Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Lesson 3

Lesson 3 Study Notes

I've talked about several voices of the Harlem Renaissance, but I want to close this presentation with a discussion on religion. Beloved, I want to divide this category into two sections, the first being traditional religion or traditional Christianity, and the second being non-traditional. It should be remembered that the purpose of the Harvard Renaissance was to redefine the new Negro outside the stereotype that had been thrust upon him by America. And of course, this is a theological lecture. This is within the context of New Life School of Theology.

So while I talk about entertainment, I talk about scholarship, I talk about education, I talk about literature, and I talk about music, I cannot close, beloved, this discussion without a comprehensive or somewhat comprehensive discussion about religion. Because, watch this, while all of the categories that I discussed before could be viewed as secular, the church represents the sacred. What I argue in my presentation is that the Harlem Renaissance was so pervasive and so penetrating and so popular in its presentation until it refused to restrict itself to just music or entertainment or scholarship or writing or even sports, that it was so pervasive until it reached and touched even the field of religion

in general, but more specifically, Christianity. And it was so pervasive, and again, this need to redefine who the new Negro was resulted in two, watch this, beloved, totally different approaches to Christianity. One would be traditional, I'm going to talk about that in just a moment, but the second would be non-traditional. But both of them were efforts to say, we're not who you want us to be. We're not who you say that we are. We're going to define ourselves and live our lives, even in church, even in religion, even with Christianity, on our own terms and by our own standards. We're not gonna accept the liturgy, the standard,

the process, the protocols that you thrust upon us in an arrogant and condescending kind of way, but we are going to be radical and revolutionary, and we're going to define religion for ourselves. And while it may not look like what you do, it may not look like how you operate and how you practice Christianity, we are the new Negroes, and so we're going to do it our way and on our own terms. So, that said, I want to look at two aspects of the practice of Christianity during the Harlem Renaissance. Let's begin here. Let's begin with traditional religion.

No preacher during the Renaissance was any more traditional and radical at the same time as Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York. When Powell was the son of a preacher whose pulpit he assumed after the departure of his father, he would go on to represent Harlem in the United States Congress well into the 1960s. Now, here's what I'm trying to get you to see and understand. There are many preachers during this era, but many, if not most of those preachers,

had decided to restrict their activities and their outreach to the religious realm or within inside the walls of the church. And I can go on and talk about several preachers of this era, but the preacher that I prefer to talk about is Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Why? Because the Harlem Renaissance, with its emphasis on the new Negro and redefining who we are, took Christianity outside the walls of the church. Now, there's no church in all of Harlem, Harlem Renaissance, there's no church in all of Harlem

that was any more traditional in terms of size, in terms of appearance, and in terms of operation than the Abyssinian Baptist Church. But Reverend Adam Clayton Powell refused to be available just on Sunday at 11 o'clock in his pulpit. He was active in the community, the Harlem community, throughout the week. He waged war on behalf of hospital workers at the Harlem Hospital as early as the 1930s. He defeated A. Philip Randolph and became the representative of Harlem at city council in New York City and then from there on to Washington, D.C., where he passed more legislation for black folk

in this country than any other figure prior to or hence. And while his name usually appears alongside of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. And those of you who had the opportunity to watch The Godfather of Harlem, you could see the interplay and the close proximity of Adam Clayton Powell with figures like Malcolm X and later Martin Luther King. All of that would be after the Harlem Renaissance. But the point that I'm trying to make is that Adam Clayton Powell Jr. made his bones, came into prominence,

became the figure that he was, not post Harlem Renaissance, but during the Harlem Renaissance. He was a social activist who refused to be constrained and restricted and confined to the pulpit and the church. And so, for that purpose and for that reason, he is a radical representation of what the black or the new Negro pastor was like during 1920 to 1945. And so, he represents the traditional way. Now, on the other side of the spectrum, you have figures like Marcus Garvey, Sweet Danny Grace, Nobu Juwale, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.

Embedded in this list would be Father Divine, whose career included Brooklyn, New York City, St. Bill on Long Island, and then back to Harlem, and then, of course, he would conclude his career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He would create multiple businesses during the Depression. The great contribution of Mr. Baker, which was his original name, or some suggest that was his original name.

He was sometimes referred to as Jealous Daddy Grace based upon a past scripture in the book of Exodus that said that God was a jealous God. Now, here's the point that I want to make, and I want to make two points here. Number one, Father Divine's contribution to Christianity per se was that He was active, like his counterpart, Adam Clayton Powell. Adam Clayton Powell did operate within the more traditional scriptures of the black community. But Daddy Grace created businesses, cleaners, restaurants, a multitude of businesses that were spinoffs of the black church, so that his religiosity was not confined to just Sunday, but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, you could see the obvious influence of a father divine and other figures around him. Now, again, he did not comport to the traditional image of the Black picture. But remember, this is the Harlem Renaissance. And if there's anything that I've tried to get you to understand is that whether it's music, entertainment, scholarship, sports, literature, the idiom here is not to be what you used to be, not to be what white America expects you to be, but to be what you want to be on your own terms, to self-define yourself.

So, the more traditional approach to Christianity was abandoned by people like Sweet Dain Grace and Marcus Garvey and Noble Jew Ali. They stepped outside of those boxes, and so did Father DeVance. But what I'm trying to get you to see and understand is that stepping outside that box was as much the evidence of the Harlem Renaissance as anything else. And the absence of this attitude of the new Negro who's going to do things in his own way and on his own terms, you never would have had a Marcus Garvey talking about leading people back to Africa, you wouldn't have had a sweet daddy race. You would have had a noble Dru Ali,

which would end up being the five presidents, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the fruit of Islam and the nation of Islam. That all of these religious movements, get, okay, I'm going, beloved. All of these religious movements take place because of the license that is granted to them by the Harlem Renaissance that says you don't have to remain restricted, you don't have to obey the rules, you don't have to

do things the way everybody else is doing them or the way that the public expects you to do them. You can do them in your own fashion, your own way. You can create a new genre, a new direction. So when you see people like Michael Todd today, and Darius Daniels today, and these exceptional religious figures who are doing things differently, redefining religion, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19,

a whole new approach, the usage of technology, all of that is representative and extension of and built upon the foundation of the hollow Renaissance, which created the basis for people in multiple fields, watch this beloved, even the field of religion and theology and church to do things not in a traditional format, but do things in an imaginative, innovative way. In some respect, while the Harlem Renaissance seemingly died in 1945, it continues to operate with the music, the literature, the practice of Christianity,

and so many other things that we do today are literally, beloved, extensions of voices of the Harlem Renaissance.
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