thing which Garvey accom- plished was to increase racial consciousness among black people of all classes. In addition to unifying the masses, he encouraged artistic achievement. His craft and art ex- hibits revealed the cultural achievement of black people. The paintings of the Black Christ and the Black Virgin of the African Orthodox Church and the literary Harlem Renais- sance movement were a part of the Garvey era. 8 "The New


Negro" grew partly from the racial consciousness and inde-

pendence which Garvey taught. Black artists became concerned

with their heritage and with the intense social problems of

their existence. And they began asserting their own idenity

in varied ways.

McKay calls Garvey "a weaver of dreams *


translated into a fantastic pattern of reality the gaudy

strands of the vicarious desires of the submerged members of

the Negro race" (HNM, p. 143), But he was also a man with a

plan for a black economy, a black Church, black schools,

and a complete society of black people. It is no wonder his

appeal was so great. As McKay says:

There has never been a Negro leader like Garvey. None ever enjoyed a fraction of his universal popularity. He winged his way into the firmament of the white world holding aloft a black star and exhorting the Negro people to gaze upon and follow it. His aspiration to reach dizzy heights and dazzle the vision of the Negro world does not remain monumental, like the rugged path of the pioneer or of the hard, calculating, practical builder. But it survives In the memory like the spectacular swath of an unforgettable comet. (HNM, p. 143)

This essay is one of the finest in the collection. The

focus is sharply on Garvey and seldom wavers. The language

of the essay is vivid and forceful. This chapter and the

one on Father Divine indicate that McKay has not lost his

eye for concrete detail nor his ability to choose words

which best convey an atmosphere or an attitude.

The last chapter of Harlem: Negro Metropolis. "Sufi

Abdul Hamid and Organized Labor," explores the labor unions

and the Communist Party in Harlem. In the process of


viewing these two large topics, McKay also discusses racial intermarriage, Supreme Court appointments, and the black intelligentsia. Like some of the other chapters, the organ- ization is sprawling as McKay freely associates ideas. The chapter ends abruptly, which means the book also ends abruptly. The early part of the chapter discusses the Sufi who came to Harlem from Chicago in 1932. He began as a street agitator, attracting not just the common people but also edu- cated jobless youth, and soon convinced the masses that an organization was needed to increase jobs for blacks. Against him was the older intelligentsia, the Church, and the Press, who all accused him of segregation. After the Sufi organized the Negro Industrial and Clerical Alliance, the group solic- ited jobs and picketed stores. After some early success, in 1934 the Sufi carried his campaign to 125th street, where he urged people to buy only from stores which employed black people. He hoped to keep money in Harlem rather than allow it all to leave the area. But the picketing brought no suc- cess and Hamid lashed at the Harlemites, saying that "the Harlem Negroes were folding their arms, waiting for the white folk to do something, but that white folk could not help them if they did not help themselves" (HNM, p. 191). Hamid could not believe in a system of Christian gradualism; he felt that only direct pressure would improve the economic imbalances of black people.


About this time some of the more conservative leaders of Harlem formed the Citizens League for Fair Play. (Sufi was also a member.) But their intellectual, forthright approach was unsuccessful, also, until one department store agreed to hire thirty-five black clerks. At this point the two groups severed their friendship. The Sufi insisted that some organization was necessary to protect the clerks; the Citizens' League felt obtaining the jobs was sufficient. The Citizens' League also wanted the clerks to be light- skinned middle-class Harlemites who had not picketed; the Sufi wanted the black youth who had actively engaged in picketing to be rewarded. To support the dissension, a Harlem Merchants' Associ- ation (white) was formed. It supported the Citizens' League and attacked the Sufi. Finally the thirty-five positions were filled but, shortly after, all the newly employed blacks were released, proving the Sufi's contention that some sup- portive organization was necessary.

The Sufi's movement was also bitterly attacked by the Communists, who labelled him a "Black Hitler" (HNM, p. 196). The campaign continued until, in McKay's words, "The nation was treated to a fantastically exaggerated Idea of the growth of an organized Nazi and anti-Semitic movement among Negroes" (HNM, p. 200). His attempts to find jobs for his black fol- lowers in white stores were labelled anti-Semitic, although the Sufi did not distinguish between Italians, Greeks, or Jews,


Finally in 1935 legal procedures caught up with the

Sufi. In 1934 he was brought to court on charges of disor-

derly conduct which "specified that he was conducting a race

war against the Jews" (HNM, p. 200). He had been discharged,

but in 1935 he was charged with "preaching atheism and ped-

dling his pamphlet without a license" (HNM, p. 205). He was

sentenced to twenty days in jail, but evidently the real

reason was the old charge of "Black Hitler."

Following this episode the Sufi retired from labor

agitation and returned to mysticism. But after the riot in

March, 1935» he appeared once more to exhort black people to

action. McKay reports the appearance In this fashion:

From his step-ladder above the pavement the Sufi thundered; 'The investigation will not solve your problem. Harlem is expecting a miralce, but nothing can save Negroes but themselves. The Communists and Socialists cannot; Republicans, Democrats cannot save Negroes,' It was odd to listen to him all tricked out in his Oriental toggery. When I challenged him about it and his recent reversion to the practice of mysti- cism, he said that there was so much religion and regalia In the soul of the Negroes one could do nothing with them without some show of it. (HNM, pp. 219-220)

He had organized the Afro-American Federation of Labor,

which continued to picket. In July, 19351 the Lerner Co.

asked for an injunction, arguing that the Sufi was trying to

drive the whites from Harlem. The Sufi and his witnesses

insisted he was only seeking cooperation for the benefit of

the entire community. But the judge ruled "that the Sufi's

organization was not a labor union, and handed down an

Injunction against its activities" (HNM, p. 211) . Once again


the Sufi retired and remained with his mysticism until his

death in 1938, He did have the satisfaction, though, that

before his death, the Supreme Court ruled that blacks could

make demands for employment on the basis of color because

they were discriminated on that basis.

The section on the Sufi Abdul Hamid does not have the

power or the charm of the earlier sections on Father Divine

and Marcus Garvey. McKay obviously feels sympathy for Hamid;

their ideas correspond in many ways. But perhaps the move-

ment lacked the color and the power of the UNIA or the King-

doms. So McKay's description of the Sufi also lacks power.

Also attacked in this section are the Communists and

the black intelligentsia. The Communists were unhappy with

McKay following his comments in A Long Way from Home. These

further comments could only have increased the hostility.

By the mid-1930's both the Communists and the Social-

ists were a part of the Harlem scene. McKay condemns them

both because they could recognize the problems but neither

could relieve social or economic conditions in Harlem. They

continued to argue that the problems were class, not color,

and so the solutions should be class, not color. McKay

insists that they so avidly opposed the Sufi because

At that time they had been waging a national and International campaign for the recognition of the Negro's right to life. The Scottsboro and Angelo Herndon cases were the flaming stars around which their campaign revolved. The Communists fixed their eyes on the stars and refused to look down upon the common ground of community life, where the Negroes were carrying on a practical struggle for bread and shelter. Their primary aim had been radically to exploit the Negro's grievances.


Therefore they use their influence to destroy any movement which might make for a practical amelioration of the Negro's problems. (HNM, p. 196)° 9

The Communists fought any black organization because they

wanted no competition in their appeal to the black masses.

For that reason they attacked for so long A. Phillip Randolph

and his attempts to organize the Pullman Porters. They

accused him of alliance with segregationists and of enslaving

black people again. But when he finally did succeed, they

were the first to congratulate him. McKay argues that "Com-

munists and Socialists have always been evasive on the issue

of employment for the Negro minority and integrating it with

American industry. They prefer to agitate about Segregation

and Race Prejudice in general, and avoid the fundamental

issue" (HNM, p. 197)• He continues; "To the thinking Negro

Clike McKay] it was too obvious that the Communists were out

to exploit all the social disadvantages of the Negro minority

for propaganda effect, but that they were little interested

in practical efforts to ameliorate the social conditions of

that minority" (HNM, p. 203).

One point which particularly aggrevates McKay is that

the Communists are not color blind, as they profess. Black

Communist leaders all have white wives, but so do the white

leaders. Evidently they believe a man should have the right

to choose his mate, as long as she is white. McKay develops

at some length the situation and concludes that as long as

the black woman is ignored, the Communists will never domi-


But the Communists continue to accuse blacks of race hatred. McKay argues that resentment and protest are not evidences of hatred; rather "The Negro minority nurses resentment against the white majority as such, because against them it maintains a barrier of social and economic discrimination. It is sound Americanism that the Negro minority should voice its protest and exercise its constitu- tional right to agitate and strive to ameliorate its social status" (HNM, p. 208) . But the Communists use race hatred to their advantage and accuse anyone who speaks of uniting black people as chauvinists or nationalists,

McKay is also incensed with the Communists' attitude towards the employment of black workers. The Communists could not support Hamid's organization or the Harlem Labor Union but it could support the CIO in its national drive for membership. The CIO looked like the answer to Harlem's labor

problems because it "declared its primary aim to organize the disinherited among American workers, the semi-skilled and unskilled, regardless of nationality, race and color, Norman

or Brahmin birth or previous state of

" (HNM,

p. 213). But the Harlem Labor Union was wary of promises and insisted that under the CIO whites would be clerks and blacks would be menials. And the fighting which ensued between the Communist-backed CIO and the AF of L partially proved the Harlem Labor Union correct. In the struggle to preserve the organization, the individuals were sacrificed. Jobs would be offered to blacks, then withdrawn and offered


to whites. In many cases the HLU took over when the CIO failed; it became especially active in areas which were overlooked—grocery stores, butcher shops, pawn shops, and bars.

McKay argues that black trade unions must start at the

bottom with small shops and domestics. The unions must be concerned with the total welfare of its members. It must work slowly and carefully to find its strength. It cannot suddenly spring forth, nor can It depend upon white support. (HNM, p. 216) Randolph evidently professes the same belief because McKay says of him; "Mr. Randolph believes that the Negro group must cooperate, but only with other American groups. He believes that the mainspring of the Negro minor-

ity lies within itself" (HNM, p. 230). 70

In McKay's view

the Communists' biggest trick occurred in 1936 when it organ- ized the Popular Front 7 to fool the world and the National Negro Congress to fool the American blacks. 72 The National

Negro Congress united many black organizations. A. Phillip Randolph was elected president. McKay exonerates him, saying that although Randolph understood well the tactics of the Communists, "he headed the Negro Congress because he believed that the Communists were really sincere when they adapted a neo-liberal style of clothing and promoted the Popular Front in the interests of Democracy" (HNM, p. 221- 222). Once Randolph discovered that the Communists controlled the Congress, he immediately resigned. The appeal of the' Congress, however, remained strong for the intellectuals,


especially those youthful ones. But the Congress made no

approach to the masses, who were not so easily persuaded by

slogans. There were still no jobs for the working force of

Harlem. But the direct attacks upon the HLU lessened as

the Communists hoped to unite all groups.

The attempt of the Communists to infiltrate and con-

trol black organizations is evidenced in the Negro Writers'

Guild. The Guild was a group of Harlem writers who also

were associated with the Federal Writers' Project. The Com-

munists immediately attacked the group as segregated and

proposed a white woman as member because she had written

articles about blacks. As McKay says: "None of us there

who were opposed to a white person's joining a Negro guild

had any desire to wound the sensibilities of this fine-

spirited woman. But the unpleasant thing had to be done and

we had to inform her that we wanted the guild to remain

Negro, She could not understand this. She taunted us with

condoning the Jim Crow policy and segregating ourselves"

(HNM, p. 247), Finally the group died rather than allow a

white woman to become a member." 3

Later in 1937 another attempt was made to organize a

group of Harlem writers. This time, James Weldon Johnson

was President, a good choice because no one could accuse him

of believing in segregation. McKay comments:

At an initial meeting James Weldon Johnson pointed out that he could see no segregation In Negroes having their own all-Negro groups. It was something like a man organizing his own household and running it in his own way. He could have his neighbors in as guests, and they


could co-operate on general lines, but they could not be members, Negroes had the same larger human interests as white people, but also they had peculiar interests which could

be worked out only among themselves. (HNM, p. 248)

But even James Weldon Johnson could not remove the segre-

gation label. Because the group could not withstand the

attacks, it died with Johnson in 1938.

Throughout the essay McKay also jabs at the intelli-

gentsia. He accuses them of little understanding: "They

imagine they can escape the problems of their group by join-

ing the whites as individuals. Their approach is academic.

And the attitude of the whites is to regard them as novel-

ties" (HNM, p. 218), But these people eventually discover

that race is important; they discover that they are "colored

comrades" (HNM, p, 219), They become totally alienated from

all groups because they have allowed themselves no racial


In addition he also accuses them of succumbing too

easily to the Communist dogma. The Communists, for instance,

know "that Segregation is the delicate, sensitive issue

about which few educated Negroes are sane and logical" (HNM,

p. 225). The intelligentsia who are easily fooled by the

people who proclaim social equality have little understand-

ing of the ramifications of such a belief. McKay repeatedly

attacks Adam Powell, Jr., for falling for the segregation


McKay also attacks the intelligentsia for not sup-

porting those organizations which could help the masses such


as the HLU, Again the point which McKay made in the first

chapter is clear; the elite wish to separate themselves

from the mass. Moreover, McKay believes the intelligentsia

to be defeatist. They assume the masses cannot organize

themselves (HNM, p. 228). Nor will they support black



McKay ends the essay with extremely pointed comments

on the intelligentsia and the masses. He feels they have two

aspects in common* racial consciousness and grievances

against white society. But the approaches to these simi-

larities vary. The masses group themselves together in an

attempt to become a responsible part of America, They are

part of "the aggregated community idea of Negro life" (HNM,

p. 259) as expressed by Booker T. Washington, who urged

black people to work together for advancement. In contrast

the intellectuals resisted this community effort as segre-

gation. McKay states further that the common people "seek

some practical way of compromise and adjustment to this

white society, because no individual or group can be happy

living under an eternal grievance" (HNM, p. 255) while the

intelligentsia choose to resist solutions. Finally, the

masses seek to choose black leaders while the intellectuals

choose white leaders. McKay feels this desire for white

leaders is illuminated through the association with the Com-

munists. He feels the intelligentsia were so attracted to

Communism because "they imagine they can use the threat of

Communism among Negroes to wring concessions from the major


political parties" (HNM, p. 252). They fail to realize they

must fight alone; help cannot come from any white quarter.

They also fall to realize the black cause only serves the

Communist cause and can be betrayed at any moment. He says

that "Negroes should think for themselves. It is hurting

their cause when any organization not truly representative

sets itself up as their national and international spokesman.

Wild-eyed, panic-stricken neurotic whites who cannot think

how to save themselves from the bankruptcy of their own isms,

certainly cannot think for the Negro people" (HNM, p. 254).

This chapter more than any other in the work displays

McKay's comprehension of his world. He sees that Harlem must

"adjust its community life to the American standard" (HNM,

p. 181) and at the same time struggle against forces both

interior and exterior for "cultural, political and economic

adjustment" (HNM, p. 181). He also sees that "This issue of

Segregation is a formidable specter, paralyzing to the pro-

gress of the Negro community in every aspect of its life:

in politics, in culture, in business and labor. The Negro

community is feverishly agitated and divided by it" (HNM,

p. 183). For McKay, group solidarity is essential to release

prejudice and to allow improvement. His view that integra-

tion is unfortunate is supported by one of the last and most

forceful paragraphs in the book:

The idea of the constructive development of Negro communities commercially, politically and culturally, should be actively prosecuted, in spite of intellectual opposition. The Negro minority has been compelled of necessity to create its own preachers and teachers, doctors


and lawyers. If these were proportionately complemented by police officers, sheriffs and judges, principals of schools, landlords and businessmen, etc., the Negro community, instead of remaining unAmerican, would take on the social aspect of its white counterpart. Undoubtedly this would result in the easing of the tension of the race problem and Negroes would begin to regard themselves more as one other American minority. (HNM, p. 260)

Harlem: Negro Metropolis lacks the charm of A Long

Way from Home, but it is a very different sort of book.

Harlem: Negro Metropolis does not focus on the growth and

development of a single personality; rather it focuses on

the entire area called Harlem, which includes many vivid

personalities. The book gives evidence that McKay took

seriously his move from imaginative recreator of a world to

perceptive analyzer of the world he found around him. The

search for the role of a black man In this modern world is

clear in this book, but the individual is placed against the

background of a large group of people.

McKay has attempted in this book to reveal the Harlem

he views in the late 1930's. Throughout the book McKay has

carefully delineated those forces both within and without

Harlem which aid or impede the adjustment process—pressure

for room, desire of the elite to be separate from the masses,

Father Divine and the cults, the mystics, the numbers game,

the politicians and businessmen, Garvey, the white world,

the Communist Party, the black intelligentsia, the black

masses, religious fervor, and desire for acceptance. Harlem

was seething during this period with nationalism, revivalism,

and poverty. McKay manages to capture all of those churning


parts. With his eye for detail, he has chosen many things which appeal to the reader. Parts of the book—the sections on Garvey and Father Divine especially—read well and thor- oughly entice the reader. In A Long Way from Home one of the finest characteristics Is his ability to create the atmosphere of a city. He displays that ability in Harlem:

Negro Metropolis as he recreates the atmosphere of one sec- tion of a large city. Like A Long Way from Home. Harlem; Negro Metropolis was not a financial success; it sold only a few more than 1300 copies. From McKay's point of view the reason for both failures was his earlier attacks upon the Communists. He felt that publishers, book-sellers, and critics sympathetic

to Communism retaliated by preventing his books from reaching the general public. After 1940 his poverty increased as did


eight years of his life, McKay would turn to religion and nostalgia to solace himself. The importance of the ideas in Harlem: Negro Metropolis to McKay the thinker and writer will become apparent as the articles and poems are examined. McKay's attitudes towards Harlem and Its black residents were unchanging, only the means of expressing them might vary. Between 1934 and 1948 McKay wrote forty-five articles which appeared in various publications. During some years, 1934, 1936, 1942, 1944, 1947, 1948, no articles were pub- lished. Of the remaining years McKay was most productive in

illnesses and his paranoid

symptoms. 7 -> In the remaining


1939» when he published fifteen articles, some of which

paralleled the work he was doing on Harlem: Negro Metropolis. From a brief survey of the articles, the reader can see that the majority of the essays involves inspection of McKay's world rather than inspection of self. Also apparent Is that the majority of articles cluster in the years 1939-1941, when twenty-eight of the forty-one articles were published. Those years were productive for McKay; he was actively writing and seemed to find publishers, such as the New Leader and the Amsterdam News. with some ease. During this period also McKay reached his optimistic peak. He wrote several columns for the New York Amsterdam News under the banner "Looking Forward." For McKay the future seemed to hold prom- ise; at this time the past was less Important. Thematically, the articles can be divided into five large categories with increasingly narrow focus: interna- tional issues, racial issues, views of Harlem, attacks on Communism, and personal miscellaneous topics. At times the areas overlap, especially those articles concerned with American racial and political problems. A chronological view of the articles which McKay wrote in each area will indicate the range of his concerns. Although McKay returned from Europe in 193*1, his arti- cles on International Issues did not begin to appear until

1939. In February, 1939, McKay published an article in The

New Leader in which he indicates that the "native North African problem is similar in some aspects to the Afro-


fighting European battles. In May, again in "Looking

Forward," McKay discusses Africa as part of an attack on

Mayor LaGuardia, who supported Mussolini at that time. 7 9

McKay believes that LaGuardia would withdraw his support if

he understood that Italy's treatment, especially during the

conquest of Tripoli in 1931-32, of African natives and Arabs

is as unfortunate as Germany's treatment of the Jews.

In the fall of 1939, a lengthy article entitled "Once


More the Germans Face Black Troops" appeared in Opportunity.

McKay, writing in response to the French mobilization of

forces on the Franco-German frontier between the Rhine and

the Luxembourg border, comments that "African troops have

returned to the Rhineland again, fighting Fascism, fighting

for Democracy and the liberation of Christian and Jew."


McKay discusses the first employment of black colonialist

troops by the French as part of the Allied Occupation of the

Rhineland after World War I. 3 The Germans objected to the

African troops because of their race and color, not because

of brutality or inattention to duty. McKay argues that

during the war the Germans felt they should not have to fight

an inferior race; after the war, the Germans felt demoralized

to be guarded by the same inferior people. The agitation

also stirred the British and Americans who emphasized not

"the humiliation of a Nordic people policed by African sav-

ages" but "the erotic implications of the occupation," ^ The

Bolsheviks, in addition, "saw in the Africans vigorous virgin

human material which could be moulded to the Interest of the


proletariat in the world struggle between labor power and capitalist power." * McKay insists that the agitation must have been propaganda because on his own visit to Rhineland, he discovered a cordial relationship between the African troops and the common people, McKay then speculates that the intense propaganda against the Africans culminated in Hitler's obsession with the Jews, McKay suggests that Hitler probably accepted the issue of Nordic superiority and African inferi- ority but "he may have reflected that Germany was stripped of her African colonies and that the Africans were merely the pliant instruments of a victorious power, that would undoubt- edly be dealt with some day. Also although Africa was vastly rich, native Africans possessed no great individual wealth or political power,"°° So Hitler replaced the Africans with the Jews, who did have wealth and political power. In November, McKay also published two more articles» both of them concern Morocco, The first in The New Leader comments briefly that Morocco will assume importance in the power struggle among France, Italy, Germany, and Britain because of its position on the Mediterranean, " The second one, which appeared the following week in The New Leader, gives a brief historical sketch of the division of Tangier in 1924 when the International Zone was controlled by France, Britain, and Spain, 88 Italy also wanted power but was ignored until a program of street terror was begun. After the attack on Tripoli, Italian prestige was low, McKay spec- ulates that the anti-Semitic program in Morocco was initiated


by the Italians In an attempt to placate the Moslems in Morocco, The New Leader published one article by McKay In September, 1941, By this time Germany controlled France, ° In the article McKay ponders what will now happen to the African colonials. Although the Moslems preach that all men are equal under God, McKay feels that they may not be able to withstand the propaganda of the Nazis, The last article in this section was written for the Nation in mid-1943.9 0 This article discusses the three groups which live in North Africa—Christians, Jews, and Moslems, Much of the history of the area which McKay dis- cussed in earlier articles reappears in this selection. The bottom group, both socially and politically, is the Moslems, who have not adopted the French civil code, McKay argues that the Moslems 1 whole way of life prevents them from accept- ing a more modern way. He notesj "The Moslems have remained imprisoned behind the ancient social-economic-religious sys- tem of Islam. And though they groan and complain of oppres- sion in their medieval prison, they seem to prefer it to the modern way of life,"" 1 In contrast, the Jews have the status of Europeans; their way of life, schooling, clothing, atti- tudes make them indistinguishable from Spanish and French citizens. The Jews became "the middlemen, par excellence, of North Africa"^ 2 because of their close-knit family life, their knowledge of Arabic, their understanding of the char- acter of the Moslems, their knowledge of the needs of the

Moslems, In his discussion of the Christians, McKay looks at the French, whose "mentality is conservative to the point of reaction,"93 During the agitations of the 1930's led by North Africans who had been educated in France, the French civil and military authorities attempted to suppress all movements towards reform, McKay comments that the hints of "a political understanding between Moslems and Jews infuri- ated the French colonists even more than the growing native movement, which the French press was inclined to treat with amused condescension."^ In addition, incidents between the Moslems and the Jews occured, evidently incited by French officers. In contrast, the Spanish Republican administration in Tetuan Issued "a proclamation calling upon both peoples to remember their long association and to respect each other's right and customs,"°-5 In several ways, the Spanish monarchy was more liberal toward the natives. The Spanish regime permitted nationalist publications, some freedom of speech, circulation of native money, and some religious freedom. As a result of the native antagonism towards the French, the Popular Front government, before its fall, consented to the suppression of the native actlvitists, McKay concludes the article by saying, "The native organizations were proscribed and their leaders arrested and jailed. Thus the native move- ments and their leaders were the first casuallties of the reinforced French fascists."" 6 In short, this essay supports his earlier views that anti-Semitism was instigated and


attitudes of natives and colonists towards each other were

part of the total world situation. These nine articles indicate clearly McKay's concern with North Africa. The issues there were complicated, as indicated by the articles, but McKay felt compelled to untangle some of the problems because events and attitudes there complemented world attitudes and situations. In a sense the articles are repetitive, but they were written during several years and for several different publications. Throughout the articles McKay shows slight change of atti- tude; the Spanish responses always meet with favor in his mind while the French do not and he remains vigorously anti- Nazi and anti-Fascist. These essays adequately display his concern for world problems as well as domestic and personal problems. At times, however, that concern is marred by dog- matism as he overstates his argument for the groups he favors. McKay's interest in international issues produced nine articles during a five year period, but his interest In racial issues was even more persistent. The first article expressing racial concerns appeared in 1937\ it was followed in the next eight years by eleven more essays stressing again the themes of Harlem: Negro Metropolis—aggregation, unity, and pride. Again, McKay published the largest number of essays in 1939 when he was preparing Harlem; Negro Metrop- olis o


In 1937 one article "For Group Survival" appeared In the October issue of Jewish Frontier. ' This article presents many of McKay's thoughts on racial issues, ideas which will reappear frequently in the following articles and the poetry to be discussed later. McKay believes all blacks desire Integration but integration depends upon the will of the majority; therefore, integration will never be achieved in America. Although a few educated leaders may enter the white

society, the black masses will never be allowed to infiltrate the masses of white society. Therefore, integration is a hollow hope. McKay also suggests that total integration is not wise because the black people may be too easily destroyed as were the German Jews. McKay further suggests that the only weapon to combat segregation is economic aggregation; a distinct group of people should "utilize their collective brains and energy for the intensive cultivation and development of themselves, culturally, politically and economically."' 8 Aggregation, such as Booker T. Washington advocated, is not segregation


people who are similar. McKay suggests blacks should model themselves after the Jews in America who developed strong communities and organ- izations, but who also remained a part of American institu- tions. Black people need the strength to develop themselves as well as to become a part of America. And the strength

it is self-imposed $ it allows a confident growth of


must be economic; to disallow economic strength leaves the minority controlled by the majority. In 1938 McKay published one article in the New York Amsterdam News.99 The article attacks the Negro Congress for sending a message to President Roosevelt urging that the United States be made a "free haven" for Jews, McKay rather bitterly asks how black people can ask for sanctuary for another minority group when Aframer!cans do not possess it for themselves. The second point of the essay is that the National Negro Congress does not represent black people who need an organization adequate for the times, controlled by responsible black leaders, creating unity with both young and old. McKay, near the end of the article, returns to his favorite point of adjustment. He says that the color problem twenty-five years ago was color prejudice with the issues individualized. Now the problem is "of minority adjustment and survival under highly centralized systems," 100 Like other minorities the Aframericans need to find an effective organ- ization and McKay feels the National Negro Congress is not that effective organization. In 1939 in five articles McKay discussed Ideas as varied as the World's Fair and black troops in the Rhineland. In April McKay reported on a meeting he attended to organize blacks to achieve political and social ends. He was sur- prised to find a white radical at the meeting who advocated a new organization along racial lines, McKay sees two reasons for this shift. The traditional Communist-Socialist line was


that blacks should think as workers, not blacks, as a class

rather than a race. The radicals are shifting from this

stance because of the failure of International Socialism in

Russia as the social salvation of exploited peoples and the

rise of National Socialism in Europe with the philosophy of

Nordic superiority. McKay feels that if Democracy is to suc-

ceed between these forces of Communism and Fascism, black

people must play a more Important role. Once again he ends

the article with the comment that the old style black leader-

ship cannot endure the times; the authoritative voice of a

new black leader is needed.

McKay published three articles in May. In the first,

"Looking Forward" in the New York Amsterdam News, he moves

from comments about the May Day Parade to speculation about

Aframericans. U£ - He insists that black Americans should be

organized as an autonomous cultural group. He also Insists

that only blacks can create this organization and it must be

outside the framework of the Communist Party.



The next week McKay published an article in The New

Leader. 10 ^" The article begins with the need for a respon-

sible, authoritative organization to protect black people

from exploitative charges such as anti-Semitism, and then

ends with a direct attack upon Fascists and Communistsi

Such vandals of the Spirit of progress and tol- erance are set to destroy all that still remains noble in the human race in its eternal struggle against the savage and the beast in man's nature. One is aware of the Fascist enemy by the stripes of the tiger; he does not dissimulate. But the Communist hyena disguised as shepherd dog is the sinister enemy that works havoc in the


sheepfold under cover of darkness. He is assid- uous in unhappy Harlem, often prowling behind the scenes, ready to pounce upon every social issue and convert it into an empty slogan and seeking by any means to discredit the wary Q -

individuals and groups that

keep him out.- '

McKay's last article in May appeared in his column in

the New York Amsterdam News, McKay regrets that blacks

could not agree sufficiently to have an exhibit at the

World's Fair, That rather insignificant disagreement sup-

ports McKay's view that an effective Aframerlcan leader must

be found to fuse together the Tuskegee group, which believes

in building a group economy and culture with the Northern

group, which believes in strengthening the legal and politi-

cal aspects of civil rights. The two groups must work

together. If this unity does not occur, then segregation

will remain for a long time.

The last article to appear in 1939 was "Once More the

Germans Face Black Troops" in Opportunity, November, 1939.

Since the article is both international and racial, it has

previously been discussed in the international section.

In 1940 McKay published his second article in Jewish

Frontier. 107 The article begins by commenting that the

Indian Independence movement is the supreme test of British

democracy during the Second War just as the Irish Independence

Movement tested Britain during the First World War. But,

McKay argues, those who urge so strongly Indian independence

should not forget that the "supreme test of American democ-

racy is the Negro." x If America is to

insist on solution


of minority problems in other parts of the world, it must

first solve its own minority problem,

McKay argues that, in many aspects, the plight of the

black minority differs from that of European minorities. The

Emancipation Proclamation has not been revoked; the federal

government, as a whole, has attempted to protect the black

minority. But the will of the American people oppresses the

black majority, an oppression which is frustrating and

degrading. In the remainder of the article, McKay enumerates

the means of this oppression—employment restrictions,

organized labor, disfranchisement, Jim Crow laws. Even the

Communist Party which fought for social justice for black

people "toting with other funny things a black baby in his

bosom into the realm of democracy, has ended with broken

wings and the black baby dumped down back in its ugly old

cradle," 10 9

McKay concludes that Europe cannot solve American

minority problems. The solution must be found In this coun-

try with each minority realizing it must help to protect the

other minorities because "the struggle of any minority group

for human dignity and justice is a struggle for the best

interests of all of humanity." 110

In the fall of 1941 McKay published two articles con-

cerning larger racial issues. In the first he discusses

soap-box speakers who appear to be pro-Nazi.

that perhaps these speakers' position is valuable, not because

the Nazis offer hope for the world, but because if the Nazis

111 McKay argues


won, blacks would be forced to fight. For that reason these

speakers are part of the struggle for democracy on the home-

front. This article shows a shift in McKay's position.

Before 1940 McKay argued vigorously that black people were

not pro-Nazi. Now he seems to accept that maybe some people

are, but that too is part of the struggle for freedom.

The second article also appeared In The New Leader. 112

This article states clearly McKay's belief that segregation

is needed to build model black communities. For McKay, the

only way to gain respect is to build a solid community, as

Booker T, Washington advocated. This article was reprinted

in The Column Review and Editorial Digest In December. 3

Gunnar Myrdal referred to this article in An American Dilemma

when he challenged McKay's definition and use of the word



The last article concerning racial issues appeared in

1945 In March of Progress. 11 * The article begins with the

contention that segregation is but one part of the larger

issue of discrimination. As long as segregation remains the

central issue, the problems of discrimination cannot be

solved. Early in the article, McKay recalls Myrdal 1 s crit-

icism of his comments on segregation but McKay continues to

reiterate the point that segregation is but one facet of the

larger issue.

The article suggests that the problem is largely eco-

nomic. Segregation, which McKay argues appeared only after

the Civil War when political and economic conditions changed


for the blacks, is profitable to the landlords and shop- keepers; therefore, blacks must become economically and pol- itically powerful so that segregation becomes unprofitable:

"The way out for the oppressed Negro lies in two directions:

One avenue of relief is enough political power to destroy the property covenant system which 'fences In* this minority group. The other road to freedom is the ownership—perhaps by cooperative means—of sufficient land to live in comfort and dignity. Ultimately land ownership is the real solution

of the dilemma, for those who own the land 'own the earth'


and determine the conditions under which people may live." When blacks create their own communities, they will cease to be exploited. Housing, food, stores, employment could be provided for all members of those communities. Black people themselves must solve the problems of segregation and discrim- ination through economic and political unity. Then "on the basis of mutual respect and economic justice, the white and Negro race can live in juxtaposition." 117 In these articles McKay's position on domestic racial issues is clear. He advocates a strong black unity movement

with emphasis on cultural, economic, political, and legal unity. He also strongly urges that a new black leader appear, someone who can unite all the factions of the Aframerlcan minority. Nothing in this position is new. He made similar statements about the need for black leaders while in Russia in 1922. Throughout his life he was aware of the need for a


leader to unite black people. It is also evident that McKay does not fear segregation. In an era when leaders urged integration as the answer to problems of American blacks, McKay's courage is visible. McKay's racial concern is exhibited also in the articles specifically describing Harlem. The importance of Harlem to McKay is clearly evident in Harlem: Negro Metropolis. The interest in political and economic aspects of Harlem did not, however, begin in the late 1930's. McKay had been back In America only a year when the first article describing the Harlem scene appeared. In the next six years, he published eight more articles. As might be expected, the parallels between these arti- cles and the fictionalized Harlem Glory and the essays in Harlem: Negro Metropolis are many. The first article appeared in early 1935 In the Nation. 118 This article, which incorporates much of the information already discussed in the earlier chapter of Harlem: Negro Metropolis, describes Father Divine, his rise to fame, and the growth of his move- ment. McKay's arrival In Harlem in 1934 coincided with one of Father Divine's big parades» it is little wonder that for McKay an understanding of this little man was essential to the understanding of the new Harlem. McKay even goes so far as to compare the excitement generated by the Divine movement with the excitement of the Garvey movement. Perhaps the most striking thing about this article Is its parallels, previously discussed, with Harlem Glory. The tone of the article appears


to be neither critical nor laudatory. Father Divine is but

one of the many facets of Harlem: McKay describes the move-

ment as accurately as possible.

The second article of 1935 also appeared in the Nation.

McKay discusses the riot of the previous week, March 19,

1935, as "the gesture of despair of a bewildered, baffled,



and disillusioned people."

was not a race riot but a spontaneous outbreak against the

stores on 125th street. The outbreak was not organized by

the radicals but grew from the labor agitations of the past

couple years. The essay in Harlem: Negro Metropolis pre-

sents the descriptions and facts of this essay in expanded

form. In McKay's view, all the leaders of Harlem want to

inherit Garvey's crown but none can unite the black masses.

So defeat and hunger and bickering increase until a riot

occurs. Like "There Goes God!" this article is highly de-

scriptive, McKay's sympathy is unmistakably with the

McKay states that the riot

"defeated, abandoned, and hungry army," 120 but he still

wishes to present an objective picture of the events in


Two years later the article "Labor Steps Out in Harlem"

121 This article

appeared in the Nation,

between "Harlem Runs Wild" and the last chapter of Harlem:

Negro Metropolis, McKay stresses that labor agitation is

new in Harlem. Racial and religious movements have been

popular, but not labor movements. The article traces once

again the growth of the Sufi Abdul Hamid, who with his

is the middle step


spectacular ways attracted jobless youth and formed the Afro-

American Federation of Labor, From the impetus of this group

sprang the Harlem Merchants Association, the Negro Labor

Committee, the Harlem Labor Union, Inc. McKay concludes this

history of the labor movements in Harlem by urging black

organizers to look out for the special interests of

Aframericans, White workers cannot and will not; the black

leaders must insist on equal employment conditions and then

strive to protect their workers. Once again, McKay urges

(implicitly this time) that black leaders must be found who

will solidify the economic unity of black people,

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. attacked McKay's comments in

"Labor Steps Out in Harlem."

122 Powell accused McKay of

inaccurately reporting the events, Powell insists that to

build a nationalistic movement among blacks in America is to

commit racial suicide. For Powell, the future of the black

working masses is linked to the large trade unions.

McKay's reply to Powell's criticisms is a scathing


attack on Powell's philosophy and his intelligence. ^ McKay

insists he will support his own article until Powell proves

the facts are Incorrect, Then he continues, arguing that the

black communities must build themselves up. Any black person

who does not aid in the construction through better jobs and

consumers' power is "a moron and a danger to the group,"


The article ends with McKay shrilly declaiming that Powell

does not have the intelligence to understand McKay's argu-

ments ,

Two weeks later McKay defended the article again, this time against an attack by George Schuyler in the Nation. 12 5 McKay again insists his facts are accurate. He recalls that Schuyler a few years ago advocated organizing the masses but now Schuyler had changed his mind and views community self- help as segregation. From living in Africa, McKay says he knows it is possible for different groups to live adjacent and each still retain its identity. This article also ends with a vituperative attack on Schuyler. These two replies indicate that McKay did not take gracefully criticism of his comments,

McKay published the next article on Harlem in 1939. This view of the cults is preparation for the much longer section which will appear in a few months in Harlem; Negro Metropolis. McKay introduces George Wilson Becton, who with his World's Gospel Feast preceded Father Divine. From the cults, the article moves to the occult and speaks of mystics such as Madame Dodo, and of dream books, numberology, and strange rituals. The last part of the article recounts an episode in which McKay watched an occultist bring a message to Rosemary from her dead mother. This entire article became the heart of the chapter entitled "The Cultists," The epi- sode with Rosemary reappears with a few minor changes in "The Occultists."

In September of 1940 an article recounting the rise and fall of Faithful Mary appeared In American Mercury. 127 But in telling of Faithful Mary, McKay must also relate the final

1 96


events in the life of the Sufi. After the Sufi's unsuccess- ful labor agitations, he retreated to occultism. Then in late 1937 he announced he was going to establish a Temple of Tran- quillity in Harlem—an open challenge to Father Divine. In an attempt to lure more followers, the Sufi purchased an airplane to reach higher mysteries. But on July 13, 1938, the airplane crashed and Father Divine once again could reflect upon those who dared to oppose him. Faithful Mary had also opposed Father Divine. The story of her defection and repentence is, with a few minor changes, the same story which appears in Harlem: Negro Metropolis in the chapter entitled "God in Harlem: Father Divine, I935 A.D.F.D." Once again, McKay delineates one of the most powerful forces in Harlem, McKay published his final article about Harlem In 1941. In this short article McKay comments that crime is related to prostitution which in turn grows from poverty. In other words, "Harlem's problem Is an economic sore—one phase of the problem of the Negro race in America." These articles on Harlem are perceptive and objective:

McKay attempts to portray the world of Harlem as he finds it. In a sense these articles are not as interesting as some of the others because they repeat ideas already discussed in the section on Harlem: Negro Metropolis. These articles are preparation for the book of essays; as a result they have not yet undergone the stylistic changes which make Harlemt Negro Metropolis a finer work.


The fourth section of articles are those dealing in

some way with Communism.

already been discussed in relation to earlier topics, ' Of

the remaining five, the first appeared in 1938 in The New

Leader. McKay once again voices his belief that Aframericans,

like other minorities, should organize themselves for social

and political power. But the organization needs black lead-

ers, not Communist leaders. In the article McKay states his

objections to Communism:

Of the eight articles, three have


(1) I reject absolutely the idea of government by dictatorship, which is the pillar of political Communism, (2) I am intellectually against the Jesuitical tactics of the Communists 1 (a) their professed conversion to the principles of Democracy which is obviously fake, since they defend the undemocratic regime in Russia and loudly laud its bloodiest acts; (b) their skunking behind the smoke screen of the Peoples' Front and Collective Security, supporting the indefensible imperialistic interests of European nations and deliberately trying to deceive the American people; (c) their criminal slandering persecution of their opponents, who have remained faithful to the.true traditions of radicalism and liberalism. -^°

This article was reprinted in the New York Amsterdam News the

following week. 13

In mid-1939t McKay published a rather long article in

The New Leader attacking the Communist-controlled League of

American Writers. McKay believes that the Organization sup-

ports policy and tactics which "if carried out on a national

scale, would foster undemocratic Ideals and inevitably lead

to the strict regimentation of American literature." 3 Since

discovering these flaws in the group, McKay has ignored it

and he refuses to be influenced by famous writers who are


willing to support an organization which sets up a dictator- ship in literary pursuits. McKay ends the article with the speculation that perhaps his experiences have made him more suspicious than the average writer of groups which dictate philosophy. As a result, "because of my experience and my

convictions I am opposed to any organization of intellectuals of the Left or the Right, which is basically undemocratic, such as the League of American Writers." 133 The third article not previously discussed appeared in The New Leader later in 1939. 13 The article begins by condemning the National Negro Congress because it is a Communist organization.3* McKay also condemns Langston Hughes, who has just returned from a trip to the Soviet Union. Hughes evidently found no suppression of any minority; McKay knows, however, that the intellectual minority is regi- mented, a control far worse than racial suppression. McKay then continues by stating that the Communist dictatorship is far worse than the Nazi because "The Nazi dictatorship has forthrightly declared Itself the enemy of progress, inter-

national culture, and labor as a liberating

Communist dictatorship sets itself up as the high protector of labor and international culture, while it actually sup- presses all criticism and progressive opposition and reduces labor to subservience to a ruling clique." 13 ° He concludes the article by saying that perhaps the pact between Germany and Russia has done some good. The pact confused many people but It also delineated that the Communists were



not the saviors; they too were suspect. McKay ends the arti- cle with this strong statement: "I strike an attitude and with clenched fist and outstretched hand I salute the sickle- and-swastika comrades running like rats to cover as the miasma of their foul propaganda is lifted." 3 ' McKay's last article about Communism appeared in mid-

1941 in The New Leader. 3

It argues that the labor struggle

should be more than a class struggle; it should also be part of the struggle for human progress and social adjustment. The labor force should struggle against the Communists} McKay suggests a coalition of left liberal and labor forces to combat Communism and Nazism.

These articles once again make apparent that McKay may have at one time espoused the ideals of Communism, but he is no longer interested in the movement. During his years abroad he was disillusioned by what he saw; following his return, the Communist Party denounced him. His bitterness is appar- ent as well as his independent desire never to be part of any ideology. The last category of articles to be discussed—Personal Miscellaneous—includes ten essays on various topics. In

1937 "A Job in London" appeared in Opportunity. 13 ^ All of

the material in the article was incorporated into McKay's discussion of his stay in London and his job with Sylvia Pankhurst in A Long Way from Home, chapter 7,

In 1938 McKay wrote a letter to the New York Amsterdam News praising the paper for showing the working conditions of


West Indians. 1 ^ 0 In the same year he also published "A Little

Lamb to Lead Them" in The African.


Early in 1939 McKay published an article in the New York

Amsterdam News entitled "McKay on Spain." 1 ^ 2 The interna-

tional comments have already been discussed, but the article

also contains a mild attack on Langston Hughes, McKay com-

ments that Hughes wrote articles on Spain but never referred

to the problems of North Africa and its relationship to the

Spanish Civil War. This article along with the other attack

on Hughes in "Pact Exploded Communist Propaganda Among

Negroes" 1 3 indicates that McKay did not agree with Hughes'

assessment of international situations. Also in 1939 McKay


reviewed John Gunther's Inside Asia. Rather than crit-

ically discussing the book, McKay took the position that the

struggle in Asia reflects the race struggle in this country.

McKay feels that Japan has copied the western nations and

learned to exploit the Chinese, who suffer more than black

people in the American South, The need for prestige is worth

even more than human rights and so one group of people domi-

nates another, McKay ends the article with the comments that

the world would be much better if no group felt the need to


In late 1940 McKay replied to Ted Poston's criticism

of Harlem: Negro Metropolis. 1 ^* McKay emphatically denies

several charges which Poston made in his review, McKay

insists that he does not advocate economic segregation but

uplifting of the black community, that he does not hate


Communists personally but does hate the Communist program

and propaganda tactics, that he is not anti-white but realizes blacks should think for themselves as a minority group, and that he is not anti-Semitic,


In 1943 McKay wrote a brief article about Lincoln, McKay sees Lincoln as a great hero, one who refused the rad- icalism of either side. McKay lauds Lincoln as a man who not only liberated the slaves but the whole American nation. McKay believes that if the South had won, "this nation might have remained cramped and stagnant and backward as Czarist Russia." 7 The remaining three personal articles are concerned with McKay's conversion to Catholicism. Since their subject matter separates them from the other articles, even from these personal articles, they will be discussed in the last division of this chapter. Several trends are apparent in these articles published between 1934-1948, The majority of them involve interna- tional and racial issues; that involvement indicates that McKay was concerned with issues beyond himself and his own creative endeavors. Perhaps more than any other black writer of the late 1930's, he had a grasp of large issues, a world view which he attempted to convey to his readers. In addi- tion he still had great compassion for black people around him; he was still interested in the dignity of black people. Also apparent is the productiveness of the years 1938-1941, He had finished one book; he had started another and his work


and energy spilled over into the articles. Evidently McKay had a good working relationship with two publications. Four- teen articles appeared in the militantly anti-Communist New Leader between 1938 and 1943; eleven appeared in the New York Amsterdam News in 1938-39. The two publications afforded McKay a means to publicize his speculations upon diverse topics. Many of these articles later became parts of Harlem:

Negro Metropolis; In that sense these articles provided practice for his new occupation as observer of the world. Perhaps McKay's success with the articles encouraged him to give up the fictionalized account of the new Harlem and turn to the essays to convey observed knowledge. An examination of the autobiographical writings and the political-sociological works reveal much about the inter- ests and responses of Claude McKay during these last fourteen years. One of the most important events, however, of the last years was his conversion to Catholicism in 1944. As a result of his own thinking about that event, McKay wrote three essays analyzing and defending his action. In "On Becoming a Roman Catholic" published in 1945, 8 McKay comments that he had thought about Catholicism since 1938 and that Catholicism was always for him an intellectual matter. In a sense his conversion grew from his friendship with Ellen Tarry, a black writer whom he met In 1938, 1 ^9 She introduced him to Friendship House in Harlem, a Catholic group, and to Catholic Action which, she said, was actively engaged in fighting Communists, Since A Long Way from Home


had been attacked by the Communists, McKay felt any group

opposing the Communists was also his friend, *

Beginning at the age of six when McKay went to live

with his brother U'Theo, McKay's early education instilled

in him a great skepticism toward any organized religion,

U'Theo was a school teacher and a lay reader for the Anglican

church, but he was also an agnostic. Under U'Theo's tute-

lage, McKay read Huxley, Lecky, Haeckel, and Gibbon. At age

sixteen, McKay became acquainted with Mr. Jekyll, also an


Throughout his years in America and abroad, McKay

observed carefully the people around him. He says; "It was

in Europe that I saw the vision of the grandeur and glory of

the Roman Catholic religion" ("Becoming," p, 44) , He also


in Spain that Catholicism had made of the Spanish people the most noble and honest and humane of any in the world, while Protestantism had made of the Anglo-Saxons and their American cousins, the vilest, hoggish and most predatory and hypo- critical people in the world. As a pagan I had always accepted, without thinking clearly about It, that Catholic countries were the most back- ward and unprogressive in'the world. But Spain taught me that progress was not with the "progressives," ("Becoming," p, 44)!5l

But when he returned to America he was still an agnostic, 1 * 2

In "On Becoming a Roman Catholic" McKay recounts this anec-


Ellen Tarry said; 'Claude, why don't you become

a Catholic? It is the only religion for a man like

you who has traveled all over and seen everything.•

I said: 'But Tarry, I am an unbeliever, an agnos-

easier for an intellec-

tic ' She replied: 'It is

tual not to believe than to believe.' Those words


set me thinking hard, for I do not like taking things easy. ("Becoming," p. 45)

At this point he began to study Roman Catholicism and its

role in world history. As a result, he says, "I was flooded

by the True Light. I discovered a little of that mystical

world of the spirit that eludes the dictators, the agnostics,

the pure materialists, I saw, too, the Roman Catholic Church

in a light different, indeed, from the manner in which I had

previously vlsloned it from the Protestant and agnostic

angle. I did not, however, become a Catholic, then" ("Becom-

ing," p. 45). He was finally converted and baptised when he

realized that the former Stalinists, disillusioned Trotsky-

ites, and Anarchists, whose ideas and beliefs he had repu-

diated, would, if he died, "take charge of my body. That

thought made me more than ever eager to become a Catholic"

("Becoming," p. 45J. 1 - 53

The second essay of this period, "Why I Became a

Catholic," appeared in Ebony in 1946. x ^ This essay empha-

sizes once again the intellectual appeal of the Roman Catholic

Church. The biggest flaw within the essay is that McKay over-

states his case for the Catholic Church, In defense of the

Church he Insists that Protestants, largely because of their

ignorance of the Catholic Church, are responsible for the

hatred between Catholics and Protestants and Jews, In addi-

tion, he asserts that the early Catholic Church had no race

or color prejudice: prejudice arose only after the Reforma-

tion occurred. In his opinion the greatest weakness of the


American black is "his imitative Protestant and Anglo-Saxon way of thinking and acting and his naive acceptance of the materialistic Protestant god of Progress as his own. For it seems to me that Protestantism is inimical and fundamentally opposed to the material development and the intellectual and spiritual aspirations of the Negro," ** He further comments on the distinction between slavery in Catholic countries and slavery in America and concludes that "It was the Protestant- Anglo-Saxon-American system of slavery which brutalized the black and reduced him to a subhuman being," The article concludes with an idea, which is expanded even further in the unpublished "Right Turn to Catholicism," that the Catholic church is "the greatest stabilizing force in the world today—standing as a bulwark against all the wild and purely materialistic isms that are sweeping the world," 1 57 McKay's most extended explanation and defense of his conversion appears In the unpublished essay "Right Turn to Catholicism," * The article is divided into three parts. Part one begins by referring to the previous articles and by Insisting that he is not a Catholic propagandist. He again recounts the biographical details which led to his conversion. This section also defends his political stance. He insists he is neither pro-Communist nor pro-Fascist, but he did feel the need to belong to something in which he could believe, and in the Catholic Church he could have "faith and hope and still believe in humanity" ("Right Turn," p. 3) .


For him, the Catholic Church has "particularly stressed the virtues of humility, loving-kindness, compassion, obedience


the Catholic Church McKay discovered that all the "isms"— "Agnosticism, Atheism, Modernism, Capitalism, State Social- Ism and State Communism were all children of the Pandora Box of Protestantism" ("Right Turn," p. 4) .

self-sacrifice" ("Right Turn," p. 3) . In

his study of

More than half of part one is devoted to McKay's views of Spain. For McKay, his attachment to the Church began with his first visit to Spain in 1928. There he saw "the import- ance of life in a Catholic country and the significance of


Catholic faith" ("Right Turn,"

p. 4) . In this section

he traces the history of the Spanish strifes beginning with the Revolution of 1931 and including the Spanish-Moroccan struggle. He says that Spain was never Communist-minded and the Republicans turned to Russia in 193& only because France, Great Britain, and the United States had refused aid, McKay supports Franco when he sayst "Now, years later, after a violent, vicious and unspeakable world war during which Franco established peace in Spain, as good or better than that which exists among some of the allies, the victors are denouncing Franco as pro-Fascist and demanding his overthrow* Ah, this is indeed a strange world, a funny world!" ("Right Turn," p. 10), The section ends with McKay saying he loves Spain more than any other country: "Spain is Catholic and not puritan and in spite of its material poverty, it is both

physically and spiritually the cleanest country in which I have ever lived" ("Right Turn," pp. 10-11). Part two of the essay discusses more specifically his connections with Communism. Although he visited Russia, he has never been a Stalinist or Trotskyist or Leninist or Marxist, Nor has he ever "been a protagonist for or against Soviet Russia" ("Right Turn," p, 14). He concludes that no Communism exists in Russia, only State Monoply. True Com- munism exists only in the monasteries of the Catholic Church. He also denies belief in the theory of Class Warfare, "For the Class War is inhuman and I am not inhuman" ("Right Turn," p. 14). He concludes the section with the comment that one of the mistakes of Lenin was to try to force social revolu- tions in other countries and then compares that action with the United States trying to force democracy onto other countries. For McKay democracy is always a farce because It is based on white supremacy. Part three considered another of McKay's interests— black nationalism. He discusses the need for black people to organize themselves to accomplish their goals, rather than depending on white organizations. He maintains that the blacks in America are a special minority and "the real issue for us is Adjustment and not Segregation" ("Right Turn," p, 22), He states forcefully that "we Negroes of the New World are not merely a lost remnant of a race, we also are a lost people. We have no soul we can call our own, for we are running away from ourselves. And whither we are running,

God only knows. Our eyes are turned not within to appraise and strengthen ourselves, but without to the white world, which despises us. Our leaders will sell the Negro people to any group of whites for a price and social Intercourse" ("Right Turn," p. 22). In the last few pages of this essay McKay states obliquely but unmistakably his reasons for coming to the Catholic Church. He had been attacked by liberals, Commu- nists, and blacks. His writing had been ignored. He found no people with solutions, only people who talked about "the Negro Problem." He tried many ways to escape the world he found: cabarets, common people, reading, and travel. But the vagabond who both loved and despised his world finally concluded; "I find in the Catholic Church that which does not exist In Capitalism, Socialism or Communism—the one true International of Peace and Good Will on earth to all men. And as a child of Christendom, that suffices for me" ("Right Turn," p, 25). All his life McKay seems to have been searching for peace and good will and never finding it. ^" His International was not modern, but traditional. For McKay, joining the Catholic Church was a progressive step. It was the "right turn" in the sense it was the correct thing for him to do in 1944. It was also "right" in the movement away from the radicals and liberals who could give him no help and towards the established and the traditional.

He concludes the essay with the lines of a song he remembers from childhood;

'Keep in the middle of the road Though the road be deep and wide There's a ditch on either side- So keep in the middle of the road,•

But now, I remember the song as I contemplate the Catholic Church as a vast world organization of true human brotherhood, preaching the World of the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and endeavoring to keep mankind in the middle of the road. ("Right Turn," pp. 25-26).

"Right Turn to Catholicism" is a rambling essay,

loosely structured but highly revealing of McKay. The essay

lacks the precision or the fine style of some of his other

works, but the confessional style is appealing. In his

agnostic state, McKay wrote finer poems and prose. In the

later years he never recaptured that spark of the vagabond

days. Perhaps the religious conversion is an attempt to

find the intensity of belief which marked those early works.

Although his insistent defense of Spain mars part of

the first section, the essay as a whole shows his constant

search for something which would reward his faith and hope

and humanity. Nothing supported him and so he turned to the

Church, Perhaps McKay's vagabondage, his search for a home,

was always spiritual and in the Church he found a solace for


160 If A Long Way from Home marks the

battered soul.

change from creation of an Imaginative world to analysis of

the actual world, then perhaps his conversion is yet another

change to a spiritual world. Perhaps his conversion is the


The expository prose written between 1934-1948 Indi- cates McKay's wide interests. He was involved with racial issues, particularly those related to the problems of a black man seeking his place in the modern world. But his interests were not wholly racial; he was also interested in international issues, the connections between attitudes in different parts of the world. The autobiographical works focus on his own role in the world; the sociological and political works enlarge the focus because the view is pri- marily of the world. The religious works change the focus once again to another world, the spiritual.

The expository prose introduces the reader to some of the essential themes of Claude McKay. It also provides an introduction to the man and his concerns during the last fourteen years of his life.



Exceptions are the twelve new poems published between Eleven of them appeared in Catholic Worker.

I9J+5 47,

2 Claude McKay, "Boyhood in Jamaica," Phylon, 14 (1953)t 134-46. Hereafter cited within the text, abbre- ivated as "Boyhood," and followed by the page reference.

3 Claude McKay, "My Green Hills of Jamaica," Intro- duction by Bishop Bernard J, Sheil, typewritten manuscript, McKay Papers, Schomburg Collection. Hereafter cited within the text, abbreviated as GH, and followed by the page reference. The McKay Papers In the James Weldon Johnson Collection include several other versions of "My Green Hills of Jamaica." A section on china dolls appears in one version; for the most part the changes involve rear- rangement of the sections.

^ See also Claude McKay, "Boyhood in Jamaica," and Wayne Cooper and Robert C. Reinders, "A Black Briton Come 'Home's Claude McKay in England, 1920," Race, 9 (1967),


5 See "Mother Dear" in Songs of Jamaica (Kingston:

Aston W. Gardner Co., 1912), p. 78; "My Mother" and "December, 1919" in Harlem Shadows (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1922), pp. 26, 29, Harlem Shadows is hereafter designated as HS.

6 In 1946 McKay described Jekyll as "a very wonderful man. A queer man. He was the most English Englishman I ever met, and he hated the British Empire as no man ever hated it. He had written a book about the West Indies, Qfalter Jekyll, Jamaica Song and Story (London? D. Nutt, 1907EI out nobody In the islands knew about it. He was rich, but never cared anything about money. He was a great gentleman but he dressed as though he were a tramp. He was a genius at the piano, but wouldn't have one in his house," Eddie Doherty, "Poet's Progress," Extension, 4l (September 1946), 5.

7 See Conroy, "Claude McKay," chapter 2,

o Cooper suggests, however, that the relation between class and race in Jamaica does explain partially McKay's attraction to both black nationalism and the working class struggle. Cooper, "Claude McKay," p. 80.


9 Wagner comments (p. 219) that everything in these poems comes from the people and takes root in the earth; everything is authentically Negro.

10 For example, "Flame-Heart," HS, p. 9; "North and

South," HS, p. 17; "Home Thoughts," HS, p. 11; "The Spanish

Tropics in New York," HS, p. 8» "I

Needle," HS, p. 24; "The Shall Return," HS, p. 33.

11 See, for example, "Absence," HS, p. 64; "A Red Flower," HS , p, 68i "To 0. E . A.," HS , p. 71f "Flower of Love," HS, p. 75; "A Memory of June," HS, p. ?9.

12 Conroy, "Claude McKay," chapter 3.

13 Ibid., p. 108.

x ^

Cooper, "Claude McKay," p. 9,

x $

Cooper, "Claude McKay," p, 33.

16 Claude McKay to Carl Cowl, July 28, 1947, and September 8, 1947, McKay Papers, James Weldon Johnson Collection,

17 McKay himself noted that A Long Way was the sequel to "My Green Hills" but also observed that the two works display different styles of writing. See McKay to Carl Cowl, September 8, 1947, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection,

18 Several letters which McKay received in the months following publication of A Long Way from Home also commented favorably upon the work. McKay's daughter, Hope, wrote that she liked the autobiography better than any of the other works. Ruth Hope McKay to McKay, August 12, 1937» McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection. J. E. Spingarn disagreed with McKay's account of a discussion between the two of them, but he greatly enjoyed the book. J. E. Spingarn to McKay, February 24, 1937, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection, James Weldon Johnson noted that the book would surely bring attacks from the Communists, even though McKay's own knowledge of Russia and Communism was greater than all of his attackers, James Weldon Johnson to McKay, March 26, 1937» McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection, Edwin Rogers Embree praised both the style and McKay's freedom from dogma, Edwin Rogers Embree to McKay, March 8, 19371 McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection,

1 9 Alain Locke, "Jingo, Counter-Jingo and Us: Part I. Retrospective View of the Literature of the Negro; 1937," Opportunity. 16 (1938), 7-ll f 27.

20 Alain Locke, "Spiritual Truancy," New Challenge. 2 (1937), 81-85.

21 Ibid., p. 83.

22 Ibid., p. 84.

23 Ibid.

2lx Ibid., p. 85.

25 "Two Generations," rev. of A Long Way from Home.

Nation. 144 (1937), 414-415.

26 April 17, 1937, P. 21.

27 March 28, 1937, p. 14.

28 America. 57 (1937). 549.

29 H. L. Moon, Nsw. Republic. 90 (1937), 365.

30 Ibid.

31 New York Herald Tribune. March 14, 1937. p. 20.

3 Claude McKay, A Long Way from Home (New York: Lee Furman, 1937). P» 28. Hereafter cited within the text, abbreviated as ALW, and followed by the page reference.

33 Nathan Huggins in his recent book comments that

McKay found civilization to be "aggressive, materialistic,


their souls. Yet it was messianic and totally compelling." Harlem Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971). P« 176. Cooper noted that McKay "came to the con- clusion that in Negro working people there existed an uninhibited creativity and joy in life, which Europeans,

It excluded blacks while it crushed

including Americans, had lost." "Claude McKay," p. 303.

3* 1 For a more detailed account of McKay's months in England see Wayne Cooper and Robert Reinders, "A Black Briton Comes 'Home': Claude McKay in England, 1920," Race. 9, (1967), PP. 67-83.

the last section of the book McKay comments that

London "was not built to accommodate Negroes. I was very

happy when I could get out of it to go back to pale of America" (ALW, p. 304).

3° McKay later refers to this letter in his own letter written to Trotsky while McKay was in Russia. See "A Letter of Claude McKay to C. Trotsky," Pravda. trans. Terry Fields, No. 72, April 1, 1923, p. 3, col. 5-8.

*•> In

the Negro


37 E. Sylvia Pankhurst to Lee Furman, May 22, 1937. McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

38 The original essay, "He Who Gets Slapped," appeared in TJie Liberator. 5 (May 1922), 2*1-25.

39 McKay had evidently suggested to his agent, Laurence Roberts, that the title of the book should be Keep Going. See Laurence Roberts to McKay, June 15, 1936, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection. Another considered title was Shake That Thing. See William Bradley to McKay, undated, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

^° Eugene Gordon, "Negro Novelists and the Negro Masses," New Masses. 8 (June 1933), 16-20.

1 The Fourth Congress of the Communist International began on November 15, 1922, and lasted a month. Cooper, "Claude McKay," p. 113.


^ Bronz notes that in Communism McKay hoped not for

"the maximum production of an industrial society for the maximum happiness of all" but "racial equality and a return to the soil." McKay thought Communism would free millions of city-workers to go back to the soil. Bronz, pp. 76-77*

43 The collection of photos includes the photograph of

a painting of Pushkin which Yasinky Yeronlmarltch tore from

a volume of Pushkin and gave to McKay. See ALW, pp. 169-170.

^ Perhaps this line explains McKay's admiration for

"The Hound of Heaven"; the black man is pursued by a very different sort of "hound."

**5 s e e

Claude McKay to Carl Cowl,

February 12, 19*17,

McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.


McKay to Howard C. Anderson, December 3, 1940,

McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

** 7 New Republic. 103 (1940), 732.


See McKay's reply to Poston in "Claude McKay Replies

to Poston on Solution of Negro Problems," The New Leader.

December 7, 1940, p. 5. ^9 New York Times. November 24, 1940, p. 5.

50 33 (November 15, 1940), 108.


D The original cover of Harlem: Negro Metropolis carried a photograph of two Harlem dandies, Freeman Sawyer and John A. Fortune. McKay had selected the photo from a collection submitted by a Harlem photographer who claimed he had received permission from the two young men to use their photograph in any way he wished. When the book appeared, however, the two young men brought suit against Claude McKay and E. P. Dutton and Co. for $50,000 for "defamation of character." All copies of the book were

removed from stores and a different cover substituted with

a photograph

November 12, 1940, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection and Statement of Claude McKay, November 19, 19*10, McKay Papers, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

of Harlem.

See E. P. Dutton to McKay,

* 3 Claude McKay, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (New York:

E. P. Dutton and Co., 1940), p. 17. Hereafter cited within the text, abbreviated as HNM, and followed by the page references.

54 p or McKay, "adjustment" means the recognition of group characteristics and the growth of confidence in those characteristics. The minority must fuse itself together under a common leader with a strong concern for all parts of the group. Then the group can retain its own identity within the larger American framework.

55 Claude McKay, "Mystic Happiness in Harlem," The American Mercury. 47 (1939), 444-450.

* In preparation for an earlier article, McKay inter-

viewed Father Divine to ask about social problems and racial

relations. Father Divine replied; "'I have no color con- ception of myself. If I were representing race or creed or

color or nation, I would be limited in my conception of the universal. I would not be as I am omnipotent.'" from "There Goes God! The Story of Father Divine and His Angels," Nation. 140 (1935), 153. When asked about his plan for the realization of peace and understanding between the masses and the classes, Father Divine replied: "'I am representa- tive of the universal through the co-operation of mind and spirit in which is reality. I cannot deviate from that fundamental. The masses and the classes must transcend the average law and accept me. And governments will in time come to recognize my law'" ("There Goes God," p. 153). Glory Savior in Harlem Glory spoke these words: "'I have no

race and I know

I were sentimental to the

differential of the species in the conglomeration of human- ity, I would be detrimental to the manifestation of glory.'" Haylem Glorv. unpublished manuscript, McKay Papers, Schomburg Collection, p. 129.




* 7 McKay also discusses the story of Faithful Mary in an earlier article "Father Divine's Rebel Angel," The American Mercury. 51 (19*10), 73-80.

See, for example, HNM, p. 92, which discusses

Garvey's positive effect on small businesses.

See Claude

McKay, "Garvey as a Negro Moses," Thq Liberator. 5 (April 1922), 8-9, although McKay did note that the Negro World

59 McKay was not always so sympathetic.

was "the best edited

60 Hugglns notes (p. 22) that in Booker T. Washington's words Garvey heard "self-help and racial independence, and his mind transformed that into militancy and aggressive black nationalism."

01 See Louis Jolyon West, "The Psychobiology of Racial Violence," Mixed Bag: Artifacts from the Contemporary Culture. ed. by Helene D. Hutchinson (Glenvlew: Scott Foresman Co., 1970), pp. 162-171. West discusses the func- tion of outsiders in our culture and suggests some reasons why black people have become and remained the outsider or Universal Stranger.

colored weekly


New York" (p. 9) .

62 Garvey preached confidence and action rather than the self doubt suggested by the black intellectuals. Huggins, p. 44.

63 Edmund Cronon in Black Moses: The Storv of Marcus Garvey a M th£ Universal Negro Improvement Association (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955), PP« 80-83, tells a slightly different story. The Yarmouth sailed to the West Indies in late 1919 and arrived back in New York in January, 1920. The voyage was both risky and ridiculous because of the unseaworthiness of the ship and the inexpe- rience of the crew. On January 17, 1920, the Yarmouth loaded on a cargo of whiskey to take to Cuba. Eighty miles out, the ship began sinking and the cargo was jettisoned. In his book Cronon tells in detail the history of the Black Star Line with its succession of worthless ships.


See also the Invisible Man's problem with this

phrase, "social equality." Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (New York: New American Library, 1952), p. 33* Cronon (pp. 191-195) also discusses Garvey's views of racial purity.

°* Cooper suggests (pp. 80-83) that by 1922 McKay had given up on Garvey because his program advocated capitalism rather than class consciousness.


In August of 1929, U'Theo McKay wrote to his brother Claude of Garvey. U'Theo mentioned the big convention but was more concerned about the harm Garvey was doing himself. U'Theo concluded that because Garvey did not utilize his opportunities well, the former leader had become an enemy. U'Theo McKay to Claude McKay, August 2, 1929, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

67 For many intellectuals, Garvey's approach was sim- plistic; he ignored the complexities which separate people — a technique which, however, captured the masses. Huggins,

p. 44.

Bronz comments (p. 15) , however, that Garvey's move-

ment attracted only lower-class Negroes, and none of the Harlem Renaissance writers.

6 ° Angelo Herndon's autobiography Let Me. Live (New York:

Random House, 1937) was published simultaneously with A Long Way from Home. The two books frequently were reviewed in adjoining columns.

70 Randolph in a letter to McKay praised McKay's ideas on the black liberation movement. A. Phillip Randolph to McKay, April 4, 1941, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.



In a letter McKay stated that much of his disap-

pointment with the Communist Party grew from his hostility to the Red Purges and his great suspicion of the Popular Front. He said that an unscrupulous dictatorship could never be trusted to lead a coalition of democratic forces. McKay to Russell Gilmore, March 5, 19*11, McKay Letters,

James Weldon Johnson Collection.

72 McKay represented the Nation at the National Negro


7 3 The white woman was Helen Boardman; McKay exchanged letters with her in the summer of 1937* He tried to convince her of the necessity for the group to remain black. When she continued to seek admittance, McKay wrote a harsh indictment of her and her philosophies. See the Boardman correspond- ence in the McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

7 Throughout these essays McKay seems to believe black people have brought many problems upon themselves. Through separation of the masses from the elite, black people have allowed themselves to be enslaved. Striving for white standards and refusing criticism are other forms of enslave- ment. In short, McKay believes that white society cannot be blamed for all that befalls black people.

7 * During the 1940's McKay, especially in his letters, exhibited symptoms suggestive of the paranoid trend syndrome including great self-reference, delusions of grandeur, and persecution. See Benjamin B. Wolman, Handbook of Clinical Psychology (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), pp. 1002-1006, for further discussion of the paranoid trend symptoms. Wolman even suggests that excessive religiosity is part of the paranoid trend. The letters of McKay certainly do not reveal enough information to identify McKay's paranoia as of the hospitable variety including bizarre thinking and communicating and hallucinations, but he was morose, suspi- cious, resentful, and hostile. It is clear that stresses and frustrations heightened during those later years. His illnesses increased; the Communists attacked him; the black intelligentsia ignored him; the white radicals were no longer sympathetic; his writings were not recognized. In order to adapt to those frustrations, McKay seemed to create a private world in which he maintained his self by insisting on persecution in one form or another. Since he did not know why he was 111, poor, and rejected by many around him, he created a reason. That known danger then became more acceptable than the unknown. In his letters to Carl Cowl during the 1940's, McKay wrote that he was spied upon and that his mail was opened. He repeatedly cautioned Cowl not to reveal information about proposed publications because Communists, Catholics, and intellectuals were hostile towards McKay. See the entire McKay correspondence to Carl Cowl, especially those letters dated February 13, 1947. March 13, 1947, May 16, 1947, November 1, 1947, February 13, 1948, McKay Letters, James Weldon Johnson Collection.

7o Claude McKay, "Moroccan African Colonies Graveyard of Spanish Government, Threaten French Liberty," The New Leader. February 18, 1939, P. 2.

77 Claude McKay, "McKay on Spain," New York Amsterdam News. February 25, 1939, p. 7«


Claude McKay, "Looking Forward," New York Amsterdam News. April 22, 1939, p. 11. "9 Claude McKay, "Looking Forward," New York Amsterdam News. May 20, 1939, p. 13.

On Claude McKay, "Once More the Germans Face Black Troops, Opportunity. 17, (1939), 324-328.

81 The Versailles Treaty stipulated that the whole left bank of the Rhine and a belt of land 50 kilometers broad on the right bank should remain a demilitarized zone. French troops, including Senegalese, West Indian, and Moroccan, were involved in observing and preventing German rearmament. The troops were withdrawn in 1930, just a few months before the Nazi Party came to power. In March 1936, the German Army

marched Into the Rhineland, ostensibly in response to the Franco-Soviet treaty ratified shortly before by France. When Germany Invaded Poland In September, 1939, and left only twenty-three divisions in the West, France quickly mobilized its forces to move into the Rhineland. Gordon Wright, France in Modern Times: 1760 to the Present

(New York: Rand McNally and Co., 1966), pp. *104-408, 496-

498. G[eorge] C £atlett]

Encvlopaedia Britannioa. 1968.

MCarshalJl, "World War II,"

82 "Once More the Germans

," p. 328.

8 3 This material was familiar to McKay because he had considered it during his visits to London and the Soviet Union.


"Once More the Germans . • . ," p. 327.

85 Ibid.