Modern US History

All the modern US history fit to print

Category: Keyshana Edwards

Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America

Welcome and enjoy. 🙂

Introduction

The History of Black Women in America has been a struggling story because of the oppression they faced by white supremacists. From the beginning of slavery in 1619, Black Women have constantly faced the struggle of finding their place in America. From being abused by white men, changing their appearances to feel accepted, and contributing to social movements, Black women have done it all. Yet still till today, people like Stereo Williams remind us why, “The most disrespected person in America is still the Black Woman” (Williams 2017). However, these women continued to present their work in order to claim a place in America. Even though it goes unnoticed that Black women have fought for issues of injustices and equal rights, there is constantly a blur of events, when discussing the ways that women impacted the world. Black women have made sacrifices to advocate for Black America through ways that they knew how. When America did not listen to their struggles, Black women wrote books, produced songs, created sculptures, and painted masterpieces in order to peacefully fight for the injustices of Black Americans.

Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America is very important because in America there are many hierarchies. One hierarchy is for men and women; men are typically at the top of this hierarchy. In addition, there is a racial hierarchy and Black people are typically the lowest. With that being said, it is important to under how Black women became creators in order to contribute to the advocation of injustices of Black Americans. These women also wanted to address, “misconceptions about race and tracing their harmful consequences for black progress and racial relations” (Howard 1). Furthermore, the identity of Black Americans have prohibited them of gaining equal rights and respect within the American society. Therefore, over time, Black artists have been able to write their own history through creativity.

The theme of this online museum exhibition is Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America. Art of Black women not only allowed them to critique America, but have, “…drawn attention to ways in which gender norms, exoticizing conditions of valor, and intra-racial conflict” (Fox 3). In the 1920s to 1990s, Black women grew in their artistic abilities because slavery, lynching, and police brutality against Black people gave rise to Black women forcing social, economic, and political change for their communities. Women like Maya Angelou, Zora Neal Hurston, and Nina Simone used their artwork to make political statements in response to questions like, “why must difference be theorized as a source of vision, not reducible to a tokenized otherness tethered to hegemonic whiteness?” (Fox 5). Addressing questions like this gave rise to social movements that wanted to educated Black people on their history. Therefore, Black women’s artwork symbolized a fight for Black America in bold and literary way. They were making political statements to enforce new leadership, gain respect, educate others, and to take a stand. The work of these Black women have paved the way for many social groups to speak up about injustices in Black communities. Their artwork brought to life, their experiences, as and real-life experiences are filled with emotions that pose opinions about whiteness as an ideology and Blackness as resilience. Art is important to understand because the art that these Black women produced, during difficult times, had allowed them to have a voice that they could not have for such a long period of time. Events like the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement are only a few times when these women exposed their art.

Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America will argue that, “black women [artist] have shaped a literary history that reflect [spiritual principles] origins” (West 1). Most times, the art of these Black women gave them power to get in tuned with their spirituality just like their ancestors. Prayer, the discussion of God, and attending, “Black churches provide validation and resilience through ancestral connection, and cultivation of psychological belonging through acceptance from God and those with whom they worship” (Fisher 15). An important way for Black American to overcome hardship was through religion. Women used God as a form of prayer in order to navigate through hard times. These organizations implemented God as a way to gain strength and motivation through difficult times. God became an impactful connection between Black America and their ancestors as well. Lastly, God was a symbol of Black unity.

The theme of Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America can tell us many things about the history of the United States since 1877. First, this theme can tell us that the U.S has failed to support people of color and minorities because white supremacy got to a point where it dehumanized and tried to eliminate an entire group of people. Secondly, this theme can tell us that the U.S has evolved in terms of technology, racial division, and social movements. Lastly, this theme can tell us that the U.S has instilled strong Black bodies that have learned to protect and fight for themselves and their people. This theme can also inform us of the start and continuation of Black women prospering and advocating for Black America through ways that they knew how. Their artistic abilities were an outlet to becoming strong women that motivated others to do so as well. This exhibition is also a way to highlight the work that Black women put in because often times it goes un noticed.

“Lifting As We Climb”: Black Women’s Clubs

National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs Motto: “Lifting As We Climb.”

 

In the 1890s, the growth of the Black Women’s club movements expanded in order to prevent lynching. Ida B. Wells-Barnett made a public press announcement in order to confront and prevent certain issues of lynching, education, equality, and women’s suffrage. Wells-Barnett also helped to found Black women’s clubs.

In 1986, women’s clubs joined forces in order to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACW). The motto for this organization was “Lifting as we club.” This motto stood for raising awareness for educational and civic improvements for Black America. Other Black women in the south made efforts to create unions and also forge strikes. The National Urban League for the protection of Colored women also emerged, during this time. Black women then progressed to do local work with the NAACP.

Most of the intentions of the Black women’s clubs were to beautify and promote public libraries and hospitals was significant towards getting Black people involved in educating themselves. Clubs were significant in having a voice in what some of the colored education facilities curriculum consisted of. For example, they wanted classes to educated students on slaves as well as more Black History. These clubs demonstrated how all-women’s organizations were working to improve the injustices of Black women, men, and children.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a period of time for Black women to prosper and demonstrate their artistic abilities. Women like Jessie E. Fauset and Zora N. Hurston wrote books, while other women like Augusta Savage created sculptures. These Black women used these their different forms of art in order to critique America’s lack of protection towards Black issues such as education systems. Through their art, they addressed issues of slavery, colorism, injustices, and more. These were critical issues for Black women because they realized that Black America wasn’t being supported in a proper way. They used art as a form to rebel against white supremacy and hatred in a nonviolent and liberal way.

Jessie Fauset’s Plum Bun is a novel that was created and published in the 1920s. The main character is a woman named Angela Murray. She is a Black woman that looks however like a white person. This passage discusses the ideals of “passing” and how certain people reap the benefits of it or don’t based upon their identities. Plum Bun is a representation of the advantages that Angela hopes to obtain by her charm and talents within the white upper-class community. As a young girl, Angela plans to leave New York and get away from her siblings where she can deny her race that she was born into. Angela uses her skin tone as an advantage fit in and also survive within society. Being Black in the 1920s was difficult, especially because of issues such as colorism. In connection to a darker skinned Black girl, Angela clearly has an advantage. Given that this book discusses identity, this can be connected to American beauty standards. During this time the ideologies of beauty standards were if one had a light skin tone and long hair. Therefore, Angela changes her identity in full in order to navigate as a white woman in society. However, in Harlem, NY during the 1920s, Grandassa models challenged these ideals through modeling with their natural hair, embracing their skin tone, and confident personalities.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is about a Black woman who leaves her town in Florida, however, she returns. The town is suspicious about where she went in addition to what happened to her husband. Janie describes her life as a slave and being detached from her family because they live in poverty and hardship. Hurston was a very important leader of the Harlem Renaissance. As a Black women, she made so many powerful moves of motivation, during her time. In this passage, she addresses and critiques America in multiple ways. One main thing that Hurston addresses about America is that, if one is Black in America, more often than not it is difficult to escape and start a new life. To escape the backlash of discrimination is difficult. She hints at this when Janie goes to the south and suddenly returns. She allows us to understand that it is hard to be Black in America. 

Lift Every Voice & Sing

 

Augusta Savage was an African American woman that started sculpting at a very young age. She was very active in the Work Progress Administration and also maintained a teaching studio in Harlem, New York. This Harp would symbolize a musical contribution for African Americans because the American flag was a symbol for Americans. She received inspiration to create this sculpture by the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. This song is basically a National Anthem for Africans Americans also known as Black America. Savage received a small bronze version of the sculpture as an award at the World Fair. Savage founded the Harlem Arts Guild in 1935 and was the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center in 1937. The sculpture is beautiful. It is clearly made up of African Americans and they are placed on a hand. The front person is kneeling down, while everyone else is standing very poise. Savage did some amazing artwork. The people standing are also singing. In the Black community at this time, singing was an outlet for prayer and optimism through difficult times.

Simone’s song is a very catchy jazz song. The use of loud and hard trumpets are so fierce that the song gives one chills sometimes. Simone uses this song to not only elevate her voice, but to demonstrate some illusions in connection to Blackness in American during this time. She starts by describing her day and what she sees. She describes seeing birds, the sun, and even feeling the breeze. This song is a take on how Simone views the world and how the she feels about the world. This is sort of ironic because while Black people have freedom in society at this time, Maya Angelou continues to advocate for a lack of freedom because Blacks feel like caged birds. Simone discusses the luxury of life and feeling good about it. We can connect this to her being satisfied that a lot of social issues at this time towards African Americans are slowly progressing.

Black America’s Progession (1980s-1990s)

Maya Angelou’s Poem Caged Bird is a direct symbol of Black people in the 20th century. She starts off by describing the ways a free bird acts, when alive. She transitions to discussing how a caged bird is very cautious and examines its cage. As she describes a free and caged bird throughout the poem, the reader becomes sympathetic for the caged bird. The free bird is capable of claiming things, such as the sky, and navigating through life with ease. The caged bird is tied up and restricted from a lot of things. This poem is a very strong poem because the caged bird symbolizes a black man, a black woman, or even black children. They are caged birds because as Angelou discusses, Blacks aren’t capable of being free, but they seek freedom. Singing can also represent their navigation through society because she states, “the caged bird sings with a fearful trill.” Just as Blacks navigate in a white supremacist dominated society. They are unable to be vocal and they especially feel restricted due to 20th century laws such as Separate but Equal. This poem relates back to Black Women’s Cultural and Artistic Critique on America because Angelou utilized her poem as a way to speak for the unheard voices of Black Americans who suffered in silence from slavery, discrimination, and unequal opportunities.

Making Headlines

The Essence article highlighted Black women in the 20th century. This article is so liberating because it touches on topics of feminism and beauty standards. When beauty standards are discussed, usually one thinks of American ideologies, and those ideologies are promoting and specific towards white women only. The New York Times decided to highlight Black women, which is very special. The beauty standards included in this article discussed nothing but positivity. Including natural hair and adding photos are darker skinned women. Since publishing this magazine, Essence’s company grew as well. This article is so significant because the beauty standards portrayed are rebellious, but beautiful. In the 20th century, Black women did a lot with their hair, but one thing they did was “relax” or perm their hair, which made it processed. For this magazine to only have natural haired women says a lot about the promotion of beauty standards for Black women.

The right  newspaper article about Zora Neal Hurston describes her work ethic and personality. Within the article, it is discussed that she is in Haiti working on her fourth book. In one of my secondary sources, Hurston also occurs. She is described by her passing, which stated that she died living in poverty. I find this statement to be very interesting because she was such a successful woman. Not only within the Black community, but outside of that as well. I wanted to use this source to describe social theories of race and gender. Even though Hurston made many successes with the Harlem Renaissance and her books, she was still a Black woman, which lowered her chances of being successful completely. I wanted to utilize this article in order to highlight her success and happiness, while also connecting this to her years to come and passing as well. The article is also very significant to understand how hard she worked and dedicated she was to relay a message through her books.

Influencing Black America Through Boycotting

A group of black women, known as the Women’s Political Council wrote a letter to the Black folks in their community telling them to boycott riding the buses. This physical letter is written proof of Black women advocating and logically trying to come up with strategies in order to advocate for Black America. Since the Black people were the majority of passengers on the buses, by boycotting the buses, the women knew that companies would be upset given the fact that they would be getting low income. As a way for the companies treating Black folks poorly, boycotting would encourage the white drivers to possibly ease up on the negativity towards blacks, since they clearly need the money. This letter that they wrote is clearly very urgent. Especially because the women advised students not to attend school for entire day.

Adding Color In Order To Heal Dark Times

Mailou Lois Jones created a colorful piece called La Baker that is displayed in a museum in Boston. Boston is where Jones was born and raised, so it is beautiful that her art resonates there. Jones got a lot of inspiration for her art from places such as Haiti, Africa, and France. In the painting, (left) there is overlapping of colors and shapes. Most of the colors used reminds one of Africa, which means that Jones took her inspiration very seriously. Being that Africa is very colorful, it attaches Black America to their roots. Even though Black America lacked a sense of identity towards their African roots because of colonization and the slave trade, Black women like Jones were able to connect Black America with their ancestors through colorful art. This piece critiques America by having resentment that questions why Black Americans were brought to America to suffer.

Another painter and art education was Alma Thomas. She was best known for her colorful paintings. All of her painting looked similar to a Mosaic, where the colors were in small sort of pieces that made up a mural. She became the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This is a huge accomplishment given the fact that Black women have had the disadvantage of being a part of museums and different social spheres because of race. Thomas made headlines by being the first Black woman to be a part of such a public facility that was shown to everyone. Thomas’s art is so colorful, which is such a beautiful thing. Even though Black America was facing a lot of trauma at this time, her art wash so colorful. Her art definitely reveals that Thomas was a very optimistic individual. Apollo 12 Splashdown is one of her paintings (left) that critiques America through Black tradition and silence. Color allowed both her and Jones to reveal that healing of Black oppression will come.

Paving Way for Generations of Black Americans

There is an art display placed on the side of the Lewis K. Downing building located on the main campus of Howard University. The sculpture displays two African American students and above them are five symbols. As both of their hands come together, there is a symbol at the top of their hands. The symbol is an equal sign. This equal sign represents unity among the black community. This sculpture is also very uplifting because beneath the students is roots. It is almost as if the photo is displaying the fact that Black students are the root of their success. The five key symbols also are significant to Black students on Howard’s campus to understand their goals and aspirations, in addition to understanding their abilities. Catlett’s sculpture is displayed at Howard University because she was voted to do so by faculty, due to her amazing work. The college wanted a display on the side of their science and engineering building. There is always this connotation that Black people are not capable of having careers in of Science. Catlett added this piece of unity so that there’d be liberty and peace among the young Black generations that would follow. The fact that it is placed on the campus of Howard University, one of the most know Historically Black colleges and universities, makes this sculpture so much more special to Black students. Given the fact that education wasn’t necessarily created for us, Black women like Catlett reminds us of our history. Rituals and Ruins is a museum exhibition that shares the art of Ms. Buchanan, who was an African American artist. There is a display of her art in Brooklyn, New York. Buchanan’s display of architecture are small homes some of which are colorful, but some of which are just brown. Her take on these small homes are identical to slave shacks. When looking up Buchanan’s art, I noticed that multiple images of women and men outside of homes popped up. One can infer that these were white owned slaves’ homes in areas of predominantly Black people. This is significant because she is using her art as a platform to display the restrictions that slavery put on Black bodies. With these small shacks, she says a lot about slavery, which critiques America. The colorful shacks reveal a sense of beauty, even though slavery wasn’t. The brown homes resemble a sense of what Blacks went through. It is a clear reminder of oppression, yet resilience as well.

Bibliography

Primary Sources: 

  1. Angelou, Maya. Harold Bloom, editor. 1996. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York :Chelsea House Publishers.
  2. Buchanan, Beverly. Rituals and Ruins. 1981. Brooklyn, New York Museum. Database: https://artsy.net/show
  3. Catlett, Elizabeth. Student’s Aspire. 1997. Howard UniversityWashington, D.C.
  4. Fauset, Jessie Edmon. Plum Bun. 1928. New York.
  5. Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 18 September 1937. J.B. Lippincott & Co.
  6. Jones, Lois Mailou. La Baker Painting. 1977. Contemporary Art. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
  7. The Tulsa Star Newspaper. 19 Aug. 1914. Negro Women’s Club Work in Oklahoma. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov
  8. Thomas, Alma. Apollo 12 Splash Down. 1970. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, New York. https://Artsy.net
  9. Thomas, Lillian J. B. Federation of Colored Women. 7 April 1987. Association of Indianapolis. Colonial Revival Architecture.
  10. Savage, Augusta. The Harp. 1937. World’s Fair. https://exhibitions.nypl.org
  11. Simone, Nina. 1 June 1965. Feeling Good. 
  12. Stewart, Ollie. Zora Hurston In Haiti Writing Her Fourth Book. 7 August 1997. Bay Bottoms News. http://baybottomnews.com/zora-was-never-happy-with-her-own-work/
  13. Women’s Political Council. Untitled leaflet. 5 December 1955.
  14. In Essence, a Celebration of Black Women. Unknown leaflet.1996. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/07/business/the-media-business-in-essence-acelebration-of-black-women.html

Secondary Sources:

  1. Williams, Stereo. The Most Disrespected Person in America Is Still the Black Woman. 9 Apr 2017.
  2. Foner, Eric. 2008. Give Me Liberty: An American History. Volume 2. 5th New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  3. Soto, Michael. 2016. Measuring the Harlem Renaissance. Amherst: Uni. of Massachusetts Press.
  4. Smethurst, James Edward. 2005. The Black Arts Chapel Hill: The Uni. of North Carolina Press.
  5. Fox, Regis M. 2017. Resistance Reimagined: Black Women’s Critical Thought as Survival. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. ISBN: 9780813056586
  6. Howard, William L. America in Black and White. June 1998. Magill’s Literary Annual. pp. 1-4.
  7. West, Elizabeth. African Spirituality in Black Women’s Fiction: Threaded Visions of Memory, Community, Nature and Being. Lanham: Lexington Books.
  8. Fisher, Adriana Renee. 2018. I Am Because We Are, and Because We Are, Therefore I Am: The Role of Christianity in the Cultivation of a Psychological Sense of Belonging in the Lives of African American Women. Illinois and Lexington, Kentucky. DAI. Section B: Sciences & Engineering.

© 2019 Modern US History

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑