Many people have some sort of familiarity with the Harlem Renaissance, but relatively few have an understanding or familiarity with Chicago as an epicentre of the flowering of multiple creative expressions, just as worthy of recognition as that given to New York and its synonymity with the Harlem Renaissance. Chicago-born Charles White has important parts to play in these Chicagoan narratives, and in that regard, The Black Chicago Renaissance, published in 2012, is an important volume.
From the back cover of the book:
Beginning in the 1930s, Black Chicago experienced a cultural renaissance that lasted into the 1950s and rivaled the cultural outpouring in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The contributors to this volume analyze this prolific period of African American creativity in music, performance art, social science scholarship, and visual and literary artistic expression.
Like Harem, Chicago became a major destination for black southern migrants. Unlike Harlem, Chicago was also an urban industrial center that gave a unique working class and internationalist perspective to the cultural work being done in Chicago. This collection's various essays discuss the forces that distinguished the Black Chicago Renaissance from the Harlem Renaissance and place the development of black culture in a national and international context. Contributors will also provole explorations of renaissances in other cities. Among the topics discussed in this volume are Chicago writers Gwendolyn Brooks and Richard Wright, The Chicago Defender and Tivoli Theater, African American music and visual arts, and the American Negro Exposition of 1940.
Edited by Darlene Clark Hine and John McCluskey Jr., The Black Chicago Renaissance was, for the purposes of scholarship on Charles White, hugely important in situating his extraordinary practices as an artist into the wider, hugely compelling context of Chicago’s importance as a generator of cultural product and cultural identity. A number of references to White were made in the book, though the central manifestation was an entire chapter, “Chicago’s Native Son: Charles White and the Laboring of the Black Renaissance”, by Erik S. Gellman. Not only was this fascinating text illustrated with important archival images, but White was also represented, in the book’s section of colour plates, by reproductions of three important works produced between 1939/40 and 1969.
Such fabulous scholarship enabled White to be appreciated for his distinctly left-leaning political sympathies, as well as his profoundly energetic talents as an artist. One of the important archival images referred to above was White’s drawing of Langston Hughes. Not only did White annotate the sketch with references to Hughes, and the location in which it was made, Gellman also appended the illustration with information that included “White drew Langston Hughes in his sketchbook while listening to him lecture on the spread of fascism in Spain on April 1, 1938, in Chicago. White appreciated the artists of the Harlem Renaissance and also admired Hughes for his leftist cultural politics.” (151)
Published by University of Illinois Press in 2012, the book (particularly with regards to its chapter on White) was further evidence of a deepening and widening level of scholarship on the artist.