Harlem Renaissance

This period includes poets such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, and Anne Spencer. This period is roughly centered upon the years between 1919 and the mid 1930s. The term “Harlem Renaissance” was coined by Alain Locke after writing the anthology The New Negro. This period gave the black community a name and a voice in urban areas throughout the United States. The contemporary black-life of America was focused upon through the writers in period of time. However, not only poetry was contributed in this day and age but many fine pieces of dramatic works and novels. Poets used influences from both America and Africa and European ages. This critical cultural movement is said to have created a new black identity.



A Block ILA 9 Honors Harlem Renaissance
Matt Sykes: Langston Hughes
Max Vido: Countee Cullen
Nataniel Rasmussen: Claude McKay
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Harlem Present Day ("Bugged Out Cars. Harlem Panorama 2")

Harlem Renaissance



The Origin and Philosophy of the Movement

After the existence of slavery in the 1860’s, African American’s were living in scattered communities across the southern United States. Very few blacks
received well-paying jobs. Tagged along with constant segregation presented by white Americans, African American’s were living a harsh life. The northern
cities of America offered a chance for black’s to have an ordinary life. Northern cities consisted of jobs with hourly wages one dollar higher than southern jobs
(Laban Hill). World War I also had a major impact on attracting African American’s to northern cities. Many blacks sought job opportunities connected to the
war that would promote equal rights. Black troops believed that if they fought for democracy alongside whites, they would receive the same freedom when they
came home to America. Their efforts proved fruitless (Amritjit Singh 130). The process of African American’s migrating north in the early 20th century was
called the Great Urban Migration. This migration was the origin of the Harlem Renaissance.

With blacks crammed into 15 to 20 block communities, there were many productive interactions. Blacks had new social and economic freedom. With new powers in their country, African Americans grew a sense of racial consciousness which ensued into the creation of the black middle class. The middle class helped sustain the community by supporting education and the arts. Many racial conscious groups that were formed in the south moved north. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as well as the National Urban League published journals that’s goals were to make the black community aware of the progress of African Americans in literature. These journals insisted for a more educated black community. The community replied with major progress in music, poetry, drama, and fiction (Singh 127-131). Even though the advancement of African Americans was occurring throughout northern
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Harlem Renaissance Art
United States, the most progress was being felt in Harlem, New York, a community feeding off racial pride.

Harlem New York saw the most development in the arts then any other black community. An anthology consisting of work by young black writers was created by Alain Locke that inspired the community to continue the artistic wave. The anthology was entitled, The New Negro. This book also made whites aware of the progress being made in the black community. African-Americans were starting to grow their own identity in America (Singh 132). James Weldon Johnson expresses a few comments on the flourishing community of Harlem:
“It is not a slum or a fringe, it is located in the heart of Manhattan and occupies one of the most beautiful and healthful sections of the city…And it contains more Negroes to the square mile than any other spot on earth” (The New Negro).


The racial pride present in Harlem was at its height and the productivity was obvious. Various poets, musicians, and artist were in the spotlight. Claude McKay and Langston Hughes expressed the patriotic and vivid community of Harlem through their poems. Great Renaissance musicians such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were attracting public attention ultimately resulting in the national spotlight (Singh 134). Throughout the 1920’s Harlem was considered the center of the black community in the world. The advancements of African American’s during the Harlem Renaissance are great examples of a community that could flourish through the arts and the interactions of people in their community. (Shown Right: Douglas, Arthur. "The Harlem Renaissance.")



Significant Political History:

There were many events that inspired the Harlem Renaissance. African American culture in itself has had many great leaders and figure heads in the past and still had many to come. One great reason for the sudden increase of racial consciousness was the rapid movement of African Americans from the south to the north called The Great Migration. It resulted in the compaction of many different races and cultures all in one area, such as New York. This lead to a great outburst of racial understanding and appreciation, as well as the inter-racial spread of ideas leading to a great will to create and inspire the many people around them.
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The Great Migration


The reasons that caused this movement were those such as job wages, World War 1, and the desire for a less politically segregated environment. The laws in the south did not allow for much freedom for many African Americans and they felt as though they needed a way to maintain a group association with each other. For instance in the South a black person might be given lower job wages merely because he was black. However in Northern cities the industrial jobs received a higher average job wage, despite discrimination (Hill).

During World War 1 many African Americans took it upon themselves to join the army in order to fight for their racial independence. Many African Americans thought that if they fought and did well in World War 1, that they would return and achieve more appreciation for their race and culture. Since they were fighting for democracy just like whites, African American’s believed that the bridge between their culture and white’s culture would collapse. They were wrong and the same political struggles continued until the later 20th century. Yet, the political influence of World War

(Shown Above: "African American Books...") 1 made black’s conscious of their racial identity which led to great progress in black culture.

Another reason for the great migration and the flourish of culture among African Americans was the increased employment opportunities after the American Civil War. Not only had the states become united again, but Northern America had won independence and their freedom from slavery in the south. This freed up African Americans to do as they wished and seek their own employment opportunities. This lead them to the industrial north where the economy had begun to flourish and they could finally earn the pay they deserved for their hard work (Wintz).

Specific and Influential Cultural Events

One of the most important cultural events in the Harlem Renaissance was the publication of the “New Negro.” This was an inspirational work that talked about how the Negros moved from the Old Negro to the “New Negro.” This article discussed how they contributed to society in the form of folk-art, music and literature. Also, it stated the Negros were on a “mission of rehabilitating the race in world esteem from that loss of prestige for which the fate and condition of slavery have so largely been responsible" (Locke). The quotation shows how African Americans are not slaves anymore; they are citizens who want to gain status in the community. It also informed the white people that the African Americans can accomplish things in society. They are not just laborers (Locke).
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The book cover of the New Negro

Finally another very important cultural event was the Great Migration. The Great Migration was when the African Americans “migrated” from the South to the North because of various reasons including the promise of industrial jobs mainly because of WWI. There was less racial prejudice in the North than there was in the South. The South had racial riots and mobs fighting and killing many African Americans. Because of this “over 500,000 lower-class blacks migrated north between 1910 and 1920, and during the twenties another 800,000 blacks abandoned the South, many of them Negro ministers and professionals who followed their clients (Singh).” By moving to the cities “a new vision of opportunity, of social and economic freedom, (Locke).” By moving to the North they hoped to escape the poverty and violence of the South. (Shown Right: "The New Negro." Princeton University Press.)
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The Cotton Club was a cultural center in Harlem

(Shown Above: Ochs, Michael. Cotton Club.)



Influence of Poetry Among Society:
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Harlem Architecture

The Harlem Renaissance had many influential poets among society. They include figures such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Anne Spencer, and many more influential writers. There was also a great influence on society by the author Alain Locke, who invented the term the "New Negro," and stated that “The sociologist, the anthropologist, the race-leader, are not unaware of the New Negro” (McConnel). The start of the “New Negro” racial identity was because of the shift from the rural south to the industrial north and the compacting of many different people which lead to a great spread of ideas.

Many of these ideas were expressed through poetry....show right (CarbonNYC. "Harlem Architecture." Flickr.) Poetry had a deep meaning to the people of the Harlem Renaissanc and it lead to a great spread of feelings such as self-determination, separatism, cultural identity, and racial consciousness. All of these feelings and poems affected and inspired the arousal of many great African American leaders. These leaders helped shape and determine many different niches for African American society after the renaissance had ended (Dykhuizen).

There were also many leaders who strongly supported the arts of the Harlem Renaissance, and were doing so much as to command the creation of “uplift literature”(Bloom), such as the inspirational poetry created by the aforementioned artists. Many of the African American citizens would feel greatly privileged to obtain such works as those done by Langston Hughes or Claude McKay. Much effort was being put forth to make such a dream possible and to unite their community under one large form of group consciousness. This short lived expansion of African American awareness, culture, and activity set the stage for nearly every aspect of African American society to follow (Bloom).


Works Cited

"African American Books - Art Books - African American History Books." African America Art Books. 19
Oct. 2008 <http://www.cardsorbust.com/bookart.html>. Online Image

Bloom, Harold. Bloom's Period Studies: The Harlem Renaissance. Broomall: Chelsea
House Publishers, 2004.

Bugged Out Cars. Harlem Panorama 2. Photograph. 25 Oct. 2006. Flickr. 20 Oct.
2008 <http://flickr.com/photos/14951111@N00/279426290/>.

CarbonNYC. "Harlem Architecture." Flickr. 3 Nov. 2007. 19 Oct. 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/
carbonnyc/1848710079/sizes/l/>. Online Image

Dykhuizen, Ed. "The Harlem Renaissance." NBC 11. 2008. 14 Oct. 2008
<http://www.nbc11.com/blackhistory/1946371/detail.html>.

Douglas, Arthur. "The Harlem Renaissance." History of Swing. 19 Oct. 2008 <http://www2.kenyon.edu/
Depts/IPHS/Projects/swing1/history/history.htm>. Online Image

Hill, Laban Carrick. Harlem Stomp! : a Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. N.p.: LC Catologing, 2003.

McConnel, William S. Literary Movements and Genres: The Harlem Renaissance.
N.p.: Greenhaven Press, 2003

Ochs, Michael. Cotton Club. 22 Oct. 2008
<http://www.americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/
Display.aspx?categoryid=4&entryid=1188363&searchtext=cotton+club&type=simple&opti
on=all>.

"The New Negro." Prinston University Press. 19 Oct. 2008 <http://press.princeton.edu/titles/
8492.html>. Online Image

Singh, Amritjit. The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance. The Pennsylavania State U: Pennsylvania State UP, 1976.

Wintz, Cary DeCordova. "Harlem Renaissance." MSN Encarta. 2008. MSN. 21 Oct.
2008 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566483/
harlem_renaissance.html>.