Born in Texas, educated at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and the Sorbonne in Paris, and raised as an artist in the thick of the Harlem Renaissance, Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-1981) contributed both poetry and visual art to The Crisis and Opportunity, two of the premier journals of the New Negro. “Heritage” (1923), her best-known poem, discovered African beauty behind “my sad people’s soul / Hidden by a minstrel-smile.” “Wedding Day” (1926), her best-known story, was published in Fire!! (1926), the Harlem movement’s iconic little magazine. While she failed to collect her literary work in books of her own, Bennett’s regular column in Opportunity, “The Ebony Flute,” helped to make successes of several other black authors as it spread word of artistic Harlem’s gatherings and achievements. Bennett’s career is often assumed to have ended with the fading of the Harlem Renaissance during the Great Depression, but she lived on to direct the Harlem Community Arts Center from 1939 to 1944. It was during this second stint in black Manhattan that Bennett piqued the attention of the FBI, which initiated an “Internal Security” watch against her in 1941. Her FBI file, 115 pages long, remained open until 1959.
FBI documents studying Gwendolyn Bennett.
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