THE NIGGERATI–Negro Intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance

African American Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

Back in the day of the Harlem Renaissance, there was a group of black intellectuals who didn’t feel that intellectualism and black culture were mutually exclusive entities.  These young creative writers were exploring the black narrative back in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  Is black culture inherently pathological because we’re the sons and daughters of those Africans who were enslaved here in the Americas?  Is there any redeeming quality to our black narrative?  Is it worth looking at much less studying or even celebrating?

Zora Neale Hurston Holding the Book "American Stuff"

There were many bright and beautiful black artist and writers of the 1920s and 1930 who were in search of that black narrative and were busy writing that narrative.  The likes of Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Dorothy West, and many others.  They were artists and hustlers and strugglers and dreamers, creators and they were extremely talented.

Richard Wright, Harlem Renaissance Author

They saw the irony of their dreams as struggling black artists, dependant on white benefactors to underwrite  their artistic endeavors. Yet for the sake of their art, they chose to take the money, no matter what they may have felt about it.  These people created together, partied together, fought with each other, and helped each other, as only black folks can and will.  They named their crew The Niggerati, and they named those white folks who were interested in their art and coolness and who followed behind them, the Negrotarians.  These intellectuals weren’t afraid of their blackness, nor of white reaction to it.  They were able to just be their fabulous black selves, the good, the bad, the beautiful, even in the time of strong racial prejudice. 

Charles McCay, Harlem Renaissance Author of "Banana Bottom"

 Zora Neale Hurston, the self appointed leader in her mind, dubbed herself  “The Queen of the Niggerati”She understood the power of words and used them skillfully to provoke thought and/or anger!  She felt quite comfortable with the Niggerati title, even though other black intellectuals of the era were not at all amused.  WEB Dubois was one of them who was very interested in assimilating, and proving that Negros were just as intelligent as the whites.  He felt that the way to prove this was for the Negro to be as “respectable” as possible in the sight of, and for the comfort of those white people they were trying to impress. 

These Harlem Renaissance “Niggerati” came together to publish a magazine they called FIRE, which they decided would have articles and short stories of the issues that Negroes were dealing with, those controversial situations such as black and latino homoerotica, prostitution, and bourgeois attitudes.  Things that a “respectable” Negro would never want published.  They wanted to be shocking as well as informative. 

W.E.B Dubois, Writer of Harlem Renaissance

One problem they had was a complete lack of funds to get the magazine to press, but they perservered and put forth their creativity and a little game and the first and last issue actually went to press.  That issue failed when they weren’t able to distribute the magazine in an effective way.  But that didn’t stop them from trying again with a new magazine called HARLEM. That can’t die spirit in action! 

Artwork of Harlem Renaissance--Cotton Club

The Niggerati was a bold group of brothers and sisters from back in the day who truly understood what it means to live and fight and struggle for that piece of the American dream!  They moved forward without allowing anything or anyone to define their version of the dream for them, and we know them now as the beautiful strugglers of the Harlem Renaissance!  Are we today as bold as they were back then?  What are YOU doing to change things in your sphere of influence?  Do you care?  What are you doing to make life better for your people?

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Anna Renee! I hope all is well with you. Thanks for sharing this informative post. I'm definitely passing it on.

  2. Anna Renee says:

    Hey there Chocolate Orchid! Yes, pass it on!

  3. lin says:

    Great entry, Anna!

    I’ve often wished I’d lived in this particular era, hung out with the scribes, attended those nortorious rent parties, kicked back & chilled w/ the lot of them. I actually revisit a piece of this history in a book I’m currently writing. What’s most significant is that these Black & brilliant artists & thinkers managed to find each other, managed to inspire each other, could encourage, support, argue, disagree & yet allow their individual creativity to manifest. None of them were ever filthy rich, or wildly famous, & yet they endured in times even harder than these. I think it says a lot ABOUT US, AS A PEOPLE.

    One.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Zora would have LOVED you, Lin!!!

  4. I’ve studied this era of and on for years and there were times that I wish I could go back to that period in a time capsule. Love that picture of Langston Hughes and the other fine men. There were a few who died prematurely like Dr. Rudolph Fisher. They were all rather impressive and accomplished quite a bit although a few were with us for a brief stint. Arnold Rampersad’s 2 Volume Biography of Langston Hughes goes into depth about that period through the personal lives of Langston and the men featured in the picture you posted as well as Zora Neale Hurston and others. With all their talents–they were also very complex individuals which of course lends to why those of us who studied that period were so fascinated by them. This is a good post as always Sis Anna.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Thanks Sister. I’m a big fan of Zora’s works and I’m hoping to do more in depth study of the Harlem Renaissance men

      1. Carolyn Moon says:

        Have you read “Wrapped In Rainbows” which is the most definitive and exhaustive biography of Ms. Hurston by Valerie Boyd? If not, please do and if you have…what do you think of her politics later in her life? When reading this book, I had to stop and savor certain passages and then pick it up again. It was like I wanted to prolong it as long as I could. Alice Walker and another woman braved the weeds and possible snakebites in Fla. to locate her unmarked grave and she placed a headstone on it. It read “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South”.

        I wish we could have an online book club kind of venue and discuss some of these books.
        Peace and blessings…..

        1. Anna Renee says:

          No I haven’t, but I must. I have Zora N Hurston, a life in letters by Carla Kapla. A thick book filled with letters that Zora wrote to her friends and colleagues. They are so expressive and there are so many!

          I’ll never be able to read all that’s on my growing lists.

          1. Carolyn Moon says:

            I must read that one by Carla Kapla. You really find out so many interesting things about them through letters and what was going on in society at that time from a personal angle.
            I have Langston Hughes book of letters to Arna Bontemps over a period of 25 yrs. on my shelf and it’s humorous, thought provoking and a historical account of what it was really like living during that period.

            I truly understand your last statement for I’m still trying to read some of the books you’ve listed in previous posts. ^◡^

  5. Anonymous says:

    I enjoyed reading about the Niggerati. I’m enamored and inspired at such a defiant group of pioneers.

  6. Long story shorten, here’s my take:

  7. ANDREW Anderson says:

    I say this in contempt, you have missed the point, to better our black life in America, revolved around Education and never accepting the term Nigger, because we were better than that….this is just a farce…..

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