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Claude McKay

Claude McKay
Usage Conditions Apply
Berenice Abbott, 17 Jul 1898 - 9 Dec 1991
Claude McKay, 15 Sep 1889 - 22 May 1948
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 24.3 × 19.5 cm (9 9/16 × 7 11/16")
Mount: 35.9 × 28.3 cm (14 1/8 × 11 1/8")
Mat: 55.9 × 40.7 cm (22 × 16")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
© Berenice Abbott/Getty Images
Object number
Exhibition Label
Born Sunny Ville, Jamaica
Melding lyric poetic forms with the bitter realities of American racism seemed an unlikely combination. But poet-novelist Claude McKay made it work, and Harlem Shadows, his collection of poems published in 1922, is regarded as a major catalyst in unleashing the cultural ferment of the Harlem Renaissance. Of the poems in Shadows, the best remembered was "If We Must Die." Inspired by the rash of American race riots in 1919, it ended with the lines "Like men we'll face the murderous cowardly pack,/ pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!" The universality of appeal in those eloquently defiant words made this poem a call to action, not only for the emerging American civil rights movement but also for such figures as Winston Churchill, who used the lines to rally the Allies during World War II.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
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