Black History: Special Delivery!!
Anita Scott Coleman (1890-1960) was a significant contributor to the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance (1918-1937) represented a time of social, political and artistic innovation among African Americans. At the time, it was referred to as the “New Negro Experience”. Though many of the celebrated artists and artisans of the movement lived in the Harlem area; its impact was both national and international in scope and impact.
Born in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico, her mother’s name was Mary Ann Stokes Scott. Mary Ann worked as a laundress for the Army. Her father was William Scott, was in the Army. Originally from Virginia, Henry Scott was stationed in Texas. The two met near Fort Elliott Texas where he was serving as a buffalo soldier. “Buffalo soldier” was the nickname given to black soldiers by Native Americans. Upon his retirement, Mary and Henry moved to Mexico. It seems as though the family’s financial status improved with the move. Mary no longer had to work and actually employed domestic help to assist her with household duties. When Anita was five years old, the family moved back to the United States settling in Silver City, New Mexico.
The Coleman family found New Mexico to be welcoming, and full of opportunity. Silver City was integrated, and the family was able to live wherever the wished. William and Mary were active in civic life. They also operated a boarding house. She later attended high school at New Mexico Normal School (now Western New Mexico University) and then worked as a school teacher. She stopped teaching in 1916 when she married James Harold Coleman; a printer and photographer born in Virginia. Coleman became a published author, writing more than thirty short stories as the Harlem Renaissance began. Though she never lived in Harlem; her writings still had a significant impact. Her earlier literary works consisted of thirteen; published in New Mexico between 1919 and 1925. “The Little Grey House” published in 1922 was the most popular of the stories.
Coleman moved to Los Angeles, California in 1926. She joined her husband who had moved there two years earlier looking for work. The couple raised four children there while operating a boarding house. Some of her most well-known stories include: “The Brat” and “Three Dogs and a Rabbit”. Coleman then took a seven-year break from writing. In the early 1940’s she published at least five additional stories and a volume of poetry, “Reasons for Singing” in 1948. A children’s book, “The Singing Bells” was published after her death in 1961.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s Her stories, poems, and essays were published in national magazines including The Half Century Magazine, The Competitor, The Crisis, The Messenger, and Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. Three of these magazines (The Crisis, The Messenger and Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life) featured many Harlem Renaissance writers as well. Selected poems by Coleman also appeared in anthologies like Beatrice Murphy’s Negro Voices (1938) and Ebony Rhythm (1948). Coleman’s writings emphasized racial pride and focused on issues relevant to black women. Coleman also used her writing to advocate against lynching, racism, employment discrimination, and segregation. She won several awards for her writings.
Much of Coleman’s writing focused on the Southwest. In “The Little Grey House,” Coleman describes the availability of homeownership for southwestern African Americans. The story “El Tisico” reflects Coleman’s cultural heritage and her upbringing in the Southwest and of Mexico. Her essay “Arizona and New Mexico-the Land of Esperanza,” solicited for the series, “These ‘Colored’ United States” by The Messenger magazine, knowledge of history and her pride and respect in the contributions of African Americans.
Coleman died relatively unknown in Los Angeles in 1960. Her literary contributions highlight that the Harlem Literary Renaissance was national in its reach.