Claude McKay

Claude McKay


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Negro Catholic Writers (1900-1943):

A Bio-Bibliography (1945)

By Sister Mary Anthony Scally, R.S.M.

Librarian, Mount St. Agnes College Baltimore



Books by and about Claude McKay

Home to Harlem  / Banjo  /  Banana Bottom  / Gingertown  /  A Long Way from Home  / Harlem: Negro Metropolis  /  Selected Poems 

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Lloyd D. McCarthy, In-Dependence from Bondage: Claude McKay and Michael Manley

Defying the Ideological Clash and Policy Gaps in African Diaspora Relations. (2007)

Edourad Gissant. Caribbean Discourse (2004)  /  Barbara Harlow. Resistance Literature (1987)

Penny M. Von Eschen. Race Against Empire: Black Americans and Anticolonialism, 1937-19 (1997

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Claude McKay

One of the most distinguished poets of our time, Claude McKay (1890-1948) was born in Sunny Ville, Jamaica, British West Indies (15 September), the son of Thomas Francis and Ann Elizabeth (Edwards) McKay. By Jamaican standards, McKay’s family was fairly well off having received land from the bride’s and the groom’s fathers. Claude was the last of eleven children born to Thomas and Ann (Hannah, in some texts) McKay.

Before he left Jamaica in 1913, McKay published, just after he turned twenty, Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads. For seventeen months, laude McKay was a policeman. He seemed to have regretted later having been “an agent of colonial oppression in a most brutal manner.” In both works McKay made extensive use of the Jamaican language known as a patois of English. he was the first Negro to receive the medal of the Institute of the Arts and Sciences. After McKay left Jamaica, he never returned.

In 1913, McKay came to the United States and enrolled in Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute with the intent to study agriculture. During the year, he left Tuskegee and enrolled at Kansas State College where he remained until 1914. He then went to new York. From 1915 to 1918, McKay worked as a waiter and a porter. During this period he published his work in small literary magazines, such as The Seven Arts Magazine (1917), Pearson’s (1918, then edited by Frank Harris), and The Liberator.

Between 1918 and 1919, McKay went abroad, visited England and lived in London for more than a year. There he compiled Spring in New Hampshire and Other Poems (1920). In 1919, on his return to New York, McKay joined the staff of Liberator magazine as associate editor and continued in that position until 1922, a period in which Max Eastman was then the editor. In 1922, McKay completed Harlem Shadows, a work of poetry considered a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance.

That same year McKay visited the USSR. Active in the social justice movement, McKay became a Communist, believing that communism offered his cause hope. McKay traveled extensively abroad; after visits to Berlin and Paris, he settled down in France for a decade. He, however, remained in contact with the expatriate community of American writers. McKay returned to the United States in the early 1930s.

In France, he began to write prose, including three three novels — Home to Harlem (1928), a best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature; Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933). He would later write a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932); a book of autobiography and travel, A Long Way from Home (1937), and another autobiographical work, Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940). His final work Selected Poems (1953) was published posthumously.

From 1932 until his death in Chicago 1948, McKay never left the United States. His interest in communism dwindled, according to Sister Mary Anthony:

A period of new hopelessness followed. But, like truth crushed to earth will rise again. And his arose this time built upon the sound, the same, the solid foundation of the Faith. He had not only come into contact with the Friendship House of the baroness de Hueck (Mrs. Edward J. Doherty) and her associates, he had caught some of the spirit of that Catholic apostolate. And gradually he came to realize for himself that in Catholicism lay the hope of the race, indeed, of all the races. He was received into the Church in Chicago in October, 1944, by Bishop Bernard Sheil and is now on the staff of the Bishop Sheil School in that city (pp. 80-81).

During  his address to the American Congress in his effort to encourage American aid and American entry in the fight against German nazism, Winston Churchill, UK prime minister, concluded his speech by a reading of McKay’s famous poem “If We Must Die.” Uncertainty exists whether Churchill was aware of the source and intent of McKay’s sonnet, which was a response to the 1919 wave of Negro lynchings in the American South. Doubtless, the sentiments of the poem were universal and in the then historical context of a colonial power, ironic..

If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! O kinsmen we must meet the common foe! Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

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The Price of Civilization

Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity

By Jeffrey D. Sachs

The Price of Civilization is a book that is essential reading for every American. In a forceful, impassioned, and personal voice, he offers not only a searing and incisive diagnosis of our country’s economic ills but also an urgent call for Americans to restore the virtues of fairness, honesty, and foresight as the foundations of national prosperity. Sachs finds that both political parties—and many leading economists—have missed the big picture, offering shortsighted solutions such as stimulus spending or tax cuts to address complex economic problems that require deeper solutions. Sachs argues that we have profoundly underestimated globalization’s long-term effects on our country, which create deep and largely unmet challenges with regard to jobs, incomes, poverty, and the environment. America’s single biggest economic failure, Sachs argues, is its inability to come to grips with the new global economic realities. Sachs describes a political system that has lost its ethical moorings, in which ever-rising campaign contributions and lobbying outlays overpower the voice of the citizenry. . . . Sachs offers a plan to turn the crisis around. He argues persuasively that the problem is not America’s abiding values, which remain generous and pragmatic, but the ease with which political spin and consumerism run circles around those values. He bids the reader to reclaim the virtues of good citizenship and mindfulness toward the economy and one another.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 2 October 2007 




Home   Negro Catholic Writers Table   Inside the Caribbean  Langston Hughes Table

Related files: Claude McKay Bio  Black Consciousness Poet—Claude McKay  / The Life and Times of Black Poet Claude McKay   In-Dependence from Bondage  Manley’s Legacy

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