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What Was the Harlem Renaissance?

Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year journalism student

Let us start by dividing Harlem Renaissance into two separate words and understand the meaning individually. Harlem and Renaissance.

By I Kid You Not , in Did You Know Entertainment Explained Facts to Know History , at February 18, 2022 Tags: , ,

Written by Vedika Pathania, a second-year journalism student

Langston Hughes, a very famous and acclaimed American poet of the 20th century, once wrote:

Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people, the beauty within themselves”

Who was Langston Hughes, you might be wondering? He was the creator of a genre called ‘Jazz Poetry’ and was considered to be the leader of the Harlem Renaissance. Let’s know more about it.

What was the Harlem Renaissance?

Let us start by dividing Harlem Renaissance into two separate words and understand the meaning individually. Harlem and Renaissance.

Harlem is a neighbourhood in the city of New York in the United States. It is an area which is widely known for its jazz clubs and food and rich African American heritage.

Renaissance, on the other hand, quite literally means ‘revival’ and ‘rebirth’. You might have heard this in reference to the European Renaissance in the Middle Ages (15th and 16th centuries). This period, back then, stood for the rebirth and revival of classical studies of art, philosophy and literature. It was a period that influenced not only culture and art, but also politics and economy.

So, if we put these two words together, it would mean revival of culture in the neighbourhood of Harlem. Which is exactly what happened in 1920s America.

How did it start?

In the 1920s, African American communities in the North and Midwest of the United States thrived in terms of artistic and intellectual activity, but it thrived nowhere more than in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance has its roots in the Great Migration of the early twentieth century, when hundreds of thousands of black people moved from the South to crowded urban areas with better economic and cultural prospects.

But, what was the Great Migration and why did it happen?

The American Civil War (1861-65) was successful in abolishing slavery but racism still prevailed in the States, and the reality is, it still does. It was worse in Sothern regions of US than the northern ones.

Jim Crow laws deprived African-Americans of their civil rights. As a result, many Black people migrated in search of better opportunities. Thousands of African-Americans travelled north between 1890 and 1920. Around 300,000 people departed the South in all. The Great Migration was named after this occurrence.

Many people went to cities during the Great Migration. They shared a similar history and an uncertain future there. They sparked a boom of Black culture that we now refer to as the Harlem Renaissance.

What happened during the Harlem Renaissance?

Many Black artists contributed to the shaping of American culture during the period. There were poets, artists, and musicians among them. Sculptors, photographers, and academics were also involved. Many of these artists lived and worked in New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood.

Around the ending of World War I, the Harlem Renaissance took off. With the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, it lost popularity. Most historians believe, however, that the Harlem Renaissance lasted until the mid-1930s.

What art flourished?

During the Harlem Renaissance, many different genres of art flourished. Literature may have seen the biggest increase. Many poets and authors contributed to the definition of what it meant to be Black in America and their lives and experiences.

Notable names

Artists like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen and W. E. B. Du Bois engaged and contributed significantly. Their writing on Black life instilled a sense of cultural pride in them. There were plenty of other notable Harlem Renaissance figures. Many people contributed to the revival of culture, including musician Duke Ellington, artist Aaron Douglas, and others.

What was Harlem Renaissance’s contribution?

Literature and art would be very different today if the Harlem Renaissance had not occurred. It influenced Black communities and American society in general. The event also paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s which saw the rise of Martin Luther King Jr and the fight for equality.

Key Points Summary

  • Harlem is a neighbourhood in the city of New York in the United States.
  • Renaissance quite literally means ‘revival’ and ‘rebirth’.
  • If we put these two words together, it would mean revival of culture in the neighbourhood of Harlem.
  • In the 1920s, African American communities in the North and Midwest of the United States thrived in terms of artistic and intellectual activity
  • Jim Crow laws deprived African-Americans of their civil rights. As a result, many Black people migrated in search of better opportunities
  • Thousands of African-Americans travelled north between 1890 and 1920. Around 300,000 people departed the South in all. The Great Migration was named after this occurrence.
  • They sparked a boom of Black culture that we now refer to as the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Many Black artists contributed to the shaping of American culture during the period.
  • Most historians believe that the Harlem Renaissance lasted until the mid-1930s.
  • During the Harlem Renaissance, many different genres of art flourished. Literature may have seen the biggest increase.
  • Artists like Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen and W. E. B. Du Bois engaged and contributed significantly
  • The event also paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s which saw the rise of Martin Luther King Jr and the fight for equality.

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