Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, January 25, 2010

Claude McKay

Black History Month is just around the corner, and Tacoma is fortunate to be hosting the Fisk Jubilee Singers and, in a separate program, the Harlem Dance Studio.

One of my favorite Harlem Renaissance writers is Claude McKay, a native of Jamaica. He wrote poetry, fiction, and nonfiction (in the latter category, A Long Way From Home, his autobiography). He is perhaps still most famous for the protest-poem in sonnet-form, "If We Must Die," written in response to the terrible events of the Red Summer of 1919, when an epidemic of anti-Black violence occurred in the U.S.

Later, during World War II, Winston Churchill "adopted" the poem, not knowing its author was Black and not knowing the original context. As McKay notes in a recording I have, he (McKay) was just fine with, if bemused by, that. I also have a recording of Ice-T reading the poem. He does a nice job.

Here is a link to more information about McKay.
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