#7001 The black and white photograph depicts a crowd watching a political parade in Harlem, New York. People are crowded onto the sidewalk as cars carrying placards make their way through the street. The urban backdrop for the scene includes a row of tall apartment buildings with stores on the street level, a sidewalk kiosk, and a trolley car.
There is a crowd of people gathered on both sides of a street. A long series of buildings are in the background, and from the small source of sky, it is daytime.
Notice the attitude of the predominately African American crowd, such as the men standing in the immediate foreground. The mood seems serious. The crowd does not wave or hold signs. They do not speak amongst themselves. Even the children standing in the center middle ground of the photograph stand with attention. The crowd is mostly male; they all wear similar straw hats. Most of them are wearing dark suits. The visible children and women also appear to be wearing nice clothing. Looking closely at the apartment buildings, you can see people sitting in windows.
From the architecture, it is clear this is a dense urban area. The multistory apartment structures continue on down the block. At the back of the composition, there is a cable car in the street.
The metadata tells us the location and date of the image. From the caption information we learn that this is a parade for the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and that the photograph was made at a parade in Harlem. Between the metadata and the caption, we know this took place in 1924. In addition to uniforms worn by UNIA members, parades were meant to present a symbolic message about African American presence, solidarity, and pride. The parades frequently attracted large numbers of spectators and participants.
2 Build on Your Observations
The vantage point of the photographer places the viewer within and yet above the crowd—as if we, the observers, have taken the same position of the man on the far left of the photograph who stands on a structure for a better view of the scene.
The vantage point also allows the viewer to see not just the scene in front of the camera, but to see further down the block, and thus to gain a sense of the size of this event and of the place where this event occurred.
3 Make Inferences
From the setting, we can understand that this is an urban, predominately African American neighborhood. The size of the apartment buildings indicates this is a big city. Because of the year when this was taken—1924—we can infer that this photograph was made in one a few cities where there were such neighborhoods: New York or Chicago.
A key narrative detail tells us even more about this location and this event. The words, “The New Negro Has No Fear” has particular meaning. “New Negro” was a term popularized in Harlem in the 1920s, and referred to a newly empowered African American identity. “The New Negro Has No Fear” was the slogan of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The Jamaican-born Garvey founded the UNIA in Harlem, New York in 1914, and urged black economic and political solidarity. Garvey organized huge parades to promote the work of the UNIA.
Even though African Americans did encounter racism and discrimination in the North, the event and the plain language of the sign is also indication of the degree of freedom African Americans had in the Northern cities. Unlike in the South where there was a threat of violence, African Americans in these cities could congregate and directly engage in political activities.
4 Formulate Further Questions
How did African Americans interpret the “New Negro”? What were aspects of this identity and what made it new? What were its influences and symbols?
The reaction of this crowd to this event raises a question about the broader reception of these ideas within African American communities in the North, and whether or not these ideas filtered into the southern region as well.