Claude McKay was born in Jamaica in 1889 to formerly enslaved people and worked most of his life as an activist, novelist, and poet. As one of the most prominent Black figures during the Harlem Renaissance, he used his works as a platform to express his support of anti-colonialism movements worldwide, including communism. During the Great Depression, his political views led him to be targeted by the FBI, and he was forced to flee to Mexico before returning home after World War II. He died in New York in 1948 from complications from diabetes and asthma.

 Claude McKay was one of the most influential poets of the Harlem Renaissance, influencing writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston with his innovative use of language and style. His works have remained relevant over time, providing an important examination of race and racism in America that still applies today.

Many of his works were eventually banned in the United States due to their sexual content or political views. Claude McKay’s life and works are some of the most influential aspects of American history during the twentieth century, which makes him a compelling historical figure to learn more about.

Early Life

Born in Jamaica, Claude McKay immigrated to the United States with his family when he was twelve. His parents were formerly enslaved people who had purchased their freedom with the money they saved while enslaved. They worked hard as farmers and were able to send their son to public school, where he excelled.

He then attended Tuskegee Institute, where he studied economics and history. After graduating from Tuskegee in 1917, he took a job as an instructor at a black high school in Georgia but soon after accepted a position teaching history at Howard University.

 In 1922, he traveled back to Jamaica for three years. During this time, he married and became the father of two children before returning to Howard University. The following year, McKay wrote what is considered one of his best works of poetry: If We Must Die. In 1929, he resigned from his post at Howard University due to political pressure over what many deemed anti-white sentiment in some of his writings.

Some Important Facts about Claude McKay’s

  1. He was born in Jamaica, 1898 to slave parents.
  2. He attended Wolmer’s School in Kingston, Jamaica
  3. McKay left school at the age of 14 to work with his father as a printer.
  4. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University
  5. His work, Home to Harlem, drew on his personal experiences of racism.
  6. McKay died on 22 November 1948, in the Veterans Hospital near Memphis, Tennessee.

Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a literary movement from the 1920s to the 1940s. Influenced by the African American vernacular, this movement showcased black artists in art, literature, music, and dance. Claude McKay is one of the most famous authors of this era. Born on September 15th, 1894, in Jamaica, he migrated to America at age 14, where he attended school in New York City. He became an advocate for African-American empowerment and racial equality. 

He then returned to Jamaica for two years before moving back to Harlem in 1919, where he wrote his first book, Home To Harlem, in 1928. A few months later after its publication, the FBI raided his house while they were looking for a Russian Communist named George Padmore who had been hiding out there earlier but couldn’t find him anywhere.

Later Years

McKay spent the years of World War II in Jamaica, where he was a part-time lecturer at the University of the West Indies. He returned to New York in 1946 and resumed his writing career. His book Home to Harlem depicted life in Harlem before and after World War I. The novel also explored racism, labor exploitation, economic exploitation, and poverty. However, a few critics were unhappy with what they saw as McKay’s blaming-the-victim mentality.

Harlem Shadows: The Poems of Claude McKay

From the late 1910s to the mid 1930s, Harlem, New York City, was the center of an explosion of African-American social, artistic, and intellectual expression that came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.

Selected Works

Claude McKay was fond of reading and writing from a young age. His interest in literature and political affair led him to produce literary marvels. His first poetry, The Lonesome Road, was published in 1909. His first novel, Home to Harlem, which is set in New York City during the Great Migration, came out a year later.

            He also wrote articles for African-American newspapers and magazines such as the Chicago Defender, which has over two million readers nationwide. His other famous works include Selected Poems (1953), The Dialectic Poetry of Claude McKay (1972), Selected Poetry and Prose (1973), Constable Ballads (1912), Songs of Jamaica (1912), and Harlem Shadows (1922).

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