Claude McKay was born, Festius Claudius McKay, in Sunnyville, Jamaica on September 15, 1889. He migrated to the United States where he attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. While there he attempted to study Agriculture, however, he ended up finding his life’s work in Poetry and Writing.
Claude McKay, later moved to New York where he began writing under the name of Eli Edwards. In the early 1900’s he became politically active and started his involvement with an open minded magazine called “The Liberator”. Eventually he became Co-Editor of the publication.
Noted for “Songs of Jamaica” and “Constab Ballards”, McKay often received mixed reviews from his critics. His books, “Harlem Shadows” and the sociological study, Harlem: Negro Metropolis, ired some of his reviewers. However, Claude Mckay kept writing and became well known for his abrasive and succinct manner of writing.
His most famous novel, “Home to Harlem” which recounted the homecoming of a black soldier after Word War I. Painfully explained the “darkside” of Harlem life. This book was eventaully praised by his staunchest critics and he became the first black writer to top the best seller’s list.
Most Jamaicans remember him by his famous poem “If We Must Die”. This is a poem that speaks bluntly about the mental need to break free from the social role given to African Americans in Society. A poem that was emotionally charged, since it was written during the period of the race riots in Chicago.
Festius Claudius Mckay, was a Poet and Writer who dared to remain true to himself up until his death in 1948.