"Dragging Themselves Through the Negro Streets at Dawn": The Influence of African American Culture on the Beats
Document Type Article
Following its victory in the Second World War, America paradoxically faced a period of prosperity and peace coupled with many underlying insecurities and tensions. There was a great deal of anxiety caused by the advent of the atom bomb, the great destruction of Europe during the war, and the growing fear of Soviet aggression. Just as there had been an effort to unite Americans against the earlier threats of German and Japanese hostility, Americans attempted to create a united front in the United States to combat the growing fear of Communism throughout the world. Members of the American middle class felt tremendous pressure to conform to mainstream culture, and this push toward homogeneity further ostracized those on the margins of society, such as African Americans. Many African Americans who fought for civil rights, such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Amiri Baraka, were branded as Communists. Along with a growing sense of conformity, technological advances, increased nationalism and economic growth helped to strengthen the middle class in the United States. This provided the middle class with increased wealth and a strong sense of identity. The Beats, reacting to society's emphasis on homogeneity, created a counter culture literary movement that was strongly influenced by African American culture, especially the uniquely African American genres of music: blues and jazz. The incorporation of African American traditions by the Beats in turn created a rich multi-cultural form of American literature that resulted in the inclusion of a myriad of voices in mainstream discourse, voices that had hitherto been silenced by mainstream society.