The Harlem Renaissance

Harlem, NY

Harlem and the Arts

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Palmer Hayden - Jeunesse

History of the Harlem Renaissance

While the renaissance was built on earlier traditions of African American culture, it was profoundly affected by trends—such as primitivism—in European and white American artistic circles. Modernist primitivism was inspired partly by Freudian psychology, but it tended to extol “primitive” peoples as enjoying a more direct relationship to the natural world and to elemental human desires than “overcivilized” whites. The keys to artistic revolution and authentic expression, some intellectuals felt, would be found in the cultures of “primitive races,” and preeminent among these, in the stereotypical thinking of the day, were the cultures of sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants. Early in the 20th century, European avant-garde artists had drawn inspiration from African masks as they broke from realistic representational styles toward abstraction in painting and sculpture. The prestige of such experiments caused African American intellectuals to look on their African heritage with new eyes and in many cases with a desire to reconnect with a heritage long despised or misunderstood by both whites and blacks.

With the post WW1 the south was coming up short with the amount of jobs for the economy. This caused many southerners to seek out new forms of jobs which led to them migrating north. Along with many southerners, the rest of the nation was doing the same thing. This is what caused the Harlem Renaissance. There was also the Great Depression where there was a great amount of sickness and a downfall in Americas economic society. Subsequently many African Americans and whites migrated to a central location in New York called Harlem. These two events played a significant role in the formation of the Harlem Renaissance.

Arts (Bradley)

The rebirth of African-American arts was centered around Harlem for various reasons. One of the most important reasons was the movement of southern African-Americans to northern cities known as the Great Migration. The movement sparked creativity in many artists and they began to redefine their heritage. Langston Hughes, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong were just a few of the many talented artists during this time. The Harlem Renaissance also affected how we live today. It was the first time that African-Americans were able to freely express themselves without being oppressed. Their creativity began to flourish and they were able to create music and art unlike anything ever before. We can look back at the writings during this time and see what people were going through and discover their feelings for certain topics. Their trials and tribulations can all be found throughout the many writings. This movement inspired many African-Americans to work toward their freedom, to express their creativity, and it has greatly impacted today's society.

Harlem Social Life

The Harlem Renaissance was an African-American creative, arts associated with the larger negro movement. This movement set directions for the African-Americans writers and artist would pursue throughout the twentieth century. The social foundation of the movement included the Great Migration where blacks were in urban communities using the levels of literacy and development of civil rights. The civil rights eventually opened up social economic opportunities. The social aspect of the renaissance impacted today's music, economics, politics, social lifestyles, literature, and many other things.

Writers and Poems

There is much historical significance in "I, Too" and "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes. In "I, Too" he is claiming his right to feel patriotic, even though he is a negro. Even in "Mother to Son," the theme can be related to trials in life. One of those trials being not accepted as a negro person. The poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" connects black heritage through the symbolism of rivers and how they can link back to their heritage in Africa.

In Johnson's poem, My City, he is explaining the things he will miss when he passes on. Being a minister from the south one would think that he would miss the beauty of nature and the animals but what he says he will really miss is the city. Harlem made such a large impact on him he fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the city and the Diverse groups of people that were there.

Jazz Age

In the early 20th century, African-American musicians married African and European music to form a new type of sound. The result was what some have called America's first great art form, jazz music. Jazz had a different feel to it than anything most people had heard. Before jazz, music was very structured in rhythm and melody. Jazz fought against the traditional structures, instead focusing on extemporaneous, or unplanned, bouts of music that created an unstructured sound.

The nation was captivated by jazz in the teens and '20s, so much so that the music became synonymous with the lifestyle of that era. Parties and fun became an important part of American life, and given the way that jazz freed music from traditional structures, the Jazz Age in America was a time when people felt that they had been freed from the traditional structures of life that had been in place before the turn of the century.

Several famous Singers emerged from the Jazz Age, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Role Morton, Duke Ellington, and several others. Many of the artists and singers, like many others in Harlem, migrated from different parts of the country.


One of the main goals of the black writers and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance was to show the Negro as a capable individual. Providing a positive self-image for the Negro was not an easy task. The Harlem Renaissance succeeded in depicting the Negro as an individual who was capable of making great achievements if given the opportunity. However, continued injustices against Negroes forced black intellectuals into the harsh realization that prejudice against Negroes was deeply rooted in American society.

The formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in New York attracted many Negro intellectuals who were upset with the rise in violence against Negroes in the United States. These black leaders saw the NAACP as a vehicle for changing the situation of the Negro. When DuBois moved to New York, many black intellectuals followed his lead, for they shared similar ideas about ameliorating the Negros condition. Harlem was the perfect place for black writers to voice their opinions on how the New Negro was going to be militant and self-assured, partly because there was a large population of Negroes in Harlem at the time.

In 1900, Booker T. Washington set out to define just who and what the “New Negro” was. The “New Negro,” of course, was only a metaphor. Washington intended to turn the new century’s image of the black people away from the stereotypes scattered throughout plantation fictions, and the false impression of the black man. The task was an enormous one; especially since black intellectuals had almost grown to look down upon the white man. Washington then wrote A New Negro. The book highlighted many of the successful things various black individuals had done up unto that point. The response was overall welcoming and helped change the view of many individuals in this time period.