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David Levering Lewis : Minstrelsy
David Levering Lewis Minstrelsy began to play quite a part in the entertainment of all Americans. And it wasn't all pernicious. Some of it was good humor and appreciated, I suppose, by both groups. But it also was pernicious because it had the impact of creating in the minds of newcoming whites the otherness of African Americans and then they became increasingly the measuring stick, negatively, of what citizenship was all about. And so to be an American became increasingly less and less to be an American who might be an African American, but someone who was distanced from the African American. Minstrelsy played their part, but, on the other hand, of course the music of the period is heavily contributed to by African Americans. Paul Lawrence, in addition to his poetry and his novels, is writing a wonderful musical, "Chlorindi", the origins of the cakewalk with Rosemond Johnson, the brother of James Weldon Johnson. There are other light operas, as they were coming to be called, that were being written by Williams and Walker and Cole and Johnson which were to be really the grist of the Broadway musicals about to come. That's very important. I might mention, in terms of attitudes what people felt to African Americans, it is in 1900, since we're talking about music, that one of the most ah electric pieces of music in the African American experience is composed, "Lift Every Voice and Sing", in 1900 by James Weldon and Rosemond Johnson. And that will soon be called the Negro National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing, lift every voice and sing to Earth and Heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty. Let our rejoicing rise high as the highest skies. We shall walk on into glorious liberty," or something like that. It was really quite stirring and I think it reflected that obdurate optimism that continued over against this dismal backdrop of lynching and white supremacy and poverty and the rest of it that we've been talking about. Indeed, that that anthem will be of a piece with a new term that just begins to begin to be uttered, the "new negro".

I suppose African Americans thought that they were marching into the 20th century with, at the end of that century, full citizenship in the most complete sense as a given. I think if they were to see 1999 with a deficiencies, they would have been absolutely incredulous, all the progress that has been made. I think their optimism is such that they would have said that far more would have been made. The optimism, despite the realities of the situation, is, I think, the signature of 1900 for African Americans.

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