Critical Editions Produced by Students at Rider University
Mariah Langton, Jessica Pappalardo
Dr. K. Ross
20th Century American Literature
December 14, 2015
The Political Creation and Celebration of an African American Artistic Culture
The Crisis represents an enduring and compelling piece of American history, encouraging and facilitating social dialogue around the most historically prominent minorities in the country. Its founding editor, W.E.B. Du Bois, propounds a controversial theory in his practice as an editor, that, “propaganda must sit at the center of African American art forms” (Tucker). Although certainly not the only periodical of the time to emphasize politics through art (or vice versa), it was the most successful African American magazine that had thus far attempted to do so. We chose to pursue the topic of the relationship of art and politics in our issue of The Crisis because it is both explicitly stated by authors as an imperative understanding, and it is also a key function to analyzing milieu of the time.
Our topic sheds light upon The Crisis in its early stages, but also provides mechanism for future understanding of both an ongoing cultural problem (the “Color Line”, or racism), and manifestations of cultural communication that are bound to recur, as history repeats itself (Tucker). In this issue (Vol. 8 No. 2) many instances of art and politics working in conjunction with each other occur, from sculpture to poetry, from the Spingarn medal to advertising.
This foundation of the African American sub-culture was made possible through and emphasized by the overall message and theme that The Crisis attempted to impress through its various articles and contributors. For example, the June 1914 issue of the journal is particularly concerned with the artistic and political achievements of the African American community (perhaps more so than what was usual), as it is the issue that introduces the Spingarn Medal, the qualifications for potential recipients, and who those potential recipients actually were.
In many ways, the Spingarn Medal represents more than just the esteemed accomplishments of individuals in the community; it has the additional function of being a physical representation of the exclusion African Americans faced in the artistic and political world of early twentieth century America, much like The Crisis itself. In other words, since African American achievement was repeatedly unacknowledged by the more mainstream and prestigious awards that white Americans were continuous recipients of, it became necessary for the N. A. A. C. P. to create an award of their own. To highlight this, a good portion of this issue of the journal additionally discusses the areas of art and politics where African Americans were either purposefully excluded as participants of or were unrecognized in their talent and value in comparison to the white community.
This issue as well as the Spingarn Medal function, therefore, as a celebration of African American achievement as well as a cry of frustration in the white community’s refusal to recognize those very accomplishments despite the clear demonstration of ability as well as intellect. What this did, however, was additionally reinforce white ideals to measure the value of members of the community, and the only action that could be taken in the meantime, unfortunately, was to continue to encourage success and artistic and political presence in the African American community (as wells as formal education), acknowledging it through the Spingarn Medal. This promotion of success and the strategies to come by it often came through the articles themselves, but was additionally and especially highlighted in the advertising printed throughout the issue.
Through careful use of the advertising section, W.E.B. Dubois and The Crisis create an impressive resume of public African American success. By only promoting literature either authored by or about the African American life, the periodical carefully subverts the message of normalized racism by the Jim Crow laws. Offering the demographic a culture of African American literature worthy of advertising not only assigns merit to the community where it hadn’t previously existed, but also illuminates the reality that the African American race and the African American life possesses a quality that is worthy of replicating through art.
Partnering only with a publishing company that although “legally separate” from the N.A.A.C.P. and The Crisis (The Crisis, Web) is still the official printing press for the organization, the periodical protected and ensured its ability to advertise however they saw fit. Omitting the complicating factor of potentially having to adhere to a different set of political and social values of an existing publishing company, The Crisis was able to secure the freedom to make their own promotional decisions. As such, they could utilize more than just the editorial aspect of production to both progress the African American race and celebrate its past success.
This specific issue is ultimately a clear example of the tactics used, both political and within the functions and parameters of an editorial, by The Crisis to contextualize and assign new, positive value to the success of African Americans. In doing so, the N.A.A.C.P. created a legacy of a medium of social progress.
20th Century American Literature
December 14, 2015
Promotion of White Ideals Through Art and Politics in The Crisis
With the end of slavery nearing its fiftieth anniversary, the social and racial climate of early twentieth century America was supposed to be different than that of its dark past. In practice, however, this distinctly proved to not be the case as African Americans continued to be subjected to acts of violent and casual discrimination on both systematic and individual scales. One of the ways in which White America persisted in its oppression of the African American community was through a purposeful absence of African American representation and general visibility in mainstream media. In other words, the newspapers of the time period were not inclusive of issues and news that pertained to African Americans in this country and this exclusion is what lead to the creation of The Crisis as a journal targeted to that community. Founded by W. E. B. Du Bois in affiliation with the N. A. A. C. P., The Crisis sought to acknowledge and highlight these issues that were being previously ignored for the consumption of African American readers. By having his own journal for this community, W. E. B. Du Bois, as editor, was essentially free to promote the political agendas that he personally felt were most suitable for advancing (as the N. A. A. C. P. would likely put it) African Americans in White America. What is particularly interesting (and in ways troubling) is that when examining articles and contributors of the June 1914 issue, it would appear that The Crisis is strongly aligning itself with white ideals of art and politics, but with a black context and perspective.
However, this observation is as surprising as it is unsurprising once Du Bois’ background as an activist is considered. Remembered primarily as an intellectual and an advocate for African American’s participation in a higher education, he strongly (as well as “openly”) opposed Booker T. Washington’s promotion of trade school as it maintained African American’s place of inferiority in the structure of American society (Han, 1). While this is not an unreasonable claim or a harmful ideology, it does suggest an emphasis on the white standard of human value and intellect as well as the desire to be a respected part of it. Of course, Du Bois was a very accomplished leader in the movement for African American civil rights and did not hesitate to criticize the white community in America, but this, again, demonstrates an (possibly unconscious) alignment with a very western and very white from of mind. And by tailoring key aspects of The Crisis with those ideals, Du Bois encouraged his African American readers to learn how to exist in a white world as an African American rather than creating and shaping an African American world within America.
This is demonstrated very prominently in the June 1914 issue’s inclusion of two separate pieces written by James David Corrothers, an African American poet who chose to stylize his work in the English literary tradition (Grandel, 319). When reading his work, it is very obvious that Corrothers was an extremely educated man – particularly in his piece titled “Listen O Isles!” where he makes numerous allusions to figures of Roman mythology such as Neptune, Daphne, Apollo, and Adonis (The Crisis, Web). Being so well educated himself, this would have greatly appealed to Du Bois: a talented African American poet who could write as well as a white one. This is nothing to scoff at when considering that it was popular opinion among white people of this time period that African Americans did not have the same capabilities as whites, but it does encourage African Americans to strive for white culture standards.
This issue is seen again in the section of the journal famously known as “The Color Line” when the subject matter turns to an argument in favor of African Americans serving in the American army. For this column, The Crisis cites the former Brigade General Richard Henry Pratt as in support of the community’s involvement in military service (The Crisis, Web). This is not within itself problematic because, politically, it was to the community’s strategic advantage to have the reinforcement of a retired serviceman – especially one who was white (and therefore possessed all of the privilege that came with it) and who also held such a high position in the army. Using the voice of someone like Pratt would certainly be useful in political advancement, but Pratt himself played a very strong role in the oppression of the Native Americans of the time period, and it is worrisome that that does not go critiqued in The Crisis (King, 1).
At the time, Richard Henry Pratt participated quite heavily in what is known as cultural genocide and he inflicted it on the Native American people; this was something that was supported by the federal government and seen as a kindness towards the Natives as it encouraged assimilation and white education along with the “[eradication] [of] indigenous practices and perspectives” (King, 1). By enabling and leading this practice, Pratt would have thought that he was bettering the Native American community as well as helping them survive and be successful in America’s white society (as supported by his alarming statement: “kill the Indian and save the man”) (King, 1). The main way through which this was accomplished was through education – something that Du Bois was heavily in support of for the African American community, as we know. But what is not known is whether Du Bois was in support of Pratt’s action towards the Native Americans, and while the silence on the matter does not necessarily indicate support, it does suggest compliance – or at least an effort on the behalf of The Crisis to not acknowledge what Pratt had done.
This indicates one of two things: either The Crisis was in support of an ideology that functioned similarly to cultural genocide by means of education, or the scope of the journal did not exist outside of the concerns of the African American community and will therefore ignore other marginalized groups in favor of their own political agenda.
The former of the two is particularly shocking, but it would be important to note that The Crisis and Du Bois would be acting as an oppressed group rather than an oppressor and would therefore be reacting in a way they had been strongly encouraged to by white society. Which does not negate the injustice of such a position, but does, however, provide somewhat of an explanation for it; Du Bois advocated for higher education for his community and perhaps he did not see it as criminal to do the same for another race.
As for the latter, it would then codify The Crisis as a journal meant to exclusively address the plights and advancement of African Americans – which is not particularly surprising because the N. A. A. C. P. is an African American organization and African Americans were the target audience, but The Crisis did label itself as a “Record of the Darker Races” as a subtitle (The Crisis, Web). The plurality of “races” does suggest some sort of representation and extension outside of African Americans, but that is evidently not true in practice. This is reinforced by the fact that the only mentions in this issue of the journal of “Natives” are in relation to foreign news about Africa and not of the ones in America (The Crisis, Web).
This kind of emphasis on education is seen again through the work of sculptor, Meta Warwick Fuller, who did attend a more vocational school in America for art, but then continued her studies in Paris – something that is certainly by any standards, but is especially so when considering which ideals and the romanticism that surrounds a city that is the epitome of sophisticated white culture (Logan, 1). Again and again, it seems, that readers are told (sometimes subliminally) that the path to greatness and to higher achievement is through means that hold more merit within the white community than anything else.
What is especially learned from these instances where The Crisis places value and emphasis on white ideals (occasionally just by mere association) is that it was not easy to succeed in America during this time as a member of a marginalized group – something that is still, in many ways, true to this day. This way of thinking, however, has the potential to be incredibly damaging (hence the continued reinforcement of it) and that is a little disconcerting considering that The Crisis had an estimated 22,500 African American readers in 1914 (Rudwick, 214). This is not to undermine the strong and important work that The Crisis did for the African American community – particularly in giving a public voice to it – but it certainly is an example of some of the flaws in the journal, which were, of course, a product of popular white propaganda.
Advertising and Art in The Crisis
Dr. K. Ross
December 14, 2015
As an African-American organization, the N.A.A.C.P. developed a previously unheard of advantage for itself in its early years: its own printing company. As such, the playing field was more leveled when it came to the politics of periodical publishing between The Crisis and other, more popularized periodicals targeted at the white population. The N.A.A.C.P. was not reliant on an external entity for its production. More compelling, though, was the subtle, political use by The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. of the publishing platform. This did not just occur between the pages of The Crisis, but rather was characterized in the other items of literature that the publishers produced. In doing so, the N.A.A.C.P. was not only able to secure and protect the African American agenda for social and cultural equality, but also able to enhance and progress it.
Very little accessible historical, critical, academic, or even current literature exists that directly addresses the internal goings-on of the publishing company. The most intriguing lead begins and ends on the “About Us” page, on The Crisis’s website, stating that The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. is “a for-profit enterprise that is legally separate from the NAACP.” (The Crisis, Web). The most obvious benefits of this separation would presumably be that the publishing company is not necessarily restricted by any mission statement, and can thus act independently in business ventures (whereas a non-profit would have to be more sensitive about actions that might affect image.) This gives the publishing company more freedom to create subtle social via its choices in author partnership.
Prior periodicals in the U.S. had set a high standard of quality literature, art, scientific, and editorial content. Popular magazines in the 19th century included Harper’s and The Scientific American (the two oldest periodicals in the nation, still publishing), along with Graham’s (which, at one point, boasted Edgar Allan Poe as its editor) (Phegley, 63; Funk & Wagnalls). Thus, to truly exist as a beacon of empowerment to the African American people, The Crisis had to develop an impressive pattern of representation of current art being produced by its target demographic, otherwise it would be dull and inaccessible, allowing itself to regress to a political irrelevance. Here is where the entrepreneurial freedom to maneuver as a business begins to reveal itself as a social benefit. Although the “Art” column in The Crisis editorial is a clear display of African American culture, the advertising that appears toward the end of the periodical is worth assessment.
The word “H A Z E L” is displayed at the top of page 98, utilizing nearly half of the space on the page (The Crisis). The advertisement is eye catching in both its use of enormous font and an impressive amount of negative, unprinted space within the ad. In a periodical crammed full of words and pictures, the unprinted part of the page draws much attention. “Hazel” turns out to be a novel about young colored girl. The significance of this is that it’s author, Mary White Ovington, is one of the founders of the N.A.A.C.P., and the novel is published and sold by the Crisis Publishing Company (prior to the inclusion of “Inc.” in the title.) Here, we see the potential social and political benefits of having their publishing company be legally separate from The Crisis and the N.A.A.C.P.
Although Ovington is white, her writing a novel about a black girl is a quiet act of political rebellion in that she is personally, manually re-adjusting a common understanding of a demographic of second-class citizens (African Americans), and assigning a new value to their lives by making them worthy of white literature. In this sense, the choice to advertise such an art form was a step toward a more egalitarian social atmosphere. The majority of the readership of the periodical was African American, but even so, this advertising acumen on the part of The Crisis created a foundation of cultural validation to counter the constant messages of worthlessness and invisibility that African Americans had to negotiate. Now, rather than a web of an art culture describing and glorifying the life and existence of only white people, the African American art culture was adopting methods of the whites to sustain itself. In doing so, The Crisis carefully utilized every aspect of the traditional periodical, even the banal and logistical aspects of production (such as financial stability through advertising,) toward their mission of the progression and growth of the African American race.
Similarly on the following page, the reader sees a full page add for “Masterpieces of Negro Eloquence” (The Crisis, 99). Unlike Hazel, the anthology is not published by The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc., but it is still a celebration of African American creativity and aesthetic production. Worth taking into account is how the subject of the anthology informs Dunbar’s historical persona. She was fair skinned enough to often pass for white in the thick of the Jim Crow era, but the posthumous release of her diary revealed an astonishing disdain for darker skinned African Americans (Boynton). Dunbar’s prejudice has been interpreted to be more in regards to class than race, as she was an avid activist for African American rights. Still, her choice in collecting “eloquent masterpieces” shows some kind of intellectual sense of supremacy, in alignment with her prejudices. Dunbar is most famous for her tumultuous marriage to the poet Paul Laurence Dunbar (author of “We Wear the Mask”.)
Although her personal life and activism relate very closely to her authorship, the fact remains that Alice Dunbar was a model of a successful African American woman, in the creative field. The Crisis’s choice to advertise her work not only promoted her own economic success, but also the possibility of success for any African American in literature. However warped and biased the motivation may have been for Dunbar’s literary acumen, it offered a platform for which white intellectuality and African American intellectuality could be perceived as equal.
On the second to last page of advertisement (and the entire periodical,) a Crisis-developed list of reading is advertised, full-page (103). The list provides postage cost, ordering through the address of The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc., promoting the work of prominent black writers (many of whom share some social or economic attachment to The Crisis.) These authors include W.E.B. DuBois (founder of The Crisis and co-founder of the N.A.A.C.P.,) Charles Chesnutt (famous African American poet,) Mary White Ovington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Maud Cuney Hare (historically famous and important editor and writer of African American historical anthologies,) Kelly Miller (prior developer and contributor to The Crisis,) Alice Moore Dunbar, Booker T. Washington (leading political figure for African Americans,) among others. Again, the freedom to design and utilize the pages of the editorial without any kind of political obligation or parameters by an external publishing company put The Crisis at an incredible advantage, in regards to promoting the general culture and emphasizing the otherwise invisible success of the African American race.
As positive and progressive as this publishing circumstance was for African Americans and the N.A.A.C.P. during the earlier stages of The Crisis, it is worth noting that all of the political and economical maneuvers were tailored to the white man’s game, operating in a playing field that supported a self-sustaining function of white supremacy, in the early 20th century. Without being deceptive or dishonest, the administrative powers behind the N.A.A.C.P. developed a way to foster an immersive culture for African Americans, validating the artistic and intellectual sensibility and capacity of the race, within the parameters of an otherwise non-threatening medium (to the majority of white people,) being the editorial The Crisis.
2. Sylvia Olden, sometimes referred to as Sylvia Alice Ward Olden, was the mother of Sylvia Olden Lee. Lee boasts an astonishing social resume of groundbreaking public performance as an African American woman. She performed as an accompanist for the inauguration for the National Council of Negro Women, at the White House. She also joined Paul Robeson on tour, as a musician. In 1953, she became the first official African American vocal coach for the Metropolitan Opera (Cheatham, 4; 55). P 60, Music and Art
3. After graduating from the Fisk University music program in 1907, Roy W. Tibbs went on to become one of the most prominent African American music educators, from the south (Abbott, 369). After graduating, he became a professor at Howard University and founded the Glee Club (Anacostia, Web). P 60, Music and Art
4. Clarence Cameron White performed all over the country during his college career. Prior to studying music in Europe, he most famously helped compose a vocal choir orchestration for a music festival in Atlanta (Abbott, 29). P 60, Music and Art
5. The People’s Choral Society of Philadelphia, now know as the People’s Chorus, was (and is) a nationally infamous choir comprised of many people (Abott, 32). P 60, Music and Art
6. Robert Heberton Terrell was “one of the first African Americans to graduate from Harvard;” he later “became a school supervisor and…[then] a federal judge” (“Terrell, Mary (1863 – 1954)”). His wife, Mary, was an advocate for African American rights (particularly the rights of African American women) who “[served] as the first African American member of District of Columbia Board of Education,…president of the National Association of Colored Women,…[and] charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; she additionally “led a [successful] drive to integrate the American Association of University Women” (“Terrell, Mary (1863 – 1954)”). P 62, Along the Color Line
7. This Masonic Temple is an institution for freemasonry, which is “a ritual-based fraternal brotherhood with roots in seventeenth century Great Britain [that] has been active in America since the fourth decade of the eighteenth century” (Moore, 1). “George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, John Philip Sousa, Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, and J. Edgar Hoover” are among its notable, former members (Moore, 1). The first African American Freemasons were initiated in the 1700s; however, the statewide Caucasian American Grand Lodges “refused to recognize the legitimacy of the black” members (Moore, 1). One of the first African American Freemasons, Prince Hall, became Grand Master despite the prejudice in the community and “charted lodges composed of African Americans in Providence and Philadelphia” – much like the one pictured here in Jacksonville (Moore, 1). This led to the development of “the African American Masonic movement throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,” which experienced discrimination and a complete lack of acknowledgement from its white counterpart (Moore, 1). P 65, Along the Color Line
8. Richard Henry Pratt was a retired Brigade General at the time of the publishing of this issue of The Crisis, known for his work to assimilate the Native Americans into white culture as well coining as the phrase, “kill the Indian and save the man” (King, 1). This act of forced assimilation involved “eradicating indigenous practices and perspectives” in order “to civilize supposedly barbaric peoples, hoping to absorb them as productive, disciplined citizens” (King, 1). P 71, Along the Color Line
9. James David Corrothers was a lesser known black poet of the early twentieth century whose work was “characterized by a tension between dialect poetry and poetry in the standard of literary tradition” (Grandel, 319). In his poetry he displayed a strict obedience towards the white community’s version of poetry, which the dominating white society had decided was proper and correct (Grandel, 319). In addition to paying homage to white poets such as Shelley and Keats, Corrothers greatly admired Paul Laurence Dunbar, a black poet who exhibited that same “tension” in his work (Grandel, 319-320). The contrasting characteristics of these two poets, however, is that Dunbar adhered to his white audience’s interest in “plantation tradition,” leaving breadcrumbs of his personal beliefs through allusions to classical writings whereas Corrothers wrote all of his work in the way that Dunbar probably wanted to: in the “Anglo-American Romantic tradition” (Grandel, 319-320). P 79, “A Song of May and June”
10. This sculpture, title Emancipation, was commissioned in the year 1913 by W. E. B. Du Bois for “the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation in New York” and photographed to be featured in this issue of The Crisis (Logan, 1). It was sculpted by Meta Warwick Fuller, a Philadelphia native, who earned her art degree at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art (Logan, 1). Despite facing considerable racial prejudice within her field, Fuller gained recognition and popularity in the United States as well as Paris (where she was a resident from 1899 to 1902) for her pieces that included African American figures (Logan, 1). P 82, The N. A. A. C. P.
11. Joel Elias Spingarn, a white man, was one of the founders of the NAACP who had held positions as “board of directors chair, treasurer, and president” (“Spingarn, Arthur B. (Barnett) Spingarn, Joel Elias,” 1). In addition to encouraging and supporting black writers of the time, Spingarn “established the organization’s prestigious Spingarn Medal,” which, despite being named after him, was dedicated to members of the black community who had made “significant contributions” (“Spingarn, Arthur B. (Barnett) Spingarn, Joel Elias,” 1). P 88, The Spingarn Medal
12. “Maid o’ the Moon” is perhaps a reference to the famous “levitation” magic trick/illusion of the time period where a woman was seemingly suspended in mid air, “rotating” and “spinning” without being attached to anything that would hold her up (theaddiechronicles, 1). William Ellsworth Robinson did not create the illusion, but he did “develop and perform” it with his wife, Dot, while with the Herrmman Co. (theaddiechronicles, 1). P 89, “Listen, O Isles!”
13. This photograph of a woman by L. R. Miner is a companion piece to the short story, The Shell Road Witch, by M. Budd, which was published for the first time in this issue of The Crisis. This story may have served as the inspiration for the play The Curse of the Shell Road Witch, that written by the African American playwright Willis Richardson during the 1920s (Prentiss, 126). P 90, The Shell Road Witch
14. Here is exemplified the subtler instances where the benefit of having a legaly separate publishing company, The Crisis Publishing, Inc., blurs the line between demographic uplift and utilization of personal resources. Mary White Ovington (a white woman,) was one of the five founders of the N.A.A.C.P. Perhaps it is fair to assume that the alliance between Ovington and the organization was mutually beneficial (Rappaport). P 98, HAZEL
15. A compelling case study, Alice Dunbar led a famously tumultuous life in terms of racial identity. She was fair-skinned enough to pass for white, and the postmortem publishing of her diary reveals a surprising disdain for darker skinned African Americans, in conjunction with those who did not share her privileged educational background. She was most prominently a highly prolific novelist, and impressively successful for an African American woman (Boynton). P 99, MASTERPIECES OF NEGRO ELOQUENCE
This is an image of poet James David Corrothers. P 79, “A Song of May and June”
The poster for the “Maid of the Moon” illusion that the Herrmann Co. performed during this time period. James David Corrothers possibly referenced this illusion in his poem, “A Song of May and June.” P 79, “A Song of May and June”
“Howard Glee Club” The Howard University Glee Club was an incredibly successful African American, acapella choir. It’s founder, Roy Tibbs, is seen center of the bottom row (Hare, 328-9). P 60, Music and Art
“Fisk Jubilee Singers” This co-ed choir was known for their arrangements of African American spirituals (Hare, 55). Still operating today, the group has published multiple albums and received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award for it’s historical significance. Here is a recording of the original singers.
“Pastor Argudin Pedroso” Pastor Argudin Pedroso was a famous Cuban painter, internationally know for his work throughout the African American culture in the U.S. His art shows were prominent enough to be listed in the New York Times (Cuban Arts Connection, Web; Critical Past, Web). The following link leads to a soundless clip of him and spectators at one of his art shows, in 1937.
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Moore, Willam D. “Freemasonry.” The Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Eds. Gerard C. Wertkin and Lee Kogan. London: Routledge, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 17 Nov. 2015.
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Rudwick, Elliott M. “W. E. B. Du Bois in the Role of Crisis Editor.” The Journal of Negro History. Vol. 43, No. 3 (Jul., 1958): 214-240. Web. 26 September 2015.
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