Paul Robeson, Negro singer

“Golden Age”?

Paul Robeson
Alston drawing from the National Archives
On page 13 of the Binghamton (NY) Press from Wednesday, May 5, 1926 is this headline: BASS-BARITONE TO SING SPIRITUALS. But it’s the subhead that caught my attention. “Paul Robeson, Negro, Will Be Hear In Concert Friday Night.”

He was to appear at Binghamton Central High School, my alma mater. The article extensively quotes the March 3 New Republic. “A sort of sublimation of what the negro may be in the Golden Age hangs about him and imparts to his appearances an atmosphere of affection and delight that is seldom felt in an American audience.”

This is hardly the first I’ve read about the “Negro” X recently. The “Negro girl,” the “Negro pastor” show up in articles about Raymond Cone and my grandmother, Agatha Walker, e.g. It is a reflection of a time when being white was normative. Anyone not described as a “Negro” or whatever they called Native Americans (likely Indians) and Asians (Oriental?) were assumed to be white.

But what the heck was the New Republic alluding to in terms of the “Golden Age”? Is it a reference to the Harlem Renaissance? Or perhaps the Golden Age of Black Business, when “leading black capitalists . . . reflected their success within a black economy, which developed in response to the nation’s rise of two worlds of race.”

Red Summer

This in spite of the white-on-black violence of 1919’s Red Summer, which most people, a century later never heard about. Black WWI Vets Fought Back Against Racist Mobs. So “Golden age”… hmmm.

Incidentally, I was not looking for the Paul Robeson article. It sits just above a piece I was interested in. “A.M.E. Church Seeking $2,000 for Parsonage.” It described the three-day bazaar to be held to raise funds for the dwelling of one Rev. Raymond Cone. “Mayor Clarence J. Cook will the opening address.”

I have learned a great deal this past year about cultural norms by reading old newspapers. The listing of almost every church service, wedding and funeral, with the name of the preacher and often performers of special music. It would be as easy to fall down the rabbit hole on as it would to overdo on Instagram or Facebook.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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