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The Harlem Renaissance is the name given to the explosion of culture that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s stemming from the black neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City. It represented a massive growth in works of art produced by African Americans as they sought to identify themselves and present the challenges they faced in their day-to-day life as Americans, facing issues such as discrimination and prejudice.
Arguably, the Harlem Renaissance was birthed with the production of Three Plays for a Negro Theatre, which were written by a white playwright Ridgely Torrence. What was so important about these plays was that they presented African-American actors with the same kind of human desires and motivations as white characters, therefore shunning stereotypical presentations of African-Americans.
Many writers took inspiration from such a challenging of the status quo to capture their unique perspective of being African-American in a society where the power was owned by whites and where they were discriminated against as a result. In particular, authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Lorraine Hansberry are noted as being associated with this movement that was so powerfully constructed around principles of social justice and identity.
Primarily encompassing the cultural fields of literature, art and music, the era known as the Harlem Renaissance existed for a little more than a decade (from about 1919 until the mid-1930s; or, from the end of World War I to the beginning of the Great Depression). The once glamorous Harlem suburb of New York City, originally built for the white upper- and middle-classes, had been transformed into the city's most popular destination for Negro middle class tenants. Harlem gave the city's growing black populace a place to display its new voice in theatre, art, poetry (Claude McKay, Langston Hughes), fiction (James Weldon Johnson) and, perhaps most importantly, jazz music. Racial pride was a common thread that bound the migration of Negroes from other large cities around the country, as well as the new generation of former slaves that arrived from the South. The heavy industrial growth of the nation following, first, the Civil War, and then World War I, provided jobs for hundreds of thousands of black newcomers to New York City, and Harlem soon became one of the city's most popular entertainment locales. In addition to a burgeoning Negro theatre scene, jazz clubs like the Apollo Theater, Savoy Ballroom and the Cotton Club soon became trademark establishments in the city--a destination for both white and black patrons to hear a new generation of musicians such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Louie Armstrong. The Harlem Renaissance opened new doors for African Americans in all phases of the arts: It opened the eyes of new white enthusiasts, including publishers; and provided a new outlet for black pride and freedom of expression.
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