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Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 9 months ago

The Harlem Renaissance was a flowering of art, literature and music in the United States led primarily by the African American community based in Harlem, New York City.


Literary historians and academics have yet to reach a consensus as to when the period known as the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. It is unofficially recognized to have begun in 1919 and ended during the early or mid 1930s. The zenith of this “flowering of Negro literature,” as James Weldon Johnson instead preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, is placed between 1924 when Opportunity magazine hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance and 1929, the year of the stock market crash and the resulting economic Great Depression.


Most of the participants in this African American literary movement were descendants from a generation whose parents or grandparents had witnessed the injustices of slavery and the gains and losses that would come with Reconstruction after the American Civil War as the nation moved forward into the gradual entrenchment of Jim Crow in the Southern states and in its non-codified forms in many other parts of the country. Many of these people were part of the Great Migration out of the South and other racially stratified communities who sought relief from the worst of prejudices against them for a better standard of living in the North and Midwest regions of the United States. Others were Africans and people of African descent from the Caribbean who had come to the United States hoping for a better life. Uniting most of them were their convergence in Harlem, New York. They would make Harlem the most famous center of African American life in the United States at that time and one that would have far reaching influence on people of Africa and people of African descent across the world as well as American culture in general.


Characterizing the Harlem Renaissance was an overt racial pride that came to be represented in the idea of the New Negro who through intellect, the production of literature, art, and music could challenge the pervading racism and stereotypes from the larger white community of that era to promote progressive or socialist politics and racial integration and social integration. The creation of art and literature would serve to “uplift” the race. This became known as racial political propaganda. There would be no set style or uniting form singularly characterizing the various forms of art coming out of the Harlem Renaissance. Rather, there would be a mix of contradictory styles embracing European standards, celebrating a Pan-Africanist perspective, “high-culture” and the “low-culture or low-life,” the traditional form of classical music to the blues and jazz, traditional and new experimental forms in literature like modernism and in poetry, for example, the new form of jazz poetry. This duality would eventually result in a number of African American artist of the Harlem Renaissance coming into conflict with conservatives in the black intelligentsia who would take issue with certain depictions of black life in whatever medium of the arts.


The Harlem Renaissance was one of primary African American involvement and an intrapersonal support system of black patrons, black owned businesses and publications, and so on. But, on the peripheral it was supported by a number of white Americans who through genuine altruistic generosity, paternalism, and perhaps a degree of liberal guilt provided various forms of assistance to these black artists and opened doors for them which otherwise would have remained closed to the publicizing of their work to a larger audience outside of the black American community. This support often took the form of being a patron, a publisher, or another artist of some variety. Then, there were those whites interested in so-called “primitive” cultures, as many whites viewed black American culture at that time and wanted to see this “primitivism” in the work coming out of the Harlem Renaissance. Other interpersonal dealings between whites and blacks can be categorized as exploitational because of the want to capitalize on the “fad,” and “fascination” of the African American being in “vogue.” This vogue of the African American would extend to Broadway, as in Porgy and Bess, and into music where in many instances white band leaders would defy racist attitude to include the best and brightest African American stars of music and song. For blacks, their art was a way to prove their humanity and demand for equality. For a number of whites, preconceived prejudices were challenged and overcome.


The Harlem Renaissance would help lay the foundation from which the Civil Rights Movement would take shape from decades later. Moreover, many black artists coming into their own creativity after this literary movement would take inspiration from it.

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