Power in the Pen: New Negro Movement Writers as Post War Prognosticators

Deborah Brown, English, Vance High

Curriculum Unit (PDF)


This curriculum unit focused on reading post World War I writings from New Negro movement writers through the lens of Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle. In this unit, I explore how New Negro Movement writers like Hubert Harrison, Kelly Miller, W.E.B. DuBois, and A. Phillip Randolph felt about African American participation in the war. The premise for this approach is largely from students operating with a limited awareness of audience in their writing. In a rhetoric course, audience is the backdrop of all claims, evidence and commentary. For high school teens, understanding how audience shapes the tone and purpose of writing can be a challenge to explain. Using historical events is a great way to help students realize the value of audience because historical events are directly linked to contemporary issues. For this course, World War I and the Shaping of the 20th Century, that could not have been more pronounced. War changes things. War magnifies societal ills. War creates opportunities. War creates conflict. War causes conflict. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd– a worldwide health crisis to racial, civil, and social injustice, the underpinnings of these issues can be traced back to World War I! I want my students to analyze the chronicled rhetoric of prolific New Negro movement writers forecasting warnings about unchecked and unresolved racial tensions brewing in Post-World War I America and the impending dangers it presents to future generations.