America’s Debt to Negro Culture March 25, 1934

James Weldon Johnson, March 25, 1934

“Certainly the Negro, who by the way, landed in America in Jamestown, Virginia two years before your New England Pilgrims laded at Plymouth, has influenced the course and nature of America both actively and passively over a long period of time.

“Passively he has provided the American people, for years on end, and is still providing them with the opportunity to practice injustice, cruelty, and savagery to a defenseless minority. When a Negro accused of a crime, but not tried for it, is burned at the stake under the shadow of two Christian churches and a courthouse in the public square, his few moments of suffering are as nothing compared to the moral degradation of a community.

“Actively, I go so far as to say that there is no artistic creation of the American people, sprung from American soil and acknowledged throughout the world as American rather than as a variation of European art, save only the skyscrapers, which is not Negro.

“The body of American folklore, so well collected and explained by Joel Chandler Harris, is Negro. The American music in its most beautiful and its most popular versions is Negro. The spirituals, I may say, are of the loveliest and most elevating folk music in the world.  No other body of folk music has for its inspiration the naïve and tender devotional aspiration toward heaven and the good life that is so characteristic of the Negro religious songs.”

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