ThE DaRK ToWer

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1919 - 1936

Mr. Daniel Hoskins stands before guns deposited at the Gregg County Courthouse in Longview, Texas, on July 13, 1919, following a “Red Summer” race riot.

In response to the months of intense national race riots known as 1919’s “Red Summer,” Claude McKay publishes “If We Must Die,” a poem urging Black people to fight back against the violence directed at them.


Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

“If We Must Die"
Claude McKay, 1919

How, says Vashti, love is both bread and wine;
How to the altar may not come to break and drink,
Hulky flesh nor fleshly spirit!

“Before the Feast at Shushan"
Anne Spencer, 1920

Yet I would keep this rendezvous,
And deem all hardships sweet,
If at the end of the long white way,
There Life and I shall meet.

“I Have a Rendezvous with Life,"
Countee Cullen, 1927
(as published in Caroling Dusk)

This Great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image [...]

"The Creation,"
James Weldon Johnson, 1922

Up from the skeleton stone walls,
up from the rotting floor boards
and the solid hand-hewn beams of oak of the pre-war cotton factory, dusk came.

“Blood-Burning Moon"
Jean Toomer, 1923

My lone and dismal life's a-float
Upon the seas like an empty boat.

Arna Bontemps, August 1924
Richard Bruce Nugent’s poem “Shadow,” which had at one point been thrown into the trash only to be retrieved by Langston Hughes, is published in Opportunity. It would later appear again in Countee Cullen’s 1927 anthology Caroling Dusk.

A shadow am I
Growing in the light,
Not understood as is the day,
But more easily seen
I am dark,
Black on the face of the moon.

Richard Bruce Nugent, 1925

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long.

“Minstrel Man"
Langston Hughes, 1925
(featured in The New Negro)

As new editor of Opportunity, Countee Cullen begins a column entitled, “The Dark Tower,” later inspiring A’Lelia Walker’s group of the same name.

And there are buds that cannot bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.

“From the Dark Tower"
Countee Cullen, 1926
(to Charles S. Johnson),

Not wholly this or that,
But wrought
Of alien bloods am I,
A product of the interplay
Of traveled hearts.

Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1922
A’Lelia Walker receives a manicure at a beauty shop owned by her mother, one of the first Black millionaires and one of the first female millionaires, c. 1920s.
A’Lelia Walker’s Harlem townhouse hosts the Dark Tower, a cultural salon that brings together leading artists and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance through parties and cultural events.

I know a place that is full of light,
That is full of dreams and visions bright;
Where pleasing fancy loves to roam
And picture me once more at home.

Zora Neale Hurston
The teenaged Mae V. Cowdery wins the Crisis poetry contest for her poem “Longings.”

Here lies the dust of Africa;
Here are the sons of Rome;
Here lies one unlabelled
The world at large his home!

“Common Dust"
Georgia Douglas Johnson, 1962

Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary, feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.

“Harlem Shadows"
Claude McKay, 1918

Some folks hollered hard times.
What is it all about?
Things were bad for me when
those hard times started out.

“Nineteen-twenty nine"
Waring Cuney, 1973
(in Storefront Church)

Let us suppose him differently placed,
In wider fields than these bounded by bayous
And the fringes of moss-hung trees [...]

“Let Us Suppose"
Sterling A. Brown, 1932
Sterling Brown’s Southern Road helps bring rural voices into the urbane Harlem Renaissance while moving beyond earlier, stereotypical portrayals of African American vernacular.
Esther Popel’s “Flag Salute” appears in The Crisis, comparing a recent lynching to the ideals set out in the Pledge of Allegiance. In November 1940, the poem would reappear on TheCrisis’ front cover.

I pledge allegiance to the flag-- They dragged him naked
Through the muddy streets,
A feeble-minded black boy!
And the charge? Supposed assault
Upon an aged woman!
Of the United States of America

“Flag Salute"
Esther Popel, 1934, 1940

The master senses through the burning cadence
The moods and passion of all Humankind [...]

“The Maestro"
Eva Jessye, 1935
Mae V. Cowdery publishes We Lift Our Voices, one of the few book-length poetry collections by a woman during the Harlem Renaissance.

Night turned over
In her sleep
And a star fell
Into the sea.

“Four Poems--After the Japanese" Mae V. Cowdery, 1936

A September rain
Tumbling down in drops so big
They wobble as they fall.

“Haiku 54"
Richard Wright, 1998
Jesse Owens at the start of his record-breaking 200-meter race at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Black American runner Jesse Owens wins four gold medals at the Berlin Olympics, demonstrating the talent and ability of people of color in the midst of Nazi Germany’s claims of their inferiority.

A. Van Jordan’s 2004 “Jesse Owens, 1963” reflects on the event.

I reached out to take his hand,
Just another baton exchange
Of the truths of life
As when you're old enough
To know what it smells like,
And you get scared [...]

“Jesse Owens, 1963"
A. Van Jordan, 2004