Augusta Savage: the modernism sculptured in the clay


Gamin 1921, by Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage, known as a famous sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, used her hands and clay to demonstrate modernism and to lead the human rights movement. Augusta was born in Florida and was interested in sculpture. However, sculpture could not provide her a stable living in Florida since she was a single mother. Augusta moved to Harlem, New York, which provided her more opotunities to develop her sculpturing skills; she was then chosen to study sculpture in Paris. The French, however, denied her application based on her race, but her amazing skills attracted famous sculptors to teach her. After August’s hard workin, she became the first African American elected to the National Association of Women Painters as well as Sculptors and the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center.

One of her famous sculpture is called Gamin, which is a portrait of a black boy in 1920s. Gamin, as a name, is commonly applied to street urchins who are often the subjects of paintings and literature in the nineteenth century. If looking closely, we can tell this boy is crying. This piece of art is not simply a boy, but also represent something deeply meaningful: if thinking about the 1920s, you can tell it was the time of racial segregation in America. The crying face of the black boy is a symbol of the whole black people society, who was born to be treated differently and had unequal rights to white people. As a representative of modernism, this piece of art also portrays a sense of loneliness and alienation. Without audience’s engagement, the detail of crying is really hard to understand. This sculpture also requires reader’s decoding of fragmentary content, as an element of Modernism.

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Troy and Jackie Robinson- Similar Talents at Different Times

// times during the play Troy mentions that he is more talented than Jackie Robinso. but he was born at the wrong time. Troy insists that if he was born during the time of Jackie Robinson, he could have played professionally. Sadly, since Troy was born before integration of baseball was established, all he knew was the Negro Leagues. Troy feels a sense of alienation from this as he constantly swears to his family that if he were born later he could have been a more successful athlete than Robinson. His family does not seem to entirely believe this notion, but they continue to listen to Troy’s opinions.
Professional African American baseball players in the late 1800s were forced to play on all- black teams. There were various baseball managers and owners of Major League teams that wanted to have African Americans play for their teams. To get around segregation rules, some teams listed black players that they wanted to have on their team as Hispanic or Native American (Americas Library). Regardless of the efforts to include African American players on white Major League teams, baseball continued to be segregated into the 1940s. In 1945, Jackie Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League. Baseball policies that separated black and white athletes changed after Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That said, Jackie did not have an easy time playing in the white league, and he was often threatened, cleated, and harassed by both players and fans. Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, called it baseball’s “great experiment” as he was aware that the African American who would be chosen to play on a major league team with white people would have to be a strong individual who is able to avoid confrontation even when insulted with vicious comments from teammates and fans. Then, on October 23, 1945 Jackie Robinson officially signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. There were various reactions to Robinson’s addition to the Dodgers ranging from enthusiasm to hostile death threats by baseball fans and players. Through all of this, Jackie had incredible baseball ability that led him to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1947. He had a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases leading to Robinson winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1949. Later on in his career, in 1962, Robinson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Americas library). African American sportswriters, who had preached integration in baseball for many years, focused on Robinson and other African American athletes. Robinson’s success on the Brooklyn Dodgers inspired the integration of other professional sports such as football, basketball, and tennis. The Negro Leagues experienced a great decline in participation after they began to lose players, spectators, and reporters as players started to play for integrated Major League teams (history). Jackie Robinson was not only a successful baseball player, but he was also successful in breaking the color barrier in sports.

If Troy had been born at the time of Jackie Robinson, could he have also broken the color barrier, or was it the courage and talent of Jackie Robinson that helped integration? According to Troy, all that was needed was one determined and talented athlete to integrate black players into white Major League teams, and Jackie Robinson just happened to be born at just the right time.

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The Dark Side of the Renaissance


panel 53

“Panel 53” by Jacob Lawrence

Although using a darker tone than the typical uplifting and free tone of the time period, “Panel 53” of Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series” exemplifies very well the Harlem Renaissance and some of the modernist themes and feelings that were associated with it. First, as the Harlem Renaissance had a large artistic basis in modernism, it is important to understand the biggest modernist theme being portrayed in the painting: alienation. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of joy and community, however, what Jacob Lawrence wants to portray in this painting is the small feelings that were not seen in other works of art and literature. He is showing the after-effects of the Renaissance and how all good things must come to an end. After the economic boom in the 1920s, there were a large amount of people who profited very heavily, including some black people. The use of this factual information in the painting is not just to point out that this did occur, but to show that after the boom and after the Renaissance with all of its joy and riches, reality, including isolation and depression, had to set in sooner or later. Lawrence portrays the side of the Renaissance that nobody wanted to mention, about how when the 1920s boom turned into the Great Depression, all of the fancy clothes, the fantastic worlds people built, and the lavish lifestyles they led, all faded away, leaving sour emotions people would hide behind their top hats, as seen in the painting. Lawrence very interestingly uses isolation to make the point not about the Renaissance but about the effect that it left on people and how they felt once they had very little left to find joy in.


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Modernism in MLK’s Final Speech

Martin Luther King Jr. had a major voice in the Civil Rights Movement.  He showed his people that they had the power to fight for what they believe in and equality. In his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, he addresses his support for the sanitation workers at Mason Temple on strike. This speech would be his last, coming a day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.  Although the speech is to workers, it correlates to all of the people during that time that suffering inequality. The Harlem Renaissance and Modernism both correspond quite well with another in King’s story. An important element of modernism pertaining to MLK’s fight and speeches is the loneliness that him and his people felt against society. MLK was a minister, and preached the word of God, and ultimately his dream. The society wanted segregation, while Martin Luther King Jr. has a dream of people coming together regardless of race. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” MLK was not going to give up and the black people persevered through these tough times. His message still lives on to this day with the fight for equality.

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Jacob Lawrence Depiction of Harlem


Panel 60 in “The Great Migration” series

Harlem, a neighborhood of cultural diversity and immense pride in their heritage was, at times, a tumultuous place to be.  Jacob Lawrence is an American artist that displayed the up and coming attitude of this previously displaced peoples inhabiting mid 20th century Harlem.  Lawrence lived during the Great Migration, the Great Depression, and the Harlem Renaissance.  Lawrence became a storyteller of the motifs that made Harlem breathe.  Jacob Lawrence is most well-known for paintings depicting the struggles of the black suffrage.  He sprung into the limelight after debuting his work called The Migration Series in 1941.  This collection of pieces gave Lawrence fame in what seemed to be a matter of weeks.

Jacob Lawrence portrayed the strife of the African American migrants from the south.  His meticulously crafted modernistic paintings to show how the fruit of the Great Migration was not bared immediately by the residents of Harlem.  They had to fight for their civil rights and for their respect in society.  Housing was a serious problem, as Lawrence showed us in And the Migrants Keep Coming.  The migration left the south in huge numbers, this meant they arrived with great numbers.  Thus leaving the neighborhood of Harlem to be grappled on by the supposed leaders of the area.  Corruption and guilt filled the streets of Harlem for some time, this gave the area character while also making it a place where change could be sprouted with the help of the right people.  That is how Jacob Lawrence improved Harlem with his modernistic painting.  He brought out a medium for people to formulate their thoughts.


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We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!



From James Weldon Johnson’s We wear the mask. Reader can know the condition at that time period. Africa-Americans lived really hard. If they want to talk or do something with white people, they have to were a mask so white will treat them little bit better. If they do not wear the mask white people will still treat them really bad. Only when they are facing Africa-American they can take off the mask. That is the real of Africa-American, but they have to wear the mask for life.

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The Great Migration

The Great Migration and Fences

The Great Migration was the movement of African-Americans from the Southern States, such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, to Northern, Western or Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Illinois, New York, and Philadelphia. Most Historians divide the Great Migration into two flows. One flow was from 1910-1940 and 1940-1970; both flows broke out when wars were emerging. The second migration (1940-1970) was much greater than the first migration (1910-1940). During the first migration “only” one million people migrated; however, during the second, five million migrated. The reasons behind the big migration were due between push and pull factors. The push factors which were a force that drove the African Americans to move to the north were poor economic and social conditions in the South. After the new reconstruction failed segregation laws known as the Jim Crow laws were established. The Jim Crow laws enforced color segregation in many places, including schools and transportation. It was coded in state and federal laws, the most famous one was the “separate but equal” decision in the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. Due to the segregation laws, many violent supremacist groups established, the most well-known is the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). The KKK were violent against African Americans. They lynched, beat up and degraded African Americans. Other economic inequalities include sharecropping and farm failure. During reconstruction expanding labor force and population developed, over labor was caused which caused many black families to rent small amounts of land, in return they had to give a portion of their crops to their white landowners.The economic pull factors were factors that attracted the African Americans. In the north, the economic and social conditions were better than in the South. This fact attracted many to move up north. The better northern conditions, such as wages and living conditions, were spread in many black newspapers, such as  The Chicago Defender.  As in the picture below, the newspaper promotes with capturing titles that African Americans have a chance and future in the North. In the picture, The Chicago Defender highlights

Front page of The Chicago Defender

that there are 500 new jobs open for blacks. This title is bold and directly attracts the attention of the reader. In addition, as WWI broke out there was a need for industrial workers, which African Americans saw as their opportunity for a life full of freedom.However, the escape of racism in the north had its limits. The life for African Americans was harsh in big cities, such as Chicago and New York. Moreover, the black population grew in those cities. In New York, it was by 66% and in Detroit, it was by 661%. The arrivals had difficulties finding a job and housing due to competitive conditions. Although segregation was illegal in the North, it was still widely spread. Many moved into black only communities which were known as the ghettos. With a large number of migrants, a new culture established. The Harlem Renaissance was a New African American Movement; it expressed artistically, literally and intellectually the African American identity. This era also increased the want and need for a political movement which represented the African Americans and their rights.


African Americans waiting at a train station

In the Fences by August Wilson the main characters Troy and Bono lived in black only neighborhoods in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. During the Great Migration, Bono´s dad moved north to flew the slave-like conditions in the south, doing that he abandons his son, which made Bono decide to not become a father. Additionally, do trains in Fences represent change. Like many other young men, Troy used the trains to come to the North during the Great Migration and flew from his abusive home. Bono ad Troy then arrive in a black only neighborhood with many other families who migrated from the south. Although segregation is illegal in the North, many African Americans feel less valued and appreciated in society. For example, Troy fears for his job when he asks his manager, why only white men drive the trash vehicle. Throughout the play, August Wilson shows how African Americans are treated unfairly in the north.  In an interview with Bill Moyers, August Wilson says that the African Americans who came to the North, hoped to have a better and more successful life, however, they arrived to the opposite. The North was discriminating and did not give chances to the African Americans. Agust Wilson even goes further and says that African Americans even in his time were discriminated and had hardship finding a job and housing.


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“The Brown Bomber”

Joe Louis was born in 1914, who was an African American boxer from Alabama until 1981. He was a professional boxer who later became the world heavy weight champion from 1937 through 1949. Joe Louis’s nickname was the “Brown Bomber”. In 1937, Louis represented the black masses of The Great Depression. Joe Louis was best known for his fight against Max Schemling who was a German boxer. Joe Louis first lost to Schemling in 1936 against the German fighter but then won in 1938


Joe Louis Heavyweight Champion 

with a first round knockout. This fight represented the struggle against Nazi ideology against the American democratic ideas. After the fight, Louis gave the United States hope that they could beat the best German had to offer. Joe Louis was a symbol of mythical and real American traits. The Brown Bomber was also a representative of racial unity, national strength, and unlimited opportunity. Louis had a huge impact on racism in America. He changed racist attitudes and practices. He was the American myth of an ideal man. Louis was patriotic and who started at the bottom of society and worked his way up to the top of society where wealth and fame awaited him. The press was also sympathetic towards Joe Louis. Louis became the most popular African American in America during the late 1930s and 40s, and one of the most popular of all Americans. He also represented blacks with little Ethiopia endured in its struggle against Italy in 1935. Joe Louis gained white support by his humility and willingness to avoid the behavior of the previous African American champion. By fighting he stood up for African Americans.  Louis’s fighting represented more than just boxing as he was a symbol of the African American community and an ideal American myth of a man.

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Breaking Many Barriers

 Arthur Ashe, a professional tennis player and activist, widely broke many racial barriers through his talents not only as a tennis player, but also as an all-around leader.  Arthur Ashe was and still is to this day, the only African- American tennis player to win the singles title at major open; Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open.  In addition to this very highly achieved accomplishment, Arthur Ashe is also the first African American man to become the world number one ranked tennis player on tour.  From a very early age in Arthur Ashe’s life, Ashe was always different from the rest of crowd.  Ashe only picked up his first tennis racket at the age of seven.  Upon graduating number one in his high school class, Arthur Ashe attended University of California, Los Angeles, which had one of the best tennis teams in the country.   After graduating from UCLA, Arthur Ashe became a professional tennis player.  Ashe’s fundamentals and leadership allowed him to become very successful.  Specifically, Ashe played with many tour professionals as a doubles team.  This portrays Ashe’s leaderships and kind nature on the tennis court, which also allowed him to become a well respected campaigner.  Ashe was, as mentioned above, the only African-American tennis player to be successful at the time.  As a result, Ashe had to take leaps forward that one activist could barely manage to do, all by himself.  Arthur Ashe, one of the most prominent tennis players of all time, overcame many racial barriers in order to make progress as a young African-American tennis player.   In addition to being on the tennis team, Ashe had a passion for business, eventually graduating UCLA with a degree in business administration.  All these characteristics that Ashe carried ultimately pushed him to be a better player and activist as well.   By studying business administration, Ashe learned the paths to become a successful leader on the tennis court.  Ashe’s hard work and leadership that he portrayed on the tennis court, helped his ambitions to became a major activist and reformer.

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Home Run in Harlem

         After the first World War in 1919, two major events happened in American history that would set the tone for the future forever. First, the Harlem Renaissance years surfaced, and second, the first ever colored man to play major league baseball, Jackie Robinson, was born. Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 5.46.32 PMThe Harlem Renaissance was a period of cultural, artistic, and athletic enhancement that started in Harlem, but soon spread throughout the whole country. In this period of rebirth, Jackie Robinson was growing up learning that anything could be possible with the right mind set. With this, he trained for the sport he came to love, baseball. Jackie developed a natural skill for baseball and continued pursuing it as a career. He followed his dream of becoming an all-star player for the Major League Baseball committee; however, there was one problem standing in the way, his skin color. Never before had a person of color play in a Major League team, but that didn’t stop Jackie from fighting. Throughout history the sport of baseball had been segregated, separating all whites and blacks. From the water fountains to the sitting area, no man of different race was allowed to touch the same thing. This moment of history all changed on April 15, 1947 when Jackie Robinson stepped out onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, NY to play first base for the Dodgers. With much criticism from the crowd, opposing team, and same team, Jackie Robinson was determined to prove that he was more than just the color of his skin. “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being” –Jackie Robinson. Jackie R. believed that the future ahead of him would have no need for segregation or racism, that the community would come together as a whole and thrive. These are the ideologies that the Harlem Renaissance presented to the country proving that the color of someone’s skin has nothing to do with their natural born talents or intelligence. “I am particularly conscious of my connection to the poets of the Harlem Renaissance because I, too, am a Black poet, born into, and shaped by, the very community in which those poets of the past produced so much of the work we associate with the Harlem Renaissance. We speak from the same place, both literally and metaphorically” –Nikki Grimes, an African American Author for children and Poet. The Harlem Renaissance had such a large and positive impact on the African American community and created hopes and dreams to aspire for artists to be judged by their art, not the color of their skin. With the cultural, artistic, and athletic changes, assisted by Jackie Robinson’s bravery and commitment to achieve greatness, the African American culture has thrived in this country developing and creating iconic moments in history that will be remembered for centuries such as the motivating story of Jackie Robinson never giving up on his dream.

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