A rebirth of cultural expression Harlem in the 1920s: For some, it conjures images of jazz sessions at hot spots like the Cotton Club and speakeasies like the Clam Bake and the Hot Feet. For others, it brings to mind the artistic genius of writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and painters like Aaron Douglas. In the 1920s, the New York City neighborhood of Harlem was home to an unprecedented flowering of African American talent that left an astonishing cultural legacy.
Known as the Harlem Renaissance, this remarkable period marked the first time that African American artists were taken seriously by the culture at large. “Negro life is seizing its first chances for group expression and self determination,” wrote sociologist Alain Locke in Harlem became what Locke termed “the center of a spiritual coming of age,” as its artists celebrated their culture and race. A Celebration of American Life
Art The artists and writers of the Renaissance did not share a style. Langston Hughes’s realistic poems of downtrodden but determined people bear little resemblance to Countee Cullen’s elegant sonnets. Instead, these artists shared the urgent need to document the experiences of their people. Langston Hughes
Between 1910 and 1930, the African American population in the North rose by about 20 percent overall. Cities such as Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Cleveland had some of the biggest increases.
The Great Migration In the early 1900s, hundreds of thousands of African Americans embarked on what has come to be called the Great Migration, moving from the rural South to the industrial cities of the North. As more and more African Americans settled in Harlem, it became a meeting ground for writers, musicians, and artists. The work they produced was unique. Before the Harlem Renaissance, many African American writers had tried to emulate whites. By contrast, the Harlem writers celebrated their racial identity. The goal was to create, as Hughes put it, “an expression of our individual dark-skinned selves.”
Between 1920 and 1930, almost 750,000 African Americans left the South for political, social, and economic reasons. Why go North? wider opportunities for prosperity more racially tolerant environments a sense of actual (as opposed to theoretical) citizenship Mass exodus from the South called The Great Migration. Why Leave the South?
The North: Home Sweet Home? New arrivals could land only low-paying jobs as janitors, elevator operators, domestics, and unskilled laborers. Despite the challenges, most of those who went North never returned. --- Of the almost 750,000 African Americans who moved North, nearly 175,000 moved to Harlem. Harlem covers three square miles; therefore, Harlem became the largest concentration of black people in the world.
An Outpouring of Expression From the 1920s through the mid-1930s, sixteen African American writers published more than fifty volumes of poetry and fiction—an astounding amount of work. Other African Americans made their African images into his paintings. Blues singer Bessie Smith performed to packed houses. Musicians Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington laid the foundations of jazz, a form of music that scholars argue is the only truly American art form.
Writers The movement’s most influential advocate may have been Langston Hughes, whose poems combined the rhythms of jazz and blues with stories of Harlem life. Other writers, such as Countee Cullen and Claude McKay, wrote in more classical forms. Novelist Zora Neale Hurston combined African folklore with realistic narratives.
A Powerful Legacy The impact of the Harlem Renaissance has been a subject of debate. Most scholars agree that it opened doors for the acceptance of art and writing by African Americans. However, some say that the Renaissance artists were too interested in seeking the approval of the white establishment Even Langston Hughes admitted that few African Americans had read his work.
Jeunesse by Palmer Hayden
Lindy Hop in Harlem
Street Life, Harlem by William H. Johnson
Duke Ellington- 1946
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