harlem renaissance research essay

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Harlem renaissance research essay

For there stood a handsome, brass-buttoned giant directing the heaviest traffic Gillis had ever seen; halting unnumbered tons of automobiles and trucks and wagons and pushcarts and street-cars; holding them at bay with one hand while he swept similar tons peremptorily on with the other; ruling the wide crossing with supreme self-assurance; and he, too, was a Negro! Yet most of the vehicles that leaped or crouched at his bidding carried white passengers.

One of these overdrove bounds a few feet and Gillis heard the officer's shrill whistle and gruff reproof, saw the driver's face turn red and his car draw back like a threatened pup. It was beyond belief—impossible. Black might be white, but it couldn't be that white!

Gillis was one of those who sought refuge in Harlem. He fled North Carolina after shooting a white man. Now, in Harlem, the policeman was black. Not that this changed his fate. At the end of the story, one of these black policemen dragged Gillis away in handcuffs. The reality of Harlem often contradicted the myth. For poet Langston Hughes, Harlem was also something of a refuge. Following a mostly unhappy childhood living at one time or another with his mother or father, grandmother, or neighbors, Hughes convinced his stern and foreboding father to finance his education at Columbia University.

He recalled his arrival:. I stood there, dropped my bags, took a deep breath and felt happy again. I registered at the Y. When college opened, I did not want to move into the dormitory at Columbia. I really did not want to go the college at all. I didn't want to do anything but live in Harlem, get a job and work there.

After a less than happy year at Columbia, Hughes did exactly that. He dropped out of school and moved into Harlem. Hughes, though, never lost sight that poverty, overcrowded and dilapidated housing, and racial prejudice were part of the daily experience of most Harlem residents. For Hughes, too, the desire to just "live in Harlem" was as much myth as reality.

After dropping out of Columbia and moving to Harlem he actually spent little time there. Until the late s, he was much more of a visitor or transient in Harlem than a resident. While Hughes spent many weekends and vacations in Harlem during his years at Lincoln University, during the height of the Renaissance, between and he was away from the city more than he was there, more a visitor than a full-time resident. James Weldon Johnson saw a still different Harlem.

In his book, Black Manhattan , he described the black metropolis in near utopian terms as the race's great hope and its grand social experiment: "So here we have Harlem—not merely a colony or a community or a settlement. It strikes the uninformed observer as a phenomenon, a miracle straight out of the skies. It is a section of new-law apartment houses and handsome dwellings, with streets as well paved, as well lighted, and as well kept as in any other part of the city.

Without question Harlem was a rapidly growing black metropolis, but what kind of city was it becoming? Harlem historian Gilbert Osofsky argued, "the most profound change that Harlem experienced in the 's was its emergence as a slum. Largely within the space of a single decade Harlem was transformed from a potentially ideal community to a neighborhood with manifold social and economic problems called 'deplorable,' 'unspeakable,' 'incredible. In short, the day-to-day realities that most Harlemites faced differed dramatically from the image of Harlem life presented by James Weldon Johnson.

Harlem was beset with contradictions. While it reflected the self-confidence, militancy, and pride of the New Negro in his or her demand for equality, and it reflected the aspirations and creative genius of the talented young people of the Harlem Renaissance along with the economic aspirations of the black migrants seeking a better life in the north, ultimately Harlem failed to resolve its problems and to fulfill these dreams.

The Harlem Race Riot put to rest the conflicting images of Harlem. On March 19, , a young Puerto Rican boy was caught stealing a ten-cent pocketknife from the counter of a th Street five-and-dime store. Following the arrest, rumors spread that police had beaten the youth to death. A large crowd gathered, shouting "police brutality" and "racial discrimination.

The violence resulted in three blacks dead, two hundred stores trashed and burned, and more than two million dollars worth of destroyed property. The Puerto Rican youth whose arrest precipitated the riot had been released the previous evening when the merchant chose not to press charges.

Franklin Frazier, a professor of sociology at Howard University, to investigate the riot. They concluded the obvious: the riot resulted from a general frustration with racial discrimination and poverty. What the committee failed to report was that the riot shattered once and for all James Weldon Johnson's image of Harlem as the African American urban utopia.

In spite of the presence of artists and writers, nightclubs, music, and entertainment, Harlem was a slum, a black ghetto characterized by poverty and discrimination. Burned-out storefronts might be fertile ground for political action, but not for art, literature, and culture.

Harlem would see new black writers in the years to come. Musicians, poets, and artists would continue to make their home there, but it never again served as the focal point of a creative movement with the national and international impact of the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson did not personally witness the Riot. He lived there until his death in So, what was the Harlem Renaissance?

The simple answer is that the Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement, or whatever name is preferred was the most important event in twentieth-century African American intellectual and cultural life. While best known for its literature, it touched every aspect of African American literary and artistic creativity from the end of World War I through the Great Depression.

Literature, critical writing, music, theater, musical theater, and the visual arts were transformed by this movement; it also affected politics, social development, and almost every aspect of the African American experience from the mids through the mids. But there was also something ephemeral about the Harlem Renaissance, something vague and hard to define. The Harlem Renaissance, then, was an African American literary and artistic movement anchored in Harlem, but drawing from, extending to, and influencing African American communities across the country and beyond.

As we have seen, it also had no precise beginning; nor did it have a precise ending. Rather, it emerged out of the social and intellectual upheaval in the African American community that followed World War I, blossomed in the s, and then faded away in the mid-to-late s and early s. Likewise the Harlem Renaissance has no single defined ideological or stylistic standard that unified its participants and defined the movement.

Instead, most participants in the movement resisted black or white efforts to define or narrowly categorize their art. For example, in , a group of writers, spearheaded by writer Wallace Thurman and including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and artist Aaron Douglas, among others, produced their own literary magazine, Fire!! One purpose of this venture was the declaration of their intent to assume ownership of the literary Renaissance. In the process, they turned their backs on Alain Locke and W.

Du Bois and others who sought to channel black creativity into what they considered to be the proper aesthetic and political directions. Despite the efforts of Thurman and his young colleagues, Fire!! In fact, this was its most distinguishing characteristic. There would be no common literary style or political ideology associated with the Harlem Renaissance. It was far more an identity than an ideology or a literary or artistic school.

What united participants was their sense of taking part in a common endeavor and their commitment to giving artistic expression to the African American experience. If there was a statement that defined the philosophy of the new literary movement it was Langston Hughes's essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," published in The Nation , June 16, We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad.

If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not their displeasure doesn't matter either. We will build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we will stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.

Like Fire!! There was, not surprisingly, resistance to this independence, especially among those concerned with the political costs that the realistic expressions of black life could engender—feeding white prejudice by exposing the less savory elements of the black community. Du Bois responded to Hughes a few weeks later in a Chicago speech that was later published in The Crisis as "The Criteria of Negro Art" October : "Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists.

I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent. The determination of black writers to follow their own artistic vision led to the artistic diversity that was the principal characteristic of the Harlem Renaissance.

This diversity is clearly evident in the poetry of the period where subject matter, style, and tone ranged from the traditional to the more inventive. Langston Hughes, for example, captured the life and language of the working class, and the rhythm and style of the blues in a number of his poems, none more so than "The Weary Blues.

McKay used sonnets for much of his protest verse, while Cullen's poems relied both on classical literary allusions and symbols and standard poetic forms. This diversity and experimentation also characterized music. This was evidenced in the blues of Bessie Smith and the range of jazz from the early rhythms of Jelly Roll Morton to the instrumentation of Louis Armstrong or the sophisticated orchestration of Duke Ellington.

In painting, the soft colors and pastels that Aaron Douglas used to create a veiled view for the African-inspired images in his paintings and murals contrast sharply with Jacob Lawrence's use of bright colors and sharply defined images. Within this diversity, several themes emerged which set the character of the Harlem Renaissance. No black writer, musician, or artist expressed all of these themes, but each did address one or more in his or her work. The first of these themes was the effort to recapture the African American past—its rural southern roots, urban experience, and African heritage.

Interest in the African past corresponded with the rise of Pan-Africanism in African American politics, which was at the center of Marcus Garvey's ideology and also a concern of W. Du Bois in the s. It also reflected the general fascination with ancient African history that followed the discovery of King Tut's tomb in A number of musicians, from the classical composer William Grant Still to jazz great Louis Armstrong, introduced African inspired rhythms and themes in their compositions.

The exploration of black southern heritage was reflected in novels by Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as in Jacob Lawrence's art. Zora Neale Hurston used her experience as a folklorist as the basis for her extensive study of rural southern black life in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Jacob Lawrence turned to African American history for much of his work including two of his multi-canvas series' of paintings, the Harriett Tubman series and the one on the Black Migration.

Harlem Renaissance writers and artists also explored life in Harlem and other urban centers. Some black writers, including McKay and Hughes, as well as Rudolph Fisher and Wallace Thurman, were accused of overemphasizing crime, sexuality, and other less-savory aspects of ghetto life in order to feed the voyeuristic desires of white readers and publishers, in imitation of white novelist Carl Van Vechten's controversial Harlem novel, Nigger Heaven.

A third major theme addressed by the literature of the Harlem Renaissance was race. Virtually every novel and play, and most of the poetry, explored race in America, especially the impact of race and racism on African Americans. In their simplest form these works protested racial injustice. Langston Hughes also wrote protest pieces, as did almost every black writer at one time or another. Among the visual artists, Lawrence's historical series emphasized the racial struggle that dominated African American history, while Romare Bearden's early illustrative work often focused on racial politics.

The struggle against lynching in the mids stimulated anti-lynching poetry, as well as Walter White's carefully researched study of the subject, Rope and Faggot. In the early s, the Scottsboro incident stimulated considerable protest writing, as well as a anthology, Negro , which addressed race in an international context.

Most of the literary efforts of the Harlem Renaissance avoided overt protest or propaganda, focusing instead on the psychological and social impact of race. Among the best of these studies were Nella Larsen's two novels, Quicksand in and, a year later, Passing. Both explored characters of mixed racial heritage who struggled to define their racial identity in a world of prejudice and racism.

Langston Hughes addressed similar themes in his poem "Cross," and in his play, Mulatto , as did Jessie Fauset in her novel, Plum Bun. That same year Wallace Thurman made color discrimination within the urban black community the focus of his novel, The Blacker the Berry. Finally, the Harlem Renaissance incorporated all aspects of African American culture in its creative work. This ranged from the use of black music as an inspiration for poetry or black folklore as an inspiration for novels and short stories.

Best known for this was Langston Hughes who used the rhythms and styles of jazz and the blues in much of his early poetry. James Weldon Johnson, who published two collections of black spirituals in and , and Sterling Brown, who used the blues and southern work songs in many of the poems in his book of poetry, Southern Road , continued the practice that Hughes had initiated.

Other writers exploited black religion as a literary source. Johnson made the black preacher and his sermons the basis for the poems in God's Trombones , while Hurston and Larsen used black religion and black preachers in their novels. Hurston's first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine , described the exploits of a southern black preacher, while in the last portion of Quicksand , Larsen's heroine was ensnared by religion and a southern black preacher.

Through all of these themes, Harlem Renaissance writers, musicians, and artists were determined to express the African American experience in all of its variety and complexity as realistically as possible. This commitment to realism ranged from the ghetto realism that created such controversy when writers exposed negative aspects of African American life, to beautifully crafted and detailed portraits of black life in small towns such as in Hughes's novel, Not Without Laughter , or the witty and biting depiction of Harlem's black literati in Wallace Thurman's Infants of the Spring.

The Harlem Renaissance appealed to and relied on a mixed audience—the African American middle class and white consumers of the arts. African American magazines such as The Crisis the NAACP monthly journal and Opportunity the monthly publication of the Urban League employed Harlem Renaissance writers on their editorial staff, published their poetry and short stories, and promoted African American literature through articles, reviews, and annual literary prizes.

They also printed illustrations by black artists and used black artists in the layout design of their periodicals. Also, blacks attempted to produce their own literary and artistic venues. In addition to the short-lived Fire!! As important as these literary outlets were, they were not sufficient to support a literary movement.

Consequently, the Harlem Renaissance relied heavily on white-owned enterprises for its creative works. Publishing houses, magazines, recording companies, theaters, and art galleries were primarily white-owned, and financial support through grants, prizes, and awards generally involved white money.

In fact, one of the major accomplishments of the Renaissance was to push open the door to mainstream periodicals, publishing houses, and funding sources. African American music also played to mixed audiences. Harlem's cabarets attracted both Harlem residents and white New Yorkers seeking out Harlem nightlife. The famous Cotton Club carried this to a bizarre extreme by providing black entertainment for exclusively white audiences.

Ultimately, the more successful black musicians and entertainers moved their performances downtown. The relationship of the Harlem Renaissance to white venues and white audiences created controversy. While most African American critics strongly supported the movement, others like Benjamin Brawley and even W. Du Bois were sharply critical and accused Renaissance writers of reinforcing negative African American stereotypes. Langston Hughes's assertion that black artists intended to express themselves freely, no matter what the black public or white public thought, accurately reflected the attitude of most writers and artists.

The end of the Harlem Renaissance is as difficult to define as its beginnings. It varies somewhat from one artistic field to another. In musical theater, the popularity of black musical reviews died out by the early s, although there were occasional efforts, mostly unsuccessful, to revive the genre. However, black performers and musicians continued to work, although not so often in all black shows. Black music continued into the World War II era, although the popularity of blues singers waned somewhat, and jazz changed as the big band style became popular.

Literature also changed, and a new generation of black writers like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison emerged with little interest in or connection with the Harlem Renaissance. In art, a number of artists who had emerged in the s continued to work, but again, with no connection to a broader African American movement. Also, a number of Harlem Renaissance literary figures went silent, left Harlem, or died. Some, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, continued to write and publish into the s and beyond, although there was no longer any sense that they were connected to a literary movement.

And Harlem lost some of its magic following the race riot. In any case, few, if any, people were talking about a Harlem Renaissance by The Harlem Renaissance flourished in the late s and early s, but its antecedents and legacy spread many years before and after It had no clearly defined beginning or end, but emerged out of the social and intellectual upheaval in the African American community that followed World War I, blossomed in the mid- to lates, and then faded away in the mids. While at its core it was primarily a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance touched all of the African American creative arts.

While its participants were determined to truthfully represent the African American experience and believed in racial pride and equality, they shared no common political philosophy, social belief, artistic style, or aesthetic principle. This was a movement of individuals free of any overriding manifesto.

While central to African American artistic and intellectual life, by no means did it enjoy the full support of the black or white intelligentsia; it generated as much hostility and criticism as it did support and praise. From the moment of its birth, its legitimacy was debated.

Nevertheless, by at least one measure, its success was clear: the Harlem Renaissance was the first time that a considerable number of mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously, and it was the first time that African American literature and the arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large.

Cary D. Wintz Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, , — June 16, , Humanities Texas has assembled a list of online educational resources related to the Harlem Renaissance and its history, literature, and culture. These websites include primary source documents, lesson plans, photographs, and other interactive elements that will enhance classroom instruction and student comprehension.

Skip to the main content. Wintz February What was the Harlem Renaissance and when did it begin? Time First, to know when the Harlem Renaissance began, we must determine its origins. In , it was all about the show, and, as he wrote in his autobiography, it was "a honey of a show:" Swift, bright, funny, rollicking, and gay, with a dozen danceable, singable tunes. Place Situating the Harlem Renaissance in space is almost as complex as defining its origins and time span.

Emerging out of the subway at th and Lennox Avenue, Gillis was transfixed: Clean air, blue sky, bright sunlight. He recalled his arrival: "I went up the steps and out into the bright September sunlight. Renaissance So, what was the Harlem Renaissance? If there was a statement that defined the philosophy of the new literary movement it was Langston Hughes's essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," published in The Nation , June 16, We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.

Slow fade to black The end of the Harlem Renaissance is as difficult to define as its beginnings. The Renaissance actually is a really useful way to create the importance identity for African Americans. Also it pushed white Americans to reconsider the importance of a ethic group too long for being inferior. The Renaissance also best remembered as the explosion of creativity from African Americans in the s. Although it considered as an African American literary. It made a huge impact on urban life.

The Harlem Renaissance played a major role in African American art, music, poetic writing styles, culture and society. The first building given to. As every part of America reveled in the prosperity and gaiety of the decade, African Americans used the decade as a stepping stone for future generations. With the New Negro Movement came an abundance of black artistic, cultural, and intellectual stimulation.

The Harlem Renaissance was the first era in American history where African Americans could freely express their cultural, social, and artistic ideas or opinions after the slavery era. In the south blacks were oppressed by whites in the south. Although the civil war had ended and the south had lost the lives of African Americans did not get better in fact conditions for African Americans got worse as a result of the Civil war.

The southern slave owners were very upset about losing the war and the. This movement occurred after the World War I and drew in many African Americans who wanted to escape from the South to the North where they could freely express their artistic abilities.

This movement was known as The Great Migration. Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural movement of the s and early s that was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Also known as the New Negro movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance, the movement emerged toward the end of World War I in , blossomed in the mid- to late s, and then faded in the mids.

The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously. In Harlem, New York, before there was a revolution full of art, music, and innovation the majority of blacks were treated with disgrace.

Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Shuffle Along were just a few. This movement allowed the black culture to be heard and accepted by white citizens. The movement was expressed through art, music, and literature.

The current status of racism will be centered upon as the paper concludes.

Esl phd essay editor websites us Policemen in Harlem, African Americans started to reveal their emotions in forms of art: they expressed their struggles with discrimination, violence, […]. Was it the Negro metropolis, black Manhattan, the political, cultural, and spiritual center of African America, a land of plenty, a city of refuge, or a black ghetto and emerging slum? Like Fire!! Both black and white realtors took advantage of declining property values in Harlem—the panic selling that resulted when blacks moved in. Johnson described the band there as "a playing-singing-dancing orchestra, making dominant use of banjos, mandolins, guitars, saxophones, and drums in combination, and [it] was called the Memphis Students—a very good name, overlooking the fact that the performers were not students and were not from Memphis.
Harlem renaissance research essay Humanities Texas has assembled a list of online educational resources related to the Harlem Renaissance and its history, literature, and culture. Interest in the African past corresponded with the rise of Pan-Africanism in African American politics, which was at the center of Marcus Garvey's ideology and also a concern of W. People came to see it innumerable times. White guests predominately were publishers and critics; Carl Van Doren, editor of Century magazine, spoke for this group calling upon the young writers in the audience to make their contribution to the "new literary age" emerging in America. Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle wrote the music and played and acted in the show. Delany, on the roof of St.
Harlem renaissance research essay It also reflected the general fascination with ancient African history that followed the discovery of King Tut's tomb in Johnson, the young editor of Opportunitythe National Urban League's monthly magazine, conceived the event to honor writer Jessie Fauset on the occasion of the publication of her novel, There Is Confusion. Professor Cary D. Featured Categories. Shuffle Along also brought jazz to Broadway.
General types of essay End your research paper worries in less than 5 Minutes! After the abolition of slavery many blacks moved toward industrialized cities. Johnson described the band there as "a playing-singing-dancing orchestra, making dominant use of banjos, mandolins, guitars, saxophones, and drums in combination, and [it] was called the Memphis Students—a very good name, overlooking the fact that the performers were not students and were not from Memphis. However, there was no analysis of the developments write me earth science home work these fields. The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously. Apa referencing dissertation abstracts Lawrence turned to African American history for much of his work including two of his multi-canvas series' of paintings, the Harriett Tubman series and the one on the Black Migration.
Harlem renaissance research essay There was assuredly no doubt of his whereabouts. These forms were very influential, even the white Americans started to developer business plan. They designed this new, urban Harlem primarily for the wealthy and the upper middle class; it harlem renaissance research essay broad avenues, a rail connection to the city on Eighth Avenue, and consisted of expensive homes and luxurious apartment buildings accompanied by commercial and retail structures, along with stately churches and synagogues, clubs, social organizations, and even the Harlem Philharmonic Orchestra. Rather, it emerged out of the social and intellectual upheaval in the African American community that followed World War I, blossomed in the s, and then faded away in the mid-to-late s and early s. There were at least a few events that worked to create an environment that not only supported the rise of the Harlem Renaissance but also intensified a class divide in Harlem and the African American community in general, primary of which was the introduction of W. By black Harlem had expanded north ten blocks to th Street and south to th Street; it spread from the Harlem River to Amsterdam Avenue, and housed approximatelyblacks.
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WOMENS HISTORY MONTH ESSAY

The Harlem Renaissance was a revolutionary time of changes to be equal and standing up for the rights of African-Americans. Many literature leaders like writers, artists, poets, and others rose to show their rights and freedom in the nation, including Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes was an African-American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He […]. The Harlem Renaissance was caused by the migration of African Americans, their search for identity, and talent.

After the abolition of slavery many blacks moved toward industrialized cities. There, they hoped to find success and be identified as common people. The Harlem Renaissance was a renewal and flourishing of black culture, art, music and social activism during the years after World War I which started approximately around and ended around , in the Harlem section of New York City.

Langston Hughes made a huge impact on African Americans, and other ethnicities in the Harlem Renaissance. He created bodies of work in a time where is was uncommon for African Americans to do so in the limelight and receive credit for it. He wrote stories about the lives of blacks during the twenties and thirties, […]. After the Civil War, many blacks moved to northern states to escape the terrors of racism in the South.

Harlem was the primary neighborhood that […]. His parents split up soon after his birth and was mainly raised by his grandmother Mary. His grandmother died in his early teens when he returned to being raised by his mother. Hughes graduated high school in […]. There appear to be plentiful literary movements that describe the s in the United States; however, the Harlem Renaissance movement defines the period of the roaring twenties.

Most of the African American population settled in New York, in a […]. Langston Hughes is and will forever be a prolific play write but that did not come without struggle from his own people his strong ability to work well with others and his strong story telling skills that articulated black life. Langston Hughes was a spokesman at a time where very few black people had a […].

A major example of life influencing literature would be the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes was a poet and creative genius. He was a very important writer that was born in the Harlem Renaissance era. He was African […]. The Harlem Renaissance contributed significantly to the recognition of African American art and culture.

The movement brought an amazing array of African American artists and scholars to Harlem. These great minds and talent came together to produce one of the most significant cultural expansions in the United States. The Harlem Renaissance comprised painting and sculpture, […]. Even though slavery was over in there was still racial tension between whites and blacks. Poet, Langston Hughes, played a big role in the Harlem Renaissance movement.

Langston wrote his […]. The Modern Time Period began in and ended in This time period started because of World War I. There were important events that took place during this time: the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age. Two authors that […].

African Americans started to reveal their emotions in forms of art: they expressed their struggles with discrimination, violence, […]. By living with numerous relatives and moving to different cities, Langston Hughes really was exposed to the poverty lifestyle. Langston wrote his poetry to get to many African Americans and show them that they were somebody and […].

Well if you read these fun facts you can get to know him. Langston Hughes was a very important writer of the Harlem Renaissance. He was raised by his mother, grandmother, and the childless reeds until his grandmother died. Then, he and his mother moved around alot […]. Although many people thought he was black, he was actually mixed. Until the late s, he was much more of a visitor or transient in Harlem than a resident.

While Hughes spent many weekends and vacations in Harlem during his years at Lincoln University, during the height of the Renaissance, between and he was away from the city more than he was there, more a visitor than a full-time resident. James Weldon Johnson saw a still different Harlem. In his book, Black Manhattan , he described the black metropolis in near utopian terms as the race's great hope and its grand social experiment: "So here we have Harlem—not merely a colony or a community or a settlement.

It strikes the uninformed observer as a phenomenon, a miracle straight out of the skies. It is a section of new-law apartment houses and handsome dwellings, with streets as well paved, as well lighted, and as well kept as in any other part of the city. Without question Harlem was a rapidly growing black metropolis, but what kind of city was it becoming? Harlem historian Gilbert Osofsky argued, "the most profound change that Harlem experienced in the 's was its emergence as a slum.

Largely within the space of a single decade Harlem was transformed from a potentially ideal community to a neighborhood with manifold social and economic problems called 'deplorable,' 'unspeakable,' 'incredible.

In short, the day-to-day realities that most Harlemites faced differed dramatically from the image of Harlem life presented by James Weldon Johnson. Harlem was beset with contradictions. While it reflected the self-confidence, militancy, and pride of the New Negro in his or her demand for equality, and it reflected the aspirations and creative genius of the talented young people of the Harlem Renaissance along with the economic aspirations of the black migrants seeking a better life in the north, ultimately Harlem failed to resolve its problems and to fulfill these dreams.

The Harlem Race Riot put to rest the conflicting images of Harlem. On March 19, , a young Puerto Rican boy was caught stealing a ten-cent pocketknife from the counter of a th Street five-and-dime store. Following the arrest, rumors spread that police had beaten the youth to death.

A large crowd gathered, shouting "police brutality" and "racial discrimination. The violence resulted in three blacks dead, two hundred stores trashed and burned, and more than two million dollars worth of destroyed property. The Puerto Rican youth whose arrest precipitated the riot had been released the previous evening when the merchant chose not to press charges. Franklin Frazier, a professor of sociology at Howard University, to investigate the riot. They concluded the obvious: the riot resulted from a general frustration with racial discrimination and poverty.

What the committee failed to report was that the riot shattered once and for all James Weldon Johnson's image of Harlem as the African American urban utopia. In spite of the presence of artists and writers, nightclubs, music, and entertainment, Harlem was a slum, a black ghetto characterized by poverty and discrimination.

Burned-out storefronts might be fertile ground for political action, but not for art, literature, and culture. Harlem would see new black writers in the years to come. Musicians, poets, and artists would continue to make their home there, but it never again served as the focal point of a creative movement with the national and international impact of the Harlem Renaissance.

Johnson did not personally witness the Riot. He lived there until his death in So, what was the Harlem Renaissance? The simple answer is that the Harlem Renaissance or the New Negro Movement, or whatever name is preferred was the most important event in twentieth-century African American intellectual and cultural life. While best known for its literature, it touched every aspect of African American literary and artistic creativity from the end of World War I through the Great Depression.

Literature, critical writing, music, theater, musical theater, and the visual arts were transformed by this movement; it also affected politics, social development, and almost every aspect of the African American experience from the mids through the mids. But there was also something ephemeral about the Harlem Renaissance, something vague and hard to define. The Harlem Renaissance, then, was an African American literary and artistic movement anchored in Harlem, but drawing from, extending to, and influencing African American communities across the country and beyond.

As we have seen, it also had no precise beginning; nor did it have a precise ending. Rather, it emerged out of the social and intellectual upheaval in the African American community that followed World War I, blossomed in the s, and then faded away in the mid-to-late s and early s. Likewise the Harlem Renaissance has no single defined ideological or stylistic standard that unified its participants and defined the movement.

Instead, most participants in the movement resisted black or white efforts to define or narrowly categorize their art. For example, in , a group of writers, spearheaded by writer Wallace Thurman and including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and artist Aaron Douglas, among others, produced their own literary magazine, Fire!!

One purpose of this venture was the declaration of their intent to assume ownership of the literary Renaissance. In the process, they turned their backs on Alain Locke and W. Du Bois and others who sought to channel black creativity into what they considered to be the proper aesthetic and political directions. Despite the efforts of Thurman and his young colleagues, Fire!!

In fact, this was its most distinguishing characteristic. There would be no common literary style or political ideology associated with the Harlem Renaissance. It was far more an identity than an ideology or a literary or artistic school. What united participants was their sense of taking part in a common endeavor and their commitment to giving artistic expression to the African American experience.

If there was a statement that defined the philosophy of the new literary movement it was Langston Hughes's essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," published in The Nation , June 16, We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad.

If they are not their displeasure doesn't matter either. We will build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we will stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. Like Fire!! There was, not surprisingly, resistance to this independence, especially among those concerned with the political costs that the realistic expressions of black life could engender—feeding white prejudice by exposing the less savory elements of the black community.

Du Bois responded to Hughes a few weeks later in a Chicago speech that was later published in The Crisis as "The Criteria of Negro Art" October : "Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent.

The determination of black writers to follow their own artistic vision led to the artistic diversity that was the principal characteristic of the Harlem Renaissance. This diversity is clearly evident in the poetry of the period where subject matter, style, and tone ranged from the traditional to the more inventive. Langston Hughes, for example, captured the life and language of the working class, and the rhythm and style of the blues in a number of his poems, none more so than "The Weary Blues.

McKay used sonnets for much of his protest verse, while Cullen's poems relied both on classical literary allusions and symbols and standard poetic forms. This diversity and experimentation also characterized music. This was evidenced in the blues of Bessie Smith and the range of jazz from the early rhythms of Jelly Roll Morton to the instrumentation of Louis Armstrong or the sophisticated orchestration of Duke Ellington. In painting, the soft colors and pastels that Aaron Douglas used to create a veiled view for the African-inspired images in his paintings and murals contrast sharply with Jacob Lawrence's use of bright colors and sharply defined images.

Within this diversity, several themes emerged which set the character of the Harlem Renaissance. No black writer, musician, or artist expressed all of these themes, but each did address one or more in his or her work. The first of these themes was the effort to recapture the African American past—its rural southern roots, urban experience, and African heritage.

Interest in the African past corresponded with the rise of Pan-Africanism in African American politics, which was at the center of Marcus Garvey's ideology and also a concern of W. Du Bois in the s. It also reflected the general fascination with ancient African history that followed the discovery of King Tut's tomb in A number of musicians, from the classical composer William Grant Still to jazz great Louis Armstrong, introduced African inspired rhythms and themes in their compositions.

The exploration of black southern heritage was reflected in novels by Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston, as well as in Jacob Lawrence's art. Zora Neale Hurston used her experience as a folklorist as the basis for her extensive study of rural southern black life in her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Jacob Lawrence turned to African American history for much of his work including two of his multi-canvas series' of paintings, the Harriett Tubman series and the one on the Black Migration.

Harlem Renaissance writers and artists also explored life in Harlem and other urban centers. Some black writers, including McKay and Hughes, as well as Rudolph Fisher and Wallace Thurman, were accused of overemphasizing crime, sexuality, and other less-savory aspects of ghetto life in order to feed the voyeuristic desires of white readers and publishers, in imitation of white novelist Carl Van Vechten's controversial Harlem novel, Nigger Heaven.

A third major theme addressed by the literature of the Harlem Renaissance was race. Virtually every novel and play, and most of the poetry, explored race in America, especially the impact of race and racism on African Americans. In their simplest form these works protested racial injustice. Langston Hughes also wrote protest pieces, as did almost every black writer at one time or another. Among the visual artists, Lawrence's historical series emphasized the racial struggle that dominated African American history, while Romare Bearden's early illustrative work often focused on racial politics.

The struggle against lynching in the mids stimulated anti-lynching poetry, as well as Walter White's carefully researched study of the subject, Rope and Faggot. In the early s, the Scottsboro incident stimulated considerable protest writing, as well as a anthology, Negro , which addressed race in an international context. Most of the literary efforts of the Harlem Renaissance avoided overt protest or propaganda, focusing instead on the psychological and social impact of race.

Among the best of these studies were Nella Larsen's two novels, Quicksand in and, a year later, Passing. Both explored characters of mixed racial heritage who struggled to define their racial identity in a world of prejudice and racism. Langston Hughes addressed similar themes in his poem "Cross," and in his play, Mulatto , as did Jessie Fauset in her novel, Plum Bun. That same year Wallace Thurman made color discrimination within the urban black community the focus of his novel, The Blacker the Berry.

Finally, the Harlem Renaissance incorporated all aspects of African American culture in its creative work. This ranged from the use of black music as an inspiration for poetry or black folklore as an inspiration for novels and short stories. Best known for this was Langston Hughes who used the rhythms and styles of jazz and the blues in much of his early poetry.

James Weldon Johnson, who published two collections of black spirituals in and , and Sterling Brown, who used the blues and southern work songs in many of the poems in his book of poetry, Southern Road , continued the practice that Hughes had initiated. Other writers exploited black religion as a literary source. Johnson made the black preacher and his sermons the basis for the poems in God's Trombones , while Hurston and Larsen used black religion and black preachers in their novels.

Hurston's first novel, Jonah's Gourd Vine , described the exploits of a southern black preacher, while in the last portion of Quicksand , Larsen's heroine was ensnared by religion and a southern black preacher. Through all of these themes, Harlem Renaissance writers, musicians, and artists were determined to express the African American experience in all of its variety and complexity as realistically as possible.

This commitment to realism ranged from the ghetto realism that created such controversy when writers exposed negative aspects of African American life, to beautifully crafted and detailed portraits of black life in small towns such as in Hughes's novel, Not Without Laughter , or the witty and biting depiction of Harlem's black literati in Wallace Thurman's Infants of the Spring. The Harlem Renaissance appealed to and relied on a mixed audience—the African American middle class and white consumers of the arts.

African American magazines such as The Crisis the NAACP monthly journal and Opportunity the monthly publication of the Urban League employed Harlem Renaissance writers on their editorial staff, published their poetry and short stories, and promoted African American literature through articles, reviews, and annual literary prizes.

They also printed illustrations by black artists and used black artists in the layout design of their periodicals. Also, blacks attempted to produce their own literary and artistic venues. In addition to the short-lived Fire!! As important as these literary outlets were, they were not sufficient to support a literary movement. Consequently, the Harlem Renaissance relied heavily on white-owned enterprises for its creative works. Publishing houses, magazines, recording companies, theaters, and art galleries were primarily white-owned, and financial support through grants, prizes, and awards generally involved white money.

In fact, one of the major accomplishments of the Renaissance was to push open the door to mainstream periodicals, publishing houses, and funding sources. African American music also played to mixed audiences. Harlem's cabarets attracted both Harlem residents and white New Yorkers seeking out Harlem nightlife. The famous Cotton Club carried this to a bizarre extreme by providing black entertainment for exclusively white audiences.

Ultimately, the more successful black musicians and entertainers moved their performances downtown. The relationship of the Harlem Renaissance to white venues and white audiences created controversy. While most African American critics strongly supported the movement, others like Benjamin Brawley and even W. Du Bois were sharply critical and accused Renaissance writers of reinforcing negative African American stereotypes.

Langston Hughes's assertion that black artists intended to express themselves freely, no matter what the black public or white public thought, accurately reflected the attitude of most writers and artists. The end of the Harlem Renaissance is as difficult to define as its beginnings. It varies somewhat from one artistic field to another.

In musical theater, the popularity of black musical reviews died out by the early s, although there were occasional efforts, mostly unsuccessful, to revive the genre. However, black performers and musicians continued to work, although not so often in all black shows. Black music continued into the World War II era, although the popularity of blues singers waned somewhat, and jazz changed as the big band style became popular.

Literature also changed, and a new generation of black writers like Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison emerged with little interest in or connection with the Harlem Renaissance. In art, a number of artists who had emerged in the s continued to work, but again, with no connection to a broader African American movement. Also, a number of Harlem Renaissance literary figures went silent, left Harlem, or died. Some, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, continued to write and publish into the s and beyond, although there was no longer any sense that they were connected to a literary movement.

And Harlem lost some of its magic following the race riot. In any case, few, if any, people were talking about a Harlem Renaissance by The Harlem Renaissance flourished in the late s and early s, but its antecedents and legacy spread many years before and after It had no clearly defined beginning or end, but emerged out of the social and intellectual upheaval in the African American community that followed World War I, blossomed in the mid- to lates, and then faded away in the mids.

While at its core it was primarily a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance touched all of the African American creative arts. While its participants were determined to truthfully represent the African American experience and believed in racial pride and equality, they shared no common political philosophy, social belief, artistic style, or aesthetic principle. This was a movement of individuals free of any overriding manifesto.

While central to African American artistic and intellectual life, by no means did it enjoy the full support of the black or white intelligentsia; it generated as much hostility and criticism as it did support and praise. From the moment of its birth, its legitimacy was debated. Nevertheless, by at least one measure, its success was clear: the Harlem Renaissance was the first time that a considerable number of mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously, and it was the first time that African American literature and the arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large.

Cary D. Wintz Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, , — June 16, , Humanities Texas has assembled a list of online educational resources related to the Harlem Renaissance and its history, literature, and culture. These websites include primary source documents, lesson plans, photographs, and other interactive elements that will enhance classroom instruction and student comprehension.

Skip to the main content. Wintz February What was the Harlem Renaissance and when did it begin? Time First, to know when the Harlem Renaissance began, we must determine its origins. In , it was all about the show, and, as he wrote in his autobiography, it was "a honey of a show:" Swift, bright, funny, rollicking, and gay, with a dozen danceable, singable tunes.

Place Situating the Harlem Renaissance in space is almost as complex as defining its origins and time span. Emerging out of the subway at th and Lennox Avenue, Gillis was transfixed: Clean air, blue sky, bright sunlight. He recalled his arrival: "I went up the steps and out into the bright September sunlight.

Renaissance So, what was the Harlem Renaissance? If there was a statement that defined the philosophy of the new literary movement it was Langston Hughes's essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," published in The Nation , June 16, We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame.

Slow fade to black The end of the Harlem Renaissance is as difficult to define as its beginnings. What was the Harlem Renaissance and why was it important? Online Educational Resources: The Harlem Renaissance Humanities Texas has assembled a list of online educational resources related to the Harlem Renaissance and its history, literature, and culture. Portrait of Charles S. Johnson was founder of Opportunity , the National Urban League's monthly magazine, and organizer of the Civic Club Dinner that marked the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance as a literary movement.

Photo by Gordon Parks. The cast of Shuffle Along , Music Division, Library of Congress. Copyright deposit, Blues composer and musician W. Handy left with bandleader and composer Duke Ellington right , ca. The photographs on the cover show Europe with the th U. Infantry Division "Hell Fighters" Band. Performing Arts Encyclopedia, Library of Congress. New York: The Viking Press, The Seine by Henry Ossawa Tanner, c.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tanner moved to Paris in and achieved international recognition for his work. Gift of the Avalon Foundation. Photo by F. In Black Manhattan , James Weldon Johnson's history of African Americans in New York, two demographic maps of Harlem show its quick flourishing in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Harry Ransom Center. From left to right: Langston Hughes, Charles S. Johnson, E. Delany, on the roof of St. Nicholas Avenue, Harlem, on the occasion of a party in Hughes' honor,

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