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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



14. Becoming Visible

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•  Using the Video
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Activities: Author Activities


James Baldwin - Selected Archive Items

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[2256] Russell Lee, Negro Drinking at "Colored" Water Cooler in Streetcar Terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (1939),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-80126].
Jim Crow laws in the South insulated whites and oppressed and demoralized African Americans. Many black writers, from W. E. B. Du Bois to James Baldwin, examined the negative economic, physical, and psychological effects of segregation in their work and challenged other black and white Americans to do the same.

[3355] Jack Delano, At the Bus Station in Durham, North Carolina (1940),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF33-020522-M2].
African American man in a segregated waiting room at bus station. Jim Crow laws severely divided the experiences of whites and African Americans in the South.

[4012] Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of James Baldwin (1955),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-42481].
Photographer Van Vechten was an important patron of Harlem Renaissance writers and artists. The Harlem Renaissance laid an important foundation for writers like Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison. James Baldwin is remembered as a civil rights activist and author of plays, poetry, and novels, including Go Tell It on the Mountain.

[5085] Esther Bubley, A Rest Stop for Greyhound Bus Passengers on the Way from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, with Separate Accommodations for Colored Passengers (1943),
courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZ62-62919].
"If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane," wrote Justice Brown of the United States Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the legality of segregation in the United States. Not until 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, did the Court find the "separate but equal" doctrine unconstitutional.

[5719] Cleveland Advocate, article: "Oppose Birth of a Nation" (1915),
courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society.
Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, launched protests and a nationwide campaign to boycott D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, which glorified the KKK and helped the organization revive after it had been virtually dead for sev-eral decades.

[8604] Ku Klux Klan, Constitution & Laws of the Knights of the KKK (1921),
courtesy of Special Collections, Michigan State University Libraries.
The KKK had nearly died out by the turn of the twentieth century, but was resurrected in 1915, due largely to the film Birth of a Nation. Lynching by the KKK and other white supremacists led Langston Hughes to write "Song for a Dark Girl" and set the stage for Lewis Allan's "Strange Fruit," sung by Billie Holiday.

[9071] Anonymous, Ku Klux Klan Parade, Washington, D.C., on Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. (1926),
courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-59666].
This photograph of a huge Ku Klux Klan march in Washington, D.C., attests to the mainstream acceptance of the group in the 1920s and 1930s. The KKK organized under the guise of a civic organization and enforced Jim Crow laws and white supremacy with intimidation and violence. The group regained popular support after the release of Birth of a Nation.




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