In the first three decades of the twentieth century, a new and modern type of African American laughter was increasingly and aggressively sounded in the sonic landscape of the United States. Praised by poet Helene Johnson as an “arrogant and bold” laugh that did not synchronize with the acoustics of white power, this laughter also found a significant place in the poetry of Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, and Langston Hughes. In what Emily Thompson has called an “increasingly `sound-conscious'” era, these poets registered and analyzed the emergence of this new, combative black laugh and recognized that, in many cases, it could go where the physical black body could not and thus could uniquely challenge white control of public space while also mapping that space as a field for further political action.

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