Claude McKay was born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, on September 15, 1890. He was born one of the eleven children of Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards, farmers. Claude was sent at a young age to live with his oldest brother, who was a schoolteacher, so that he could get the best education possible. After Claude began to read more and more, he started writing poetry at age ten. McKay went to a trade school in 1906 until the school was destroyed by an earthquake, then he became an apprentice to a carriage and cabinetmaker, and a brief period in the constabulary followed.
In 1907, Claude McKay began to be mentored by Walter Jekyll, and English gentleman from Jamaica, who encouraged him to write dialect verse. In 1912, McKay immigrated to the United States and established himself as a poet, publishing two volumes of dialect verse, Songs of Jamaica, and Constab Ballads.
Claude McKay had never encountered the racism of America until he enrolled in the Tuskagee Institute to study agronomy. The racism of America was the spark that started the fire of McKay's subsequent basis of writing. He later moved to New York, invested in a restaurant, and married Eulalie Imelda Lewars. After publishing two poems there, he gained recognition as a lyric poet particularly from Frank Harris, editor of Pearson's magazine, and Max Eastman, editor of The Liberator, a socialist journal.
During the period of racial violence against blacks known as the Red Summer of 1919, McKay wrote one of his best known poems, entitled, "If We Must Die." The poem became an anthem of resistance later quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II. The poems, "Baptism," "The White House," and "The Lynching" are examples of some of McKay's best protest poetry.
Between the years of 1919 and 1934, McKay moved to England, back to America, to Morocco, and again b