Claude McKay’s ‘Home to Harlem’

Claude McKay Puts Life’s Lessons and Leaders into Perspective…


I had planned to include this excerpt* from Claude McKay’s Home To Harlem from the first time I read it. It gave me goosebumps instantly. This thing was terribly powerful and it was if something was planted in me that made me become highly reflexive- thinking about our thought and action; what works, what doesn’t work and what isn’t meant to work. I had to read it about three times before I could move on.

No other time has it been more relevant to me than what ideas are being fed to us and our children daily sometimes without us even recognizing it. Now that we are becoming leaders too we still must know where to draw the line; are we truly and correctly interpreting and mobilizing the teachings and messages of our past leaders as we ought to. And even if our leaders themselves were right in their teachings to us. Man is prone to fault, our leaders are man. Message is prone to individual interpretation, each man is an individual. So where do we as students of these teachers find the balance in what is written and in what can, realistically and with the best results, be done?

Claude McKay

In my opinion we are stuck. What was written 50, 500, 5000 years ago did not and could not take into account our world today. If ones thought and action does not build upon, modernize and become more dynamic with what used to be then we arere just lost in rhetoric with no lasting, positive action in our globalized world.

If we are not trying to strengthen ourselves- in our present and in our future- we are holding to antiquated ideas without doing better.

Here McKay’s Haitian character Ray (nicknamed Professor because he read so much) comes to the same point in his life where he wonders why he has even spent so much time getting educated if there is not some “fertile reality” that he can create out of. Yes… it is pessimism even a sort of depression- McKay brings m point right home.

*Originally I was not going to involve the first paragraph but I think it is needed with my discussion of The New Black Panther Party and their tactics.

Ray was not prophetic-minded enough to define the total evil that one had wrought and the ultimate splendor of the other. But, in spite of the general tumults and threats, the perfectly-organized national rages, the ineffectual patching of broken, and hectic re-building of the shattered, things, he had perception enough to realize that he had lived over the end of an era.

And also he realized that his spiritual masters had not crossed with him into the new. He felt alone, hurt, neglected, cheated almost naked. But he was a savage, even though he was a sensitive one, and did not mind nakedness. What had happened? Had they refused to come or had he left them behind? Something had happened. But it was not desertion nor young insurgency. It was death. Even as the last scion of the famous line prances out this day and dies and set aside with his ancestors in their cold white sepulcher, so had his masters marched with flags and banners flying their wonderful, trenchant, critical, satirical, mind-sharpening, pity-evoking, constructive ideas of ultimate social righteousness, into the vast international cemetery of this century.

Whew! Those are some deep words. Get this book if you can … Home to Harlem by Jamaican Claude McKay first published in 1928, said to be first book published by a Black author to become a best seller and McKay was more a poet than novel writer at the time! (I got this copy from the UWI-Mona Bookshop in February

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