The Harlem Renaissance
Apr 24, 2011
When the Dutch founded Harlem in 1658, it was a sleepy little town. But a century later, its rolling hills were dotted with the estates of wealthy farmers and merchants. Harlem was rural, and the population was mostly white. Things have changed a lot since then. Today, Harlem is a very diverse section of New York City. The neighborhood has a rich blend of different types of music, food, art, dance, and literature. But most of all, it's known as a place with a rich African American heritage. And one period in history is responsible for giving us that impression. The Harlem renaissance the word renaissance means rebirth. It usually refers to a period of energetic artistic and intellectual activity. The Harlem renaissance celebrated the unique culture of African Americans. It began in 1919 and continued into the early 1940s. One cause of the Harlem renaissance was a mass movement of African Americans from the south to the north. Many factors pulled people from the south. Higher wages, greater educational opportunities, and the hope of escaping racism were only a few. Jobs were another. World War I an immigration reform in the 1920s slowed the flow of immigrants from Europe. This opened up a huge number of jobs in the industrial north to African Americans, especially in New York City. But the roots of the Harlem renaissance reach back even further. In 1904, the lenox avenue subway stop was completed. This may traveling to and from Harlem, faster, and easier. Soon after, the price of homes in the neighborhood dropped and Harlem became an affordable place for African Americans to live. Many were able to buy homes for the first time. Harlem grew into a tight knit community, made up of African Americans from the south, black immigrants from the West Indies, and native New Yorkers. The stage was set for a flood of black artistic and literary works. The artists and writers of the Harlem renaissance used different styles and subject matter. But their work shared common themes. Two themes were hope and pride. The Great Migration and the promise of opportunity in the north had given black Americans more control over their lives than ever before. Promoting a sense of pride and hope for the future. But an even stronger theme was disappointment. African Americans saw a gap between their lives and the freedom and opportunity they had been promised. Though Harlem was not the south, discrimination, poverty, and violence still existed. Anger and confusion over these issues is expressed in different ways in the words of African American writers. Claude McKay, who was born in Jamaica, was one of the great poets of the Harlem renaissance. Harlem residents from the West Indies were generally more aggressive about the issue of race. And this showed in McKay's forceful writing style. Responding to a nationwide outbreak of violence against African Americans, McKay declared in one poem if we must die. Let it not be like hogs hunted and penned in an inglorious spot while round us bark the mad and hungry dogs making their market our cursed lot. If we must die all let us nobly die. Langston Hughes had a more emotional style. His joyful spirit can be felt in many of his works. Including this section of his famous poem, dream variations. To swing my arms wide in the face of the sun, dance world world to the quick day is done. Rest at pale evening, a tall slim tree, night coming tenderly, black like me. But the renaissance was not limited to male writers. Zora neale hurston influenced black writers for generations to come. Hurston's love of rural folk culture, set her apart from other artists of the period. She traveled throughout the rural United States and to the Caribbean, where she studied folk tales in Haiti and Jamaica. Her subject matter can be seen in photos from a 1935 trip she made to her southern hometown of eatonville, Florida. The Harlem renaissance also included music. Ragtime, jazz, and Broadway musicians transformed music during this time period. And African American painters and sculptors emerged with their own unique styles. Like most movements, the Harlem renaissance spread throughout the country. The poetry circles formed in cities such as Houston, Texas, and Detroit, Michigan, and small theaters emerged in Los Angeles, California, and Chicago, Illinois. But eventually, it came to an end. The Great Depression contributed to its decline in the mid 1930s. Writers and artists had a difficult time selling their work. In a nation paralyzed by poverty and unemployment. Despite this, the Harlem renaissance had a lasting impact. Not just on African American culture, but on American culture as a whole.