Page:Harlem Shadows (1922).djvu/20

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xvi
Introduction

in the face of a contemptuous or condescending civilization.

Claude McKay came to the United States in 1912, having been offered an education here by a friend in Jamaica who believed in his abilities. His intention was to learn scientific farming, and return to the island to offer practical wisdom as well as music to his people. He went at first to one of our established philanthropic institutions for the training of colored people. He stayed there a few months–long enough to weary of the almost military system of discipline. And then he went to the Agricultural College of Kansas, where he had learned that a free life and a more elective system of education prevailed. He studied for two years there, thinking continually less about farming and more about literature, and gradually losing away altogether the idea of returning to live in Jamaica. He left the college in 1914, knowing that he was a poet–and imagining, I think, that he was a rather irresponsible and wayward character–to cast in his lot with the working-class Negroes of the north. Since then he has earned his living in every one of the ways that the northern Negroes do,