Harlem Renaissance Summary Essay Sample

For the eponymous basketball team, see New York Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance was an intellectual, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem, New York, spanning the 1920s. During the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. The Movement also included the new African-American cultural expressions across the urban areas in the Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the African-American Great Migration,[1] of which Harlem was the largest. The Harlem Renaissance was considered to be a rebirth of African-American arts.[2] Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, many francophone black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.[3][4][5][6]

The Harlem Renaissance is generally considered to have spanned from about 1918 until the mid-1930s.[7] Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of this "flowering of Negro literature", as James Weldon Johnson preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, took place between 1924 (when Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance) and 1929 (the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression).


Until the end of the Civil War, the majority of African Americans had been enslaved and lived in the South. During the Reconstruction Era, the emancipated African Americans, freedmen, began to strive for civic participation, political equality and economic and cultural self-determination. Soon after the end of the Civil War the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 gave rise to speeches by African-American Congressmen addressing this Bill.[8] By 1875 sixteen African Americans had been elected and served in Congress and gave numerous speeches with their newfound civil empowerment.[9] The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 was denounced by black Congressmen[why?][dubious– discuss] and resulted in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, part of Reconstruction legislation by Republicans. By the late 1870s, Democratic whites managed to regain power in the South. From 1890 to 1908 they proceeded to pass legislation that disenfranchised most Negros and many poor whites, trapping them without representation. They established white supremacist regimes of Jim Crow segregation in the South and one-party block voting behind southern Democrats. The Democratic whites denied African Americans their exercise of civil and political rights by terrorizing black communities with lynch mobs and other forms of vigilante violence[10] as well as by instituting a convict labor system that forced many thousands of African Americans back into unpaid labor in mines, on plantations, and on public works projects such as roads and levees. Convict laborers were typically subject to brutal forms of corporal punishment, overwork, and disease from unsanitary conditions. Death rates were extraordinarily high.[11] While a small number of blacks were able to acquire land shortly after the Civil War, most were exploited as sharecroppers.[12] As life in the South became increasingly difficult, African Americans began to migrate north in great numbers.

Most of the African-American literary movement arose from a generation that had memories of the gains and losses of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Sometimes their parents or grandparents had been slaves. Their ancestors had sometimes benefited by paternal investment in cultural capital, including better-than-average education. Many in the Harlem Renaissance were part of the early 20th century Great Migration out of the South into the Negro neighborhoods of the North and Midwest. African Americans sought a better standard of living and relief from the institutionalized racism in the South. Others were people of African descent from racially stratified communities in the Caribbean who came to the United States hoping for a better life. Uniting most of them was their convergence in Harlem.


During the early portion of the 20th century, Harlem was the destination for migrants from around the country, attracting both people seeking work from the South, and an educated class who made the area a center of culture, as well as a growing "Negro" middle class. The district had originally been developed in the 19th century as an exclusive suburb for the white middle and upper middle classes; its affluent beginnings led to the development of stately houses, grand avenues, and world-class amenities such as the Polo Grounds and the Harlem Opera House. During the enormous influx of European immigrants in the late 19th century, the once exclusive district was abandoned by the white middle class, who moved farther north.

Harlem became an African-American neighborhood in the early 1900s. In 1910, a large block along 135th Street and Fifth Avenue was bought by various African-American realtors and a church group.[13][citation needed] Many more African Americans arrived during the First World War. Due to the war, the migration of laborers from Europe virtually ceased, while the war effort resulted in a massive demand for unskilled industrial labor. The Great Migration brought hundreds of thousands of African Americans to cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, and New York.

Despite the increasing popularity of Negro culture, virulent white racism, often by more recent ethnic immigrants, continued to affect African-American communities, even in the North.[14] After the end of World War I, many African-American soldiers—who fought in segregated units such as the Harlem Hellfighters—came home to a nation whose citizens often did not respect their accomplishments.[15]Race riots and other civil uprisings occurred throughout the US during the Red Summer of 1919, reflecting economic competition over jobs and housing in many cities, as well as tensions over social territories.

Mainstream recognition of Harlem culture

The first stage of the Harlem Renaissance started in the late 1910s. In 1917, the premiere of Three Plays for a Negro Theatre took place. These plays, written by white playwright Ridgely Torrence, featured African-American actors conveying complex human emotions and yearnings. They rejected the stereotypes of the blackface and minstrel show traditions. James Weldon Johnson in 1917 called the premieres of these plays "the most important single event in the entire history of the Negro in the American Theater".[16] Another landmark came in 1919, when the poet Claude McKay published his militant sonnet, "If We Must Die", which introduced a dramatically political dimension to the themes of African cultural inheritance and modern urban experience featured in his 1917 poems "Invocation" and "Harlem Dancer" (published under the pseudonym Eli Edwards, these were his first appearance in print in the United States after immigrating from Jamaica).[17] Although "If We Must Die" never alluded to race, African-American readers heard its note of defiance in the face of racism and the nationwide race riots and lynchings then taking place. By the end of the First World War, the fiction of James Weldon Johnson and the poetry of Claude McKay were describing the reality of contemporary African-American life in America.

In 1917 Hubert Harrison, "The Father of Harlem Radicalism," founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper, respectively, of the "New Negro Movement." Harrison's organization and newspaper were political, but also emphasized the arts (his newspaper had "Poetry for the People" and book review sections). In 1927, in the Pittsburgh Courier, Harrison challenged the notion of the renaissance. He argued that the "Negro Literary Renaissance" notion overlooked "the stream of literary and artistic products which had flowed uninterruptedly from Negro writers from 1850 to the present," and said the so-called "renaissance" was largely a white invention.

The Harlem Renaissance grew out of the changes that had taken place in the African-American community since the abolition of slavery, as the expansion of communities in the North. These accelerated as a consequence of World War I and the great social and cultural changes in early 20th-century United States. Industrialization was attracting people to cities from rural areas and gave rise to a new mass culture. Contributing factors leading to the Harlem Renaissance were the Great Migration of African Americans to northern cities, which concentrated ambitious people in places where they could encourage each other, and the First World War, which had created new industrial work opportunities for tens of thousands of people. Factors leading to the decline of this era include the Great Depression.


Christianity played a major role in the Harlem Renaissance. Many of the writers and social critics discussed the role of Christianity in African-American lives. For example, a famous poem by Langston Hughes, "Madam and the Minister", reflects the temperature and mood towards religion in the Harlem Renaissance.[18] The cover story for The Crisis magazine′s publication in May 1936 explains how important Christianity was regarding the proposed union of the three largest Methodist churches of 1936. This article shows the controversial question about the formation of a Union for these churches.[19] The article "The Catholic Church and the Negro Priest", also published in The Crisis, January 1920, demonstrates the obstacles African-American priests faced in the Catholic Church. The article confronts what it saw as policies based on race that excluded African Americans from higher positions in the church.[20]


Various forms of religious worship existed during this time of African-American intellectual reawakening. Although there were racist attitudes within the current Abrahamic religious arenas many African Americans continued to push towards the practice of a more inclusive doctrine. For example, George Joseph MacWilliam presents various experiences, during his pursuit towards priesthood, of rejection on the basis of his color and race yet he shares his frustration in attempts to incite action on the part of The Crisis magazine community.[20]

There were other forms of spiritualism practiced among African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. Some of these religions and philosophies were inherited from African ancestry.

For example, the religion of Islam was present in Africa as early as the 8th century through the Trans-Saharan trade. Islam came to Harlem likely through the migration of members of the Moorish Science Temple of America, which was established in 1913 in New Jersey.

Various forms of Judaism were practiced, including Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism, but it was Black Hebrew Israelites that founded their religious belief system during the early 20th century in the Harlem Renaissance.

Traditional forms of religion acquired from various parts of Africa were inherited and practiced during this era. Some common examples were Voodoo and Santeria.[citation needed]


Religious critique during this era was found in literature, art, and poetry. The Harlem Renaissance encouraged analytic dialogue that included the open critique and the adjustment of current religious ideas.

One of the major contributors to the discussion of African-American renaissance culture was Aaron Douglas who, with his artwork, also reflected the revisions African Americans were making to the Christian dogma. Douglas uses biblical imagery as inspiration to various pieces of art work but with the rebellious twist of an African influence.[21]

Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage" expresses the inner struggle of an African American between his past African heritage and the new Christian culture.[22] A more severe criticism of the Christian religion can be found in Langston Hughes' poem "Merry Christmas", where he exposes the irony of religion as a symbol for good and yet a force for oppression and injustice.[23]


A new way of playing the piano called the Harlem Stride style was created during the Harlem Renaissance, and helped blur the lines between the poor Negroes and socially elite Negroes. The traditional jazz band was composed primarily of brass instruments and was considered a symbol of the south, but the piano was considered an instrument of the wealthy. With this instrumental modification to the existing genre, the wealthy blacks now had more access to jazz music. Its popularity soon spread throughout the country and was consequently at an all-time high. Innovation and liveliness were important characteristics of performers in the beginnings of jazz. Jazz musicians at the time such as Eubie Blake, Jelly Roll Morton, Luckey Roberts, James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington were very talented, skillful, competitive and inspirational, and are still being considered to have laid great parts of the foundations for future musicians of their genre. [24][25][26] Duke Ellington gained popularity during the Harlem Renaissance. According to Charles Garrett, "The resulting portrait of Ellington reveals him to be not only the gifted composer, bandleader, and musician we have come to know, but also an earthly person with basic desires, weaknesses, and eccentricities."[2] Ellington did not let his popularity get to him. He remained calm and focused on his music.

During this period, the musical style of blacks was becoming more and more attractive to whites. White novelists, dramatists and composers started to exploit the musical tendencies and themes of African Americans in their works. Composers used poems written by African-American poets in their songs, and would implement the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of African-American music—such as blues, spirituals, and jazz—into their concert pieces. Negroes began to merge with Whites into the classical world of musical composition. The first Negro male to gain wide recognition as a concert artist in both his region and internationally was Roland Hayes. He trained with Arthur Calhoun in Chattanooga, and at Fisk University in Nashville. Later, he studied with Arthur Hubbard in Boston and with George Henschel and Amanda Ira Aldridge in London, England. He began singing in public as a student, and toured with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1911.[27]


During the Harlem Renaissance, Black America’s clothing scene took a dramatic turn from the prim and proper. Many young women preferred extreme versions of current white fashions - from short skirts and silk stockings to drop-waisted dresses and cloche hats.[28] The extraordinarily successful black dancer Josephine Baker, though performing in Paris during the height of the Renaissance, was a major fashion trendsetter for black and white women alike. Her gowns from the couturier Jean Patou were much copied, especially her stage costumes, which Vogue magazine called "startling."[29] Popular by the 1930s was a trendy, egret-trimmed beret. Men wore loose suits that led to the later style known as the "Zoot," which consisted of wide-legged, high-waisted, peg-top trousers, and a long coat with padded shoulders and wide lapels. Men also wore wide-brimmed hats, colored socks,[30] white gloves, and velvet-collared Chesterfield coats. During this period, African Americans expressed respect for their heritage through a fad for leopard-skin coats, indicating the power of the African animal.

Characteristics and themes

Characterizing the Harlem Renaissance was an overt racial pride that came to be represented in the idea of the New Negro, who through intellect and production of literature, art, and music could challenge the pervading racism and stereotypes to promote progressive or socialist politics, and racial and social integration. The creation of art and literature would serve to "uplift" the race.

There would be no uniting form singularly characterizing the art that emerged from the Harlem Renaissance. Rather, it encompassed a wide variety of cultural elements and styles, including a Pan-African perspective, "high-culture" and "low-culture" or "low-life," from the traditional form of music to the blues and jazz, traditional and new experimental forms in literature such as modernism and the new form of jazz poetry. This duality meant that numerous African-American artists came into conflict with conservatives in the black intelligentsia, who took issue with certain depictions of black life.

Some common themes represented during the Harlem Renaissance were the influence of the experience of slavery and emerging African-American folk traditions on black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the dilemmas inherent in performing and writing for elite white audiences, and the question of how to convey the experience of modern black life in the urban North.

The Harlem Renaissance was one of primarily African-American involvement. It rested on a support system of black patrons, black-owned businesses and publications. However, it also depended on the patronage of white Americans, such as Carl Van Vechten and Charlotte Osgood Mason, who provided various forms of assistance, opening doors which otherwise might have remained closed to the publication of work outside the black American community. This support often took the form of patronage or publication. Carl Van Vechten was one of the most noteworthy white Americans involved with the Harlem Renaissance. He allowed for assistance to the black American community because he wanted racial sameness.

There were other whites interested in so-called "primitive" cultures, as many whites viewed black American culture at that time, and wanted to see such "primitivism" in the work coming out of the Harlem Renaissance. As with most fads, some people may have been exploited in the rush for publicity.

Interest in African-American lives also generated experimental but lasting collaborative work, such as the all-black productions of George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, and Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts. In both productions the choral conductor Eva Jessye was part of the creative team. Her choir was featured in Four Saints.[31] The music world also found white band leaders defying racist attitudes to include the best and the brightest African-American stars of music and song in their productions.

The African Americans used art to prove their humanity and demand for equality. The Harlem Renaissance led to more opportunities for blacks to be published by mainstream houses. Many authors began to publish novels, magazines and newspapers during this time. The new fiction attracted a great amount of attention from the nation at large. Among authors who became nationally known were Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Omar Al Amiri, Eric D. Walrond and Langston Hughes.

The Harlem Renaissance helped lay the foundation for the post-World War II protest movement of the Civil Rights Movement. Moreover, many black artists who rose to creative maturity afterward were inspired by this literary movement.

The Renaissance was more than a literary or artistic movement, as it possessed a certain sociological development—particularly through a new racial consciousness—through ethnic pride, as seen in the Back to Africa movement led by Marcus Garvey. At the same time, a different expression of ethnic pride, promoted by W. E. B. Du Bois, introduced the notion of the "talented tenth": the African Americans who were fortunate enough to inherit money or property or obtain a college degree during the transition from Reconstruction to the Jim Crow period of the early twentieth century. These "talented tenth" were considered the finest examples of the worth of black Americans as a response to the rampant racism of the period. (No particular leadership was assigned to the talented tenth, but they were to be emulated.) In both literature and popular discussion, complex ideas such as Du Bois's concept of "twoness" (dualism) were introduced (see The Souls of Black Folk; 1903).[32] Du Bois explored a divided awareness of one's identity that was a unique critique of the social ramifications of racial consciousness. This exploration was later revived during the Black Pride movement of the early 1970s.


A New Black Identity

"Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me." - Zora Neale Hurston[33]

The Harlem Renaissance was successful in that it brought the Black experience clearly within the corpus of Americancultural history. Not only through an explosion of culture, but on a sociological level, the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance redefined how America, and the world, viewed African Americans. The migration of southern Blacks to the north changed the image of the African American from rural, undereducated peasants to one of urban, cosmopolitan sophistication. This new identity led to a greater social consciousness, and African Americans became players on the world stage, expanding intellectual and social contacts internationally.

The progress—both symbolic and real—during this period became a point of reference from which the African-American community gained a spirit of self-determination that provided a growing sense of both Black urbanity and Black militancy, as well as a foundation for the community to build upon for the Civil Rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s.

The urban setting of rapidly developing Harlem provided a venue for African Americans of all backgrounds to appreciate the variety of Black life and culture. Through this expression, the Harlem Renaissance encouraged the new appreciation of folk roots and culture. For instance, folk materials and spirituals provided a rich source for the artistic and intellectual imagination, which freed Blacks from the establishment of past condition. Through sharing in these cultural experiences, a consciousness sprung forth in the form of a united racial identity.

However, there was some pressure within certain groups of the Harlem Renaissance to adopt sentiments of conservative white America in order to be taken seriously by the mainstream. The result being that queer culture, while far-more accepted in Harlem than most places in the country at the time, was most fully lived out in the smoky dark lights of bars, nightclubs, and cabarets in the city.[34] It was within these venues that the blues music scene boomed, and since it had not yet gained recognition within popular culture, queer artists used it as a way to express themselves honestly.[34] Even though there were factions within the Renaissance that were accepting of queer culture/lifestyles, one could still be arrested for engaging in homosexual acts. Many people, including author Alice Dunbar-Nelson and “The Mother of Blues” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey,[35] had husbands but were romantically linked to other women as well.[36] Ma Rainey was known to dress in traditionally male clothing and her blues lyrics often reflected her sexual proclivities for women, which was extremely radical at the time. Ma Rainey was also the first person to introduce blues music into vaudeville.[37] Rainey’s protégé, Bessie Smith was another artist who used the blues as a way to express herself with such lines as "When you see two women walking hand in hand, just look em’ over and try to understand: They’ll go to those parties – have the lights down low – only those parties where women can go."[34]

Another prominent blues singer was Gladys Bentley, who was known to cross-dress. Bentley was the club owner of Clam House on 133rd Street in Harlem, which was a hub for queer patrons. The Hamilton Lodge in Harlem hosted an annual drag ball that attracted thousands to watch as a couple hundred young men came to dance the night away in drag. Though there were safe havens within Harlem, there were prominent voices such as that of Abyssinian Baptist Church’s minister Adam Clayton who actively campaigned against homosexuality.[36]

The Harlem Renaissance gave birth to the idea of The New Negro. The New Negro movement was an effort to define what it meant to be African-American by African Americans rather than let the degrading stereotypes and caricatures found in black face minstrelsy practices to do so. There was also The Neo-New Negro movement, which not only challenged racial definitions and stereotypes, but also sought to challenge gender roles, normative sexuality, and sexism in America in general. In this respect, the Harlem Renaissance was far ahead of the rest of America in terms of embracing feminism and queer culture.[38] These ideals received some push back as freedom of sexuality, particularly pertaining to women (which during the time in Harlem was known as women-loving women),[35] was seen as confirming the stereotype that black women were loose and lacked sexual discernment. The black bourgeoisie saw this as hampering the cause of black people in America and giving fuel to the fire of racist sentiments around the country. Yet for all of the efforts by both sectors of white and conservative black America, queer culture and artists defined major portions of not only the Harlem Renaissance, but also defined so much of our culture today. Author of "The Black Man’s Burden", Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote on this very subject matter, the Harlem Renaissance "was surely as gay as it was black".[38]

Criticism of the movement

Many critics point out that the Harlem Renaissance could not escape its history and culture in its attempt to create a new one, or sufficiently separate from the foundational elements of White, European culture. Often Harlem intellectuals, while proclaiming a new racial consciousness, resorted to mimicry of their white counterparts by adopting their clothing, sophisticated manners and etiquette. This "mimicry" may also be called assimilation, as that is typically what minority members of any social construct must do in order to fit social norms created by that construct's majority.[39] This could be seen as a reason that the artistic and cultural products of the Harlem Renaissance did not overcome the presence of White-American values, and did not reject these values. In this regard, the creation of the "New Negro" as the Harlem intellectuals sought, was considered a success.

The Harlem Renaissance appealed to a mixed audience. The literature appealed to the African-Americanmiddle class and to whites. Magazines such as The Crisis, a monthly journal of the NAACP, and Opportunity, an official publication of the National Urban League, employed Harlem Renaissance writers on their editorial staffs; published poetry and short stories by black writers; and promoted African-American literature through articles, reviews, and annual literary prizes. As important as these literary outlets were, however, the Renaissance relied heavily on white publishing houses and white-owned magazines. A major accomplishment of the Renaissance was to open the door to mainstream white periodicals and publishing houses, although the relationship between the Renaissance writers and white publishers and audiences created some controversy. W. E. B. Du Bois did not oppose the relationship between black writers and white publishers, but he was critical of works such as Claude McKay's bestselling novelHome to Harlem (1928) for appealing to the "prurient demand[s]" of white readers and publishers for portrayals of black "licentiousness".[40] Langston Hughes spoke for most of the writers and artists when he wrote in his essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" (1926) that black artists intended to express themselves freely, no matter what the black public or white public thought.[41] Hughes in his writings also returned to the theme of racial passing, but during the Harlem Renaissance, he began to explore the topic of homosexuality and homophobia. He began to use disruptive language in his writings. He explored this topic because it was a theme that during this time period was not discussed.[42]

African-American musicians and other performers also played to mixed audiences. Harlem's cabarets and clubs attracted both Harlem residents and white New Yorkers seeking out Harlem nightlife. Harlem's famous Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington performed, carried this to an extreme, by providing black entertainment for exclusively white audiences. Ultimately, the more successful black musicians and entertainers who appealed to a mainstream audience moved their performances downtown.

Certain aspects of the Harlem Renaissance were accepted without debate, and without scrutiny. One of these was the future of the "New Negro". Artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance echoed American progressivism in its faith in democratic reform, in its belief in art and literature as agents of change, and in its almost uncritical belief in itself and its future. This progressivist worldview rendered Black intellectuals—just like their White counterparts—unprepared for the rude shock of the Great Depression, and the Harlem Renaissance ended abruptly because of naive assumptions about the centrality of culture, unrelated to economic and social realities.[citation needed]

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^"NAACP: A Century in the Fight for Freedom", Library of Congress.
  2. ^ abProject MUSE - Modernism, Mass Culture, and the Harlem Renaissance: The Case of Countee Cullen." Project MUSE - Modernism, Mass Culture, and the Harlem Renaissance: The Case of Countee Cullen. N.p., n.d. Web. April 4, 2015.
  3. ^"Harlem in the Jazz Age", New York Times, February 8, 1987.
  4. ^Holland Cotter, "ART; A 1920's Flowering That Didn't Disappear", New York Times, May 24, 1998.
  5. ^Danica Kirka, Jcu.eduArchived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^"Los Angeles Times Interview : Dorothy West : A Voice of Harlem Renaissance Talks of Past--But Values the Now". Los Angeles Times. 1 January 1995. 
  7. ^George Hutchinson, "Harlem Renaissance", Encyclopædia Britannica.
  8. ^"Speeches of African-American Representatives Addressing the Ku Klux Klan Bill of 1871"(PDF). NYU Law. 
  9. ^Cooper Davis, Peggy. "Neglected Voices". NYU Law. 
  10. ^Woods, Clyde (1998). Development Arrested. New York and London: Verso. 
  11. ^Blackmon, Douglas A. (2009). Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Anchor. 
  12. ^Foner, Eric (1988). Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Harper Collins. 
  13. ^Boundless (2016-12-05). "The Harlem Renaissance". Boundless. 
  14. ^Muhammad, Khalil Gibran (2010). The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. pp. 1–14. ISBN 978-0-674-03597-3. 
  15. ^"Harlem Hellfighters: Black Soldiers in World War I". America Comes Alive. 2015-02-05. Retrieved 2017-06-16. 
  16. ^The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, New York: Norton, 1997, p. 931.
  17. ^McKay, Claude. "Invocation" and "Harlem Dancer," in The Seven Arts 2.6 (October 1917): 741-742. Original page scan available in public domain through The Modernist Journals Project.
  18. ^Hughes, Langston (1994). The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics. p. 307. 
  19. ^Williams, Robert M.; Carrington, Charles (May 1936). "Methodist Union and The Negro". The Crisis. 43 (5): 134–135. 
  20. ^ abMacWilliam, George Joseph (January 1920). "The Catholic Church and the Negro Priest". The Crisis. 19 (3): 122–123. Retrieved December 21, 2013. 
  21. ^Rampersad, Arnold (Introduction) (1997). Alain Locke, ed. The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance (1st Touchstone ed.). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684838311. 
  22. ^Cullen, Countee. "Heritage". Poetry Foundation. Archived from the original on 21 December 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013. 
  23. ^Hughes, Langston. "Merry Christmas". Humanities and Social Sciences Net. New Masses. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  24. ^Boland, Jesse. "Harlem Renaissance Music." 1920s Fashion and Music. Web. November 23, 2009.
  25. ^1920s-fashion-and-music.com
  26. ^Leonard Feather, "The Book Of Jazz" (1957/59), p. 59 ff., Western Book Dist, 1988, ISBN 0818012021, 9780818012020
  27. ^Southern, Eileen, Music of Negro Americans: a history. New York: Norton, 1997. Print, pp. 404, 405 and 409.
  28. ^West, Aberjhani and Sandra L. (2003). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, pp. 105-106; Vogue, February 15, 1926, p. 76.
  29. ^Etherington-Smith, Meredith (1983), Patou, p. 83; Vogue, June 1, 1927, p. 51.
  30. ^White, Shane and Graham (1998). Stylin’: African American Expressive Culture from Its Beginnings to the Zoot Suit, pp. 248-251.
  31. ^"Eva Jessye", University of Michigan, accessed December 4, 2008.
  32. ^It was possible for blacks to have intellectual discussions on whether black people had a future in America, and the Harlem Renaissance reflected such sociopolitical concerns.
  33. ^Irving, Shae (2008), Nolo's Encyclopedia of Everyday Law: answers to your most frequently asked legal questions (7 ed.), Nolo, p. 68, ISBN 978-1-4133-0560-9 
  34. ^ abcHix, Lisa (July 9, 2013). "Singing the Lesbian Blues in 1920s Harlem". Collectors Weekly. 
  35. ^ abTenoria, Samantha (2006). "Women-Loving Women: Queering Black Urban Space during the Harlem Renaissance"(PDF). The University of California, Irvine (UCI) Undergraduate Research Journal. 
  36. ^ abVillarosa, Linda (July 23, 2011). "The Gay Harlem Renaissance". The Root. 
  37. ^Garber, Eric. "A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem". American Studies at the University of Virginia. University of Virginia. 
  38. ^ abRabaka, Reiland (2011). Hip Hop's Inheritance From the Harlem Renaissance to the Hip Hop Feminist Movement. Lexington Books. ISBN 9780739164822. 
  39. ^Yayla, Ayşegül. "Harlem Renaissance and its Discontents". Academia. Academia. Retrieved 22 April 2016. 
  40. ^Aptheker, H. ed. (1997), The Correspondence of WEB Dubois: Selections, 1877–1934, Vol. 1, pp. 374–375.
  41. ^Books.google.com
  42. ^"Project MUSE - Multiple Passings and the Double Death of Langston Hughes." Project MUSE - Multiple Passings and the Double Death of Langston Hughes. N.p., n.d. Web. April 4, 2015.


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  • Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. 2 volumes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986 and 1988.
  • Robertson, Stephen, et al., "Disorderly Houses: Residences, Privacy, and the Surveillance of Sexuality in 1920s Harlem," Journal of the History of Sexuality, 21 (September 2012), 443–66.
  • Soto, Michael, ed. Teaching The Harlem Renaissance. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.
  • Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes and the Blues. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
  • Watson, Steven. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920–1930. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995. ISBN 0-679-75889-5
  • Williams, Iain Cameron. "Underneath a Harlem Moon ... The Harlem to Paris Years of Adelaide Hall". Continuum Int. Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0826458939
  • Wintz, Cary D. Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance. Houston: Rice University Press, 1988.
  • Wintz, Cary D. Harlem Speaks: A Living History of the Harlem Renaissance. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2007

Further reading

  • King, Shannon. Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway? Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era. New York: New York University Press, 2015.
  • Padva, Gilad. "Black Nostalgia: Poetry, Ethnicity, and Homoeroticism in Looking for Langston and Brother to Brother". In Padva, Gilad, Queer Nostalgia in Cinema and Pop Culture, pp. 199–226. Basingstock, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

External links

Contemporary silent short documentary on the Negro Artist. Richmond Barthé working on Kalombwan, (1934).
Religion and Evolution Ad
"An' the stars began to fall." by Aaron Douglas
Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is emblematic of the mixture of high class society, popular art, and virtuosity of jazz.
Three African American women in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, ca. 1925

Anuoluwapo Bolarinwa

Professor Rogers

English 12

22nd of May, 2013.

  Harlem Renaissance on African American Literature.

     Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural movement of the 1920s and early 1930s that was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Harlem Renaissance is the name given to the time from the end of World War I and through the middle of the 1930s depression. It was known then as the “New Negro Movement”, named after an anthology, titled The New Negro, of important African Americans works, published by philosopher Alain Locke in 1925.  The renaissance involved a group of writers and highbrows associated with Harlem, the district of Manhattan, during the migration of African Americans from other parts of U.S. This cultural movement marked the first time in American history that the white population took notice of the literature of African Americans. Even though some believe that Harlem renaissance has no influence on Africa America literature and community, Harlem Renaissance became the period in which a group of talented black writers produced an extensive recognizable body of literature in the three outstanding categories of essay, poetry, and art.

       The Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement was inspired by Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Alan Locke, the author of “New Negro” and W. E. B. Du Bois, editor of The Crisis magazine. This movement expressed the pride in blacks and motivated many African Americans to celebrate their culture through literature and art. Harlem Renaissance helped shape American culture, while adding its own elements to the American’s tradition. It offered new ways of seeing and understanding what it meant to be Black at this crucial time in history. Aberjhani, an American historian, columnist, novelist, poet, and an editor, indicate in his book “Journey through the Power of the Rainbow” that “The best of humanity's recorded history is a creative balance between horrors endured and victories achieved, and so it was during the Harlem Renaissance.”[81] This shows that the movement led to new styles of literature and new philosophical ideas regarding the issues that African Americans faced in the early twentieth century America. This important change in African American mindsets has survived throughout the centuries and persists even to this day.

      The Harlem Renaissance movement impacted the changes that took place in the African American community because of the expansion of communities in the north. The social base of this movement included the Great Migration of African American from South to North due to the industrialization in the city. Harlem Renaissance is among literary and artistic movements due to its connection to civil rights and reform organizations. It surrounded everything from political writings to jazz poetry, and is especially remembered for poets such as Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson, and Claude McKay. Langston Hughes was perhaps the best-known Harlem Renaissance poet. The Crisis magazine, an official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) that was mainly subscribed to by blacks; and Negro World, the newspaper of Marcus Garvey’s helped immensely in publishing the African American writing. Harlem renaissance help give African American visibility and opportunity for publications. These publications published poetry, short stories, and essays sent in by black writers, and it encouraged them to do more, such as write, and make all forms of art, because expression was one way to freedom.

        Harlem was described by Alain Locke (1886-1954) as "not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life."[44] The renaissance was related with the New Negro Movement because of the anthology “THE NEW NEGRO” (1925) edited by Locke, whose early essay “The New Negro” is the closest to a statement of ideals that Harlem Renaissance has. Locke promoted African-American artists, writers, and musicians, encouraging them to look to Africa as an inspiration for their works. His essay, The New Negro describes the overall awareness of the potential of black equality, he says “…no longer would blacks allow themselves to adjust themselves or comply with unreasonable white requests.” He is just trying to create a political awareness on self- confidence the blacks have developed. In fact, Houston A. Baker, Jr., in his book “Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance,” indicates that "Locke succeeded in writing our first national book, offering . . . the sounds, songs, images, and signs of a nation." [473] Baker is praising Locke for writing the New Negro book because it marks the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, and African American use it to boost their self- confidence. The power in Locke’s essay was held in people and made them look through their actions and behaviors, and also view from a different perspective. Locke has a great influence on literature, and he encouraged people to illustrate African and African America subjects in their writing. It is very obvious that Harlem Renaissance gave black people a cultural differentness through literature.

       Literature was a great way people use to show their motivation, pain and feelings. W.E.B. Du Bois is an American sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, author and editor, who wanted equal rights for African American. He help used literature to spread motivation for the black. He was an ardent peace activist and advocate reduction of racism. Du Bois published his collection of 14 essays named, “The Souls of Black Folk”, in 1903, and this essays helps showed the intellect of black race. He was a literary and cultural inspiration that helped activate the Harlem Renaissance and the powerful art about the African American experience. Du Bois used his influential role in Crisis magazine to expose and oppose racism and injustices, such as lynching and segregation. He promoted African American artistic talents in his writing called “A Negro Art Renaissance.” He wanted black artist to realize their ethical assignment by being committed to showing the issue of racial equality in their work; in response to their own experience. His writings are a defining text of the New Negro Movement because of its deep effect on an entire generation that created the center of Harlem Renaissance. This movement produced work that was both initiated in modernity and an engagement with the African American culture. The Harlem Renaissance created African American literature in the United States and influence many authors throughout the twentieth century.

       The Harlem Renaissance was a transformable period in time when poetry changed a nation of African-Americans to an incredible level. Langston Hughes was one of the leading black writers in that time period, and wrote many different types of literature. He wrote, and created a new literary art form called jazz poetry. His poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," provides solid unity for the African American history. His poetry covered the issues faced by African-Americans with a combination of music, cheerfulness, and culture. Hughes spoke essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. essay spoke to the concerns of the Harlem Renaissance as it celebrated African American creative innovations such as blues, spirituals, jazz, and literary work that engaged African American life. for most of the writers and artists when he wrote in his essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926) that black artists should be able to express themselves freely as an individual, i.e. an artist work should be looked at not by what color the skin of the artist is, but by the meaning and the quality of the work. He wants the African American artists to realize who they are as an individual artist and person, not just color in the background of life. seeking to portray the Freedom Movement. Another writer African American poet who was a leading figure in Harlem Renaissance is Countee Cullen (1903-1946). He also dealt powerfully with racial themes in poems like "Black Christ," the story of a lynching victim who returns to life to speak of his ordeal. Through his poetry and books, he promoted equality, condemned racism and injustice, and celebrated African American culture and spirituality.

          Although, the "New Negro Movement" has been over since, but the effects of the authors and words written are still generally known today. African American artists engaged culture to work for goals of civil rights and equality. African Americans paintings became absorbed into the mainstream culture. Visual arts made a strong statement during the Harlem Renaissance, creating images based on newly developed consciousness about heritage and culture. The art produced at that time varied greatly in theme and it ranges from the illustration of theatrical urban lifestyles to ordinary rural landscapes; from the daily actions of individuals to the all- surrounding and meaningful themes of slavery and cultural origins in Africa. Aaron Douglas (1898-1979) was the Harlem Renaissance artists whose work best demonstrate the 'New Negro' philosophy. Aaron Douglas is known to be a "father of Afro-American Art". He painted drawings for public buildings and produced illustrations and cover designs for many black publications including The Crisis and Opportunity. Douglas was an important part of the circle of artists and writers we now call Harlem renaissance. He portrays strength in his paintings, strength that he was expressing to Black people with his artwork. He shows the young black artist that they have the possibility of achieving things that were once considered beyond them. Douglas's work is based on the African American lifestyle and it shows the hardships and heritage of the African Americans and its beauty. His work most likely inspired other African American artists to show their work and express themselves. Douglas emerged as an iconic figure of Harlem Renaissance, his famous quote states that

"...Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black...let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let's do the impossible. Let's create something transcendentally material, mystically objective, earthy, and spiritually earthy. Dynamic." - Aaron Douglas.

He is encouraging the African-Americans painters to always express themselves in creative ways. It doesn’t have to include violence, nor being angry at their oppressors, but it can be a creative way to deal with difficulty. Douglas uses his art work as a way to show the power African American had by being themselves and embracing their culture. His work gave us something to learn from by showing his interpretation of African American life. Harlem Renaissance dignified the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage through literature.

         While it’s very clear that African Americans literature has a foundation which is Harlem Renaissance, many still felt that the Harlem Renaissance did not redefine African- American expression. Nathan Irvin Huggins, an American historian, author and educator, thinks that Harlem Renaissance was a failure as both a cultural movement and even as a literary aspect. Huggins said in his 1971 book titled “Harlem Renaissance” that  “Writers tried to ford a distinctively Negro voice…the more artificial they became finding English or African forms and rhythms that surrogates for the styles of their own America experience.”[191] He also questions the exclusiveness of the movement to the nation's black population and postulate that black and white Americans "have been so long and so intimately a part of one another's experience that, will it or not, they cannot be understood independently." He argues that the creation of Harlem "as a place of exotic culture" was as important to whites as it was to blacks and that African Americans had to be presented in a better light, in a way the majority of whites could not accept. He said "Even the best of the poems of the Harlem Renaissance carried the burden of self-consciousness of oppression and black limitation…”[192]  all he  is trying to say is that Harlem Renaissance itself wasn't so much a celebration of Black culture, but rather a clearance of Whites believe. The basis of all criticism of the Harlem Renaissance is that it contains a certain aspect of deceitfulness because it tried to create a separate image that was based on common beliefs set up by philosophical and artistic leaders from a white society

       Even though Huggins can’t view the importance of renaissance on black literature, George E. Kent, an African-American professor of literature at Wesleyan University, believes that the movement has provided American literature with some very important accomplishments. He specify in the Black World Magazine that "the short story in the hands of Eric Waldron and Langston Hughes became a much more flexible form…, while no Harlem Renaissance author created a truly new form of the novel, these writers did provide stories that occasionally stopped just short of greatness."[13] Kent is basically appreciating the literature of the period. Mike Chasar, a poet and an author, in the article “The Sounds of Black Laughter and the Harlem Renaissance” said that “These poets variously build on, and take part in, a long tradition of African American humor, music, and song; their work thus accords a privileged place for the many and varied sounds of laughter in black America.”[58] Chasar indicated that the literature produced gave black Americans happiness because this period opened the door of opportunity for all other African Americans around the world. The Harlem Renaissance complexities are rich and some of its literature has some great importance. James Weldon Johnson, an American author, politician, poet, and a civil right activist, said in his book “The Messages Of God's Trombones” reviewed by Carroll, Anne that:

“The final measure of the greatness of peoples is the amount and standard

of the literature and the art they have produced. The world does not know

that a people is great until that people produces great literature and art. No

people that has produced great literature and art has ever been looked upon

by the world as distinctly inferior.” [Johnson 9]

All Johnsons is saying is that the literature produced during the Harlem Renaissance gave the African American culture value and recognition.      

         The Harlem Renaissance was a rebirth of African American culture in New York City. Literature from the Harlem Renaissance inspired many modern writers such as Alice Walker, Amiri Baraka, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison. It also influenced Martin Luther King's “I Have A Dream” speech because the speech seems to be closely related to Langston Hughes poem “Let America be America Again”. Harlem Renaissance provided a very important advancement in African American Art and Literature. Inspiration from Langston Hughes and Alain Locke are witnessed in modern culture and society. Even though the movement has been over since, the effects of the authors and words written are still generally known today. Aberjhani also said in an interview done by Kinamore Angela on “interview with the authors of the Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance” that he has been influenced more by literary movements such as that of Harlem. Without Harlem Renaissance, the African America literature wouldn’t be successful because the coming together of such a diverse body of artistic talents, great works of arts, and the interconnected collaboration on many face regarding diverse subject matters, together with the ability to demonstrate their gift and talent would not have been. Harlem Renaissance brought new visionary insights and the concept of excelling inner consciousness to the literature of African-Americans.

         In conclusion, the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance has opened doors for today’s African- American writers. The Harlem Renaissance was the internal spring for African-Americans branching out into the world on their own desire. The renaissance opened a new dimension for African-Americans and brought about the realization of “I can do it, and do it with dignity, grace, and style.”  This time period in history was not just a national movement, but an impact creating a revolution of sorts. Harlem saw a never-seen-before work per excellence, in various fields, which gave African-Americans a renewed image and a fresh outlook. Harlem Renaissance has been the breeding ground for creative endeavors by authors, poets, and artists. Harlem, in itself, was an idea of cultural excitement that progressed throughout the twentieth century. Black visual artists experienced an explosion in ideas and energy during Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance produced novelists, poets, artists and musicians who are today considered some of the finest that America ever produced, regardless of race.





Works Cited

"American Literature." Reference & Research Book News 18.4 (2003): 252-256. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 May 2013.

Carroll, Anne. "Art, Literature, And The Harlem Renaissance: The Messages Of God's Trombones." College Literature 29.3 (2002): 57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 16 May 2013.

Chasar, Mike. "The Sounds Of Black Laughter And The Harlem Renaissance: Claude Mckay, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes." American Literature 80.1 (2008): 57-81. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 May 2013.

Diepeveen, Leonard. "Folktales In The Harlem Renaissance." American Literature 58.1 (1986): 64. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 May 2013.

“Harlem Renaissance” by Nathan Irvin Huggin Review by: Robert Sklar The Journal of American History , Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jun., 1972), pp. 190-191

Hughes, Langston. "The Negro artist and the racial mountain." The Nation. 122.23 (1926): 692-694.

Kent, George E., “The Fork in the Road: Patterns of the Harlem Renaissance,” in Black Word, Vol. 21, No. 8, June 1972, pp. 13–24, 76–80.

Locke, Alain. The New Negro. Touchstone, 1999.


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