Why Did The Harlem Renaissance Start
Why did the Harlem renaissance happen and what was it?
Consider the fact that African-American culture in the United States was first formed and developed under a brutal system of slavery. After abolition, that same culture was forced to survive and develop in the age of Jim Crow segregation and institutional racism. Every time in their American history, African-Americans had to form their ethnic and historical identities under the thumb of white rule and oppression.
The Harlem Renaissance was the natural end result of wanting to find a place and time where blacks could express themselves, and define themselves culturally on their own terms. Once the cultural renaissance began, it became a magnet for other black artists, poets, musicians, etc. who had long wanted the same thing. It was one of the most artistically productive periods in African-American history.
The Harlem Renaissance was a blossoming of African American intellectual life in the 1920s and 1930s centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The movement resulted in an explosion of African American art, music, and literature and included such names as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurtson, Jean Toomer, James Weldon Johnson, Aaron Douglas, Billie Holliday, and many, many others.
Two primary factors facilitated the Harlem Renaissance: the Great Migration and World War I. The Great Migration involved thousands of African Americans moving to northern cities and concentrating themselves in communities where they could support one another. After World War I, industrialization provided greater job opportunities and more prosperity to support cultural and artistic endeavors.
The Harlem Renaissance is usually defined as a time during the 1920s where there was a big boom in the amount and quality of black "cultural" work. This boom was largely centered in New York City. When I say "cultural" I mean literature, art and music.
The Harlem Renaissance is usually said to have started because of a couple of things.
First, there was a movement of blacks to the Northern cities during WWI. This made places like Harlem new centers where lots of black people were together in one place and were able to have more freedom of expression than they had had in the South.
Second, the US in general was getting richer at this time and there was more of a chance for people to put money and effort into leisure activities like this.
The Harlem Renaissance was known at the time as the "New Negro Movement." It was centered in Harlem but influenced many people, especially black writers who lived in Paris.
Many changes had occurred after slavery was abolished. Many people were moving to the cities because of industrialization. Blacks had a new sense of pride as this was an intellectual movement as well.
In addition, music flourished during this time. A new style of piano playing was called "Harlem Stride Style." The musical style of African Americans was beginning to attract many whites. The Apollo Theater was also very popular during the Harlem Renaissance. Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald got their start at The Apollo.
The exact reason as to why the Harlem Renaissance happened from a historical period might be a bit on the divergent side. Different people will have different opinions on the matter. I think that the expression of Black Consciousness through literature and art was one of the first moments where a movement of artists sought to articulate what it meant to be a marginalized voice in America. In my mind, it comes about because this voice had been silent for so long and the demand or need for articulation became something that was shared in the consciousness of artists and thinkers of the 1920s.