Jean Toomer (1894-1967) was a major literary figure of the New Negro Renaissance.

Toomer was born Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer in Washington, DC. He was raised mainly in the Washington home of his grandfather, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, a prominent Louisiana politician of the Reconstruction era. In Toomer's early years P.B.S. Pinchback lived at 1422 Harvard Street; later they lived at 1341 U Street. Toomer graduated from M Street High School and studied at several colleges, including the University of Wisconsin and the University of Chicago.

In 1923 he published Cane, which mixes poetry, short stories, drama, and prose to describe black culture in the rural south and urban north. It is considered a classic text of the New Negro Renaissance, although it initially sold few copies. Toomer was captivated with black life on Seventh Street, which he featured prominently in Cane. Toomer also attended Georgia Douglas Johnson's literary salons in the 1920s.

Jean Toomer did not consider himself a "Negro." Citing his mixed ancestry, he wrote that he considered himself a new type of man, simply a member of the "human race." This caused some discomfort among other African American intellectuals who embraced Toomer's Cane and other writings as authentic examples of black experience.

Today's Ellington Apartments occupy the portion of the 1300 block of U Street that includes the site of Pinchback's house.


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