The 21st Century New Negro: An Exploration of Black Identity in the Modern Age
In a world riddled with social injustice, it’s important to discover the tools that can enlighten a population. Caleb Williamson ’17, a philosophy major and government minor, is working with Professor of Philosophy Todd Franklin to determine just that. His Emerson project, “The 21st Century New Negro,” was inspired by Franklin’s course, “The Black Self.”
Although his interest was sparked in Franklin’s class, it wasn’t until attending the 19th Annual Black Solidarity Conference at Yale University that Williamson chose to pursue this topic with an Emerson Grant. Williamson attended the conference, the theme of which was "Rooted: The Odyssey of Black Art," with the Black Latino Student Union (BLSU). The students focused on understanding the black experience by examining various art forms such as film, poetry and dance.
According to Williamson, his project’s title is a reference to Alain Locke’s 1925 essay, The New Negro, “which suggested there was a shift in black consciousness from a feeling of inferiority and fear, to a feeling of empowerment and self-awareness.” Williamson approached Franklin about this project believing that Locke’s conception of the “New Negro” was no longer applicable. Through his research, Williamson said he is ultimately trying to conceptualize how the ‘21st Century New Negro’ would “enlighten and awaken blacks in America, in terms of their consciousness and how they see themselves in society.”
Williamson summarized his project, saying “I am studying the shift in black consciousness and the shift in the salience of blackness from 1895 to present day using Alain Locke’s groundbreaking examination of [the same topic].” To accomplish this, Williamson is reading essays, articles, and books written by prominent black scholars, activists, and philosophers; such as Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Alain Locke, Malcolm X, Bell Hooks, and Angela Davis. Williamson explained that he will be examining these works in order to “discuss the sociological and mental effects [that] political hindrances such as slavery and Jim Crow had on Blacks as a collective group.”
Williamson will be spending the summer poring over archives at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City, as well as in Washington, D.C. at the Library of Congress, the Black Studies Center at the D.C. Public Library, and the Howard University Afro-American Research Center. His research materials include articles, hand-written letters and original publication of books that are only available in the aforementioned facilities. Williamson will also be exploring museum exhibits in Washington that focus on black culture and experiences.
When asked about future research, Williamson enthusiastically responded, “I plan to turn this summer grant into a senior thesis, a potential dissertation for a Ph.D. program, and finally, a scholarly book that will be used to enlighten the next generation of Americans.” Although Williamson will be a sophomore in the fall, he affirmed that this is just the first step in a lifelong project, and thanked Hamilton for helping him “grow intellectually, to explore [his] options and to truly learn more about [himself] in the process.”
Caleb Williamson is a resident of Rosedale, NY, and a graduate of Saint Mary’s High School in Manhasset.