William Pickens (1881-1954) was an author, orator, educator, civil rights official, and prescient advocate of the Harlem Renaissance. The son of freed slaves, Pickens studied classics and modern languages at Yale University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and won the Henry James Ten Eyck prize in oratory for his address on the Haitian Revolution. Pickens’s second autobiography, Bursting Bonds (1923), a departure from the pattern of Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery (1901), has been described as the first memoir of the Harlem Renaissance. As early as 1916, Pickens’s study The New Negro: His Political, Civil, and Mental Status had outlined a full-fledged “Renaissance of the Negro Race.” He became a highly visible leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), deploying his gifts as a platform speaker when serving as a Field Secretary from 1920 to 1942. The FBI took official notice of Pickens during his post-Harlem Renaissance career, opening a personal file on him in 1947.
FBI documents studying William Pickens.
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