crisis : opportunity
The object of this publication is to set forth those facts and arguments which show the danger of race prejudice, particularly as manifested to-day [sic] toward colored people. It takes its name from the fact that the editors believe that this is a critical time in the history of the advancement of men.
Editorial, The Crisis (1910)
The Crisis was founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois, among others, and is still the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). At its peak, The Crisis had a circulation of 100,000 and was the premier journal for discussions of racial and social justice. It was considered the intellectual magazine for the Harlem Renaissance, and you will find many familiar literary names in its pages. Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, started by Charles S. Johnson, was a scholarly journal published by the National Urban League. It was founded in 1923 and produced its last issue in 1949. Clearly, the crisis is still ongoing, but opportunities are few and far between.
In the midst of the two attempts to articulate black life in the Renaissance, upstarts like Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas, and Wallace Thurman began their own literary endeavor, Fire!!: Devoted to Younger Negro Artists (1926). The magazine was a signal to an established black elite that the next generation was not only capable but also ready to make its mark, if somewhat unconventionally. One node (crisis) tells us of the community’s travails, the other (opportunity) carries the community’s living to those who might take interest—its plan is for a future and the opportunities it might hold. Somewhere between crisis : opportunity, there is fire!!—carbon for the next generation of scholars.
In many ways, this special issue was born in blackness—a condition of being that this place called the South still attempts to reckon with unsuccessfully. The call from The Crisis, Opportunity, and Fire!! was surely an intellectual one, first and foremost. But the work of deep thinking, if we find ourselves lucky to have the time and the inclination for it, is to ask a set of complicated questions about what we are looking at when the visual life of crisis inundates our social media platforms. Historically mired trauma and the visual field of reckoning it creates are perhaps represented in the work of community artist Ben Hamburger. His “Lee & Jackson Flee the Night,” a perforated insert within this issue, takes stock of the current crisis’s call for the opportunity to reflect, to not walk away.
We envisioned this issue as a call to think about the spectrum of possibility that crisis and opportunity represent. Somewhere between an official institutional report from the community at large and a scholarly representation of that community’s working, loving, and living effort, the occasion to speak to our present moment found itself. Given that this year marks the start of this publication’s 50th year, what better way to begin than with a nod to the revolutionary potentiality embedded in a moment of crisis. I am deeply grateful to board member Robin D. G. Kelley for agreeing to guest edit this fine collection of essays and provocations. We are weathering the storm, both literally and figuratively, as political, social, and, yes, climate changes continue to impact how we live, where we live, and, most importantly, when we live, if at all. I would like to dedicate this issue to all of those southerners who work for ethical change in our various communities. Crisis and opportunity indeed.
Sharon P. Holland