Essential Lens: Analyzing Photographs Across the Curriculum
Focus in on this Photo: New Negro Has No Fear
Location: New York, New York
Source: Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
UNIA Parade, organized in Harlem. Photograph shows one of the slogans carried in the parade. The sign reads “The New Negro Has No Fear”; Harlem, corner of the 135th Street and Lenox Avenue.
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 people in the car in the road on the left carry a sign: “The New Negro Has No Fear.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photos downloaded from the Essential Lens site are cleared for educational use only.
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Program 1 A Closer Look (video)
This introduction to the course models the process of analyzing photographs with teachers and students. Photography historian Makeda Best discusses the Focus In method with teachers, and educator Julie Keefe employs the method with students at a photography exhibit on "light and dark." Photography curator at the Portland Art Museum, Julia Dolan discusses how she carefully selects a set of photographs to tell a larger story.
Program 2 Witness (video)
Photographs bear witness to world events and help us to learn more about people, places, and situations -- historical and present day. Middle school teacher Donald Rose guides students in analyzing photos from school integration movements of the 1960s. Documentary film producer Ken Burns weaves photographs into historical narratives to bring the past to life. Photojournalist Louie Palu's photos take us deep into mines and war zones, and engage us with the individuals who take on those tasks.
Program 3 Lives (video)
Lives explores the story of human resilience and perseverance. Middle school teacher Donald Rose uses the Migrant Mother photos by Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange to help students understand what elements a photographer chooses to focus on to create the greatest impact. Historian Linda Gordon, biographer of FSA photographer Dorothea Lange reveals Lange's role in engaging Americans in the plight of those who were most devastated. New Orleans documentary photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick talk about the transformation of their photographs after Hurricane Katrina and working with young photographers to preserve the city's cultural heritage.
video 4 Evidence (video)
An image can show us otherwise invisible processes, previously undiscovered life forms, and dramatic change over time. High school teacher Rima Givot engages her students with highly magnified photos of mouse muscle to study genetically modified organisms. Scientist and photomicrographer Dennis Kunkel demonstrates the fascinating process of creating photographs of the microscopic world. Environmental photographer Gary Braasch reports on his worldwide travels to document the state of the planet through repeat photography.
Program 5 Story (video)
Every photograph tells a story: of struggle, of beauty, of community and culture. Social studies teacher Kim Kanof uses photos from the Protests and Politics collection to teach about protests around in the world in 1968. National Geographic photo editor Pamela Chen details the collaborative process of creating photo-based feature stories with design director David Whitmore. Iowa photographer Danny Wilcox Frazier discusses his work documenting the residents and images of marginalized communities across the United States.