The position of the Black people in art was widely discussed at the end of the 19th century, including advocates who represented the African American community. Some of them, such as Booker T. Washington, insisted on equality in the distribution of equal and systematical schooling and the production of creative products. Others, such as William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, were sure that only the chosen groups should have delivered their outputs of thoughts and art to the masses. The third opinion shared by other leaders is considered a balanced mixture of the two polar attitudes to the matter.
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To figure out this third position, a blend of these two extremes, and to prove its actuality, the first two approaches are to be analyzed. The study requires the comparison of their approaches to the ideas represented in the works of a black author. For this, “A Negro Love Song” and “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar will be analyzed.
For the analysis, the two opinions are to be cited in detail. In his “Atlanta Exposition speech’’, Washington claimed that African Americans should be provided with industrial education and economic advancement. He proposed to “set no limits to the attainments of the Negro in arts, in letters or statesmanship’’ (Washington 11). Contrary to him, Du Bois stood for the complete leadership of the “talented tenth’’ (p. 2). To find the meeting points of the two ideas, they should be compared to the works of Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872–1906).
The choice of the author comes from his recognition as one of the first influential and well-known Black poets in American literature. His widely known works include Majors and Minors (1895) and Lyrics of Lowly Life (1896). The specific of his work is a focus on his roots, in the depiction of the Black people’s life, discrimination, and their position in the society and art.
In his sentimental work “A Negro Love Song”, Dunbar emphasized his roots and used traditional elements of peasant life to introduce the white people to the idyllic motives of his culture. Meanwhile, this piece of poetry was written in his stylistics, which the American literature had not experienced before (Hunter 25). That is the result of the melodiousness of ethnical rhythms and the chorus repeated by Dunbar: “Seen my lady home las’ night/Jump back, honey, jump back/ Hel huh nan’ an’ squeeze it tight/Jump back, honey, jump back” (37). The work shows the potential of Black authors in the development of American literature, disapproving of Du Bois’ concept and relating to the words of Washington.
“We Wear the Mask” is a political-oriented piece of poetry that reflected the poverty and pain the Black were experiencing, practically unable to change anything. Dunbar describes: “We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries/To thee from tortured souls arise” (78). This work deeply reflects the problem and the need for proper conditions, equal rights, and acres to education for everyone (Erianto 32). Meanwhile, the ability of the author to illustrate these sufferings distinguishes him from the crowd, pointing out that he is the special one who can be responsible for the well-being of others.
The recapitulation of the two positions illustrated points of their blend: though education should be achievable and the rights should be equal, leaders should be present in all spheres of life, including art. Such people as Dunbar are to inspire, head, and teach the masses by personal example. The balanced position takes the two poles to the common appreciation of the single talent and the potential of the many.
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The attitudes of Booker T. Washington and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois may be balanced by the third view shared by many leaders. The core of this idea is in the equality of education and freedom of self-expression. Meanwhile, this development should be controlled by some ruling figures. Importantly, these people should have a connection with the crowd to inspire it and shape its views.
Erianto, Narlius. “Racialism Slavery as Reflected in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Poems to social Life.” Jurnal Ilmiah Langue and Parole, vol. 1, 2017, pp. 30–41.
Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The Talented Tenth. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.
Dunbar, Paul L. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Carpenter Press, 2014.
Hunter, Daniel Joseph. Florence B. Price’s Compositional Style to Song Settings of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Dialect Poetry: A Performance Guide. 2019. UNLV, DMA dissertation.
Washington, Booker T. Atlanta Compromise. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.