Carlyle Sitterson Professor of English, Emerita University of North Carolina National Humanities Center Fellow ©National Humanities Center Overview In 1941, Melville Herskovits published The Myth of the Negro Past, a text that became a classic in discussions of African Americans and their relationships to Africa.
The text helped dispel the prevailing popular belief that blacks had lost all their culture in the dreaded Middle Passage, that infamous second leg of the slave trade that brought free Africans into the New World to be enslaved.
In this long meditation that Cullen dedicated to his friend Harold Jackman, Africa emerges as a much read-about, problematic, and atavistic continent where wild animals roam and where the humans portrayed are only slightly more tame than the animals.
There is a clash between “heathen” Africa and the “Christian” west that the speaker has tremendous difficulty reconciling.
Though he has been born in the West, as a descendant of Africans he is nonetheless a child of nature, one who is led to “doff” his Christian, civilized ways and dance wildly whenever it rains.
His heathen emotional inclinations, he maintains, make it hard for his “heart and head” to realize that “they and [he] are civilized.” Africa as the perceived dark continent and America as part of western civilization provides the generalized clash that shapes African American representations of Africa during the Harlem Renaissance.
Available from: https://search.credoreference.com/content/topic/harlem_renaissance [Accessed 7 September 2019]. "Harlem Renaissance." Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon Bronner, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1st edition, 2018.
The Image of Africa in the Literature of the Harlem Renaissance Trudier Harris J.
As succeeding generations of African American writers and artists built upon those evocations, Africa, by the 1960s, was instated as an uncontested source of origin and pride for all Americans of African descent.
And it has gained even more positive status with the election of President Barack Obama.