NEW NEGRO MOVEMENT
World War I created a transformation for African Americans from the “old” to the “new.” Thousands moved from the rural South to the industrial urban North, pursuing a new vision of social and economic opportunity. During the war black troops fought abroad “to keep the world safe for democracy.” They returned home determined to achieve a fuller participation in American society. The philosophy of the civil rights movement shifted from the “accommodationist” approach of Booker T. Washington to the militant advocacy of W.E.B. Du Bois. These forces converged to help create the “New Negro Movement” of the 1920s, which promoted a renewed sense of racial pride, cultural self-expression, economic independence, and progressive politics.
Evoking the “New Negro,” the NAACP lobbied aggressively for the passage of a federal law that would prohibit lynching. The NAACP played a crucial role in the flowering of the Negro Renaissance centered in New York’s Harlem, the cultural component of the New Negro Movement. NAACP officials W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, and Jessie Fauset provided aesthetic guidance, financial support, and literature to this cultural awakening. The NAACP’s efforts on the international front included sending James Weldon Johnson to Haiti to investigate the occupation of U.S. Armed Forces there. In the courts the NAACP prosecuted cases involving disenfranchisement, segregation ordinances, restrictive covenants, and lack of due process and equal protection in criminal cases.
HARLEM HOSPITAL WPA MURALS
The WPA’s Federal Art Project, created in 1935 to support and employ artists, commissioned more than 500 murals for New York City’s public hospitals. Harlem Hospital’s were perhaps the first major federal government commissions awarded to African-Americans.
The artists — the last of whom, Georgette Seabrooke, died last year — were not well known and their murals portrayed ordinary people going about their daily lives. Vertis Hayes’s “Pursuit of Happiness” panel traces the African diaspora from 18th-century African village life to slavery in America to 20th-century freedom; from agrarian struggles in the South to professional success in the industrialized North.
Ms. Seabrooke’s “Recreation in Harlem” depicts children roughhousing, a couple dancing, a group of women chatting. After decades of renovations and building changes, some of the murals had all but disappeared. But they were rediscovered in 2004 during a campus modernization project by the architecture firm HOK. At that point, all conservators could see of the Seabrooke mural was the left-hand corner where the artist had signed her name. The murals’ new home is a 192,000-square-foot building — called the Mural Pavilion — that connects the existing Martin Luther King Jr. Pavilion to the Ron Brown Building. The Mural Pavilion contains new intensive care units, surgery rooms, clinics, imaging spaces and an emergency department.