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The Harlem Renaissance is the name given to a cultural movement that was centered on New York City in the 1920s. This was a movement in which African American artists, musicians, and writers came to prominence. It is seen as the first major flowering of African American artistic culture in the United States.
The Harlem Renaissance came about for at least four reasons.
The first reason had to do with World War I. During that war, large numbers of African Americans began the “Great Migration” away from the segregated South to the cities of the North. This meant that a larger group of African Americans were living in places where they did not have to worry as much about staying in “their place” in society.
Second, African American intellectuals started to promote ideas of black pride. People like W.E.B. Du Bois pushed for black rights and black equality. Inspired by such ideas, the NAACP and other black groups started to publish more works by black authors.
Third, the 1920s were a time of fads. Among some white Americans, black culture became a fad. People wanted to experience what they saw as “primitive” culture. Therefore, they did things like patronizing jazz clubs in black neighborhoods such as Harlem.
Finally, there was some degree of more principled racial liberalism among some white elites. Some publishing houses, for example, sought out talented black writers and published them.
All of these factors allowed more black artists and writers to become prominent. This created the movement now known as the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural movement that reached its height between 1925 and 1935 in a district of New York City called Harlem. This period marked the first time that white Americans gave serious attention to African American culture.
Harlem was primarily a Jewish neighborhood until 1910, when large numbers of African Americans began migrating into the area from the South. By the 1920s Harlem was the largest and most influential African American community in the nation. Out of this community came a wide variety of artists and musicians. The Harlem Renaissance was led by Alain Locke (1886–1954), the first African American Rhodes scholar, who was a philosophy professor at Howard University.
The Harlem Renaissance produced a legacy in music, literature, and other arts. Jean Toomer (1894–1967) wrote the book Cane (1923), which is considered the first major work of this period and depicts sketches of black life in rural Georgia and the urban North. Other important figures included poet Langston Hughes (1902–1967), who wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (1921), The Weary Blues (1926), and Shakespeare in Harlem (1942); poet Countee Cullen (1903–1946), who wrote Color (1925) and Copper Sun(1927); and anthropologist Zora Neal Hurston (1901–1960), who wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Novelist Jessie R. Fauset (1882–1961) was editor of The Crisis, the journal of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Poet and novelist Claude McKay (1890–1948) wrote Home to Harlem (1928), a novel that evoked strong criticism from Locke and African American civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) for its depiction of black life. The Harlem Renaissance also sparked a jazz and blues explosion, with musicians like trumpeter Louis Armstrong (1901–1971), pianist Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton (1885–1941), bandleader Duke Ellington (1899–1974), singer Bessie Smith (1894–1937), and dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975).
Further Information: Brown, Claude. Manchild in the Promised Land. New York: MacMillan, 1965; Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. Or Does it Explode: Black Harlem in the Great Depression. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991; Harlem Renaissance. [Online] Available http://www.si.edu/tsa/disctheater/sweet/ss03.htm, October 23, 2000; Harlem Renaissance. [Online] Available http://www.nku.edu/-diesmanj/subscribe.html, October 23, 2000; Harlem Renaissance. [Online] Available http://www.nku. edu/-diesmanj/poetryindex.html, October 23, 2000; Howes, Kelly King. Harlem Renaissance. Detroit: U•X•L, 2001; Osofsky, Gilbert. Harlem. New York: Harper and Row, 1966; Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
The Harlem Renaissance (originally known as the New Negro Movement) was a period--usually dated between World War I and the mid-1930s--of African American cultural invigoration that included art, literature and music. Though based in New York City's Harlem district, this upheaval of black pride and heritage also could be found in other large American cities "such as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, (which) also fostered similar but smaller communities of black artists." Paris was also influenced by the movement, with its large numbers of blacks migrating from Africa and the Caribbean. The Harlem Renaissance was born from a migration of blacks to large urban centers following World War I and
... the near collapse of the southern agricultural economy, coupled with a labor shortage in the north, (that) prompted about two million blacks to migrate to northern cities in search of work.
Harlem quickly became a new residential center for African Americans after a large area "was bought by various African-American realtors and a church group." Jazz music flourished in clubs such as the Cotton Club, Apollo Theatre and Savoy Ballroom, where famed musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday regularly appeared. The new black literature movement was led by writers such as James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, W. E. B. Dubois and Langston Hughes.
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The Harlem Renaissance thrives during the Roaring 20's. It was a outpouring of Black artistic and literary creativity. Harlem Renaissance writers and artists expressed pride in their African American Culture. Key figures in the Harlem Renaissance would include James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington....
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