The Renaissance Writer

The Harlem Age

The Harlem Renaissance

What is the Harlem Renaissance?

The Harlem Renaissance is a reflection of the total experience of African Americans in early twentieth-century society and is connected to urban development, migration, and WWI. The literature, art, and music of the period portray the despair of generations of unfulfilled promises as well as the dream of a new society based on equality of opportunity.

Harlem Renaissance Dance

-Fast hip or shoulder shaking
-Roots in Haitian voodoo dancing
-Nigerian dance called "shika"

-called "chalk like walk"
-African Americans in Florida plantations copied solemn walk of Seminole Indians

-involved many jazz tap-style movements
-popular European steps
-started off slowly then picked up movement
-named after Charleston, SC

Lindy Hop
-originated in 1920's
-was popular for both African Americans and Caucasians
-eighth count rhythm with steps borrowed from the Charleston dance

Harlem Renaissance Singers and Musicians

Harlem Renaissance musicians and singers expressed their feelings and new found freedom through jazz. Some of the most famous singers and musicians were Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong
-one of the most influential jazz artists of all time
-was in a band, but broke off for a solo career
-has won several Grammy Awards

Duke Ellington
-music composer, pianist, band leader
-20th century's best known artist
-won 13 Grammy's
-was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame for some of his performances

Lil Hardin Armstrong
-started off playing in different orchestras as the pianist
-moved to solo work
-some of her works include "Just For a Thrill" and "Knee Drops"
-died while doing a live televised tribute to her husband
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Harlem Renaissance Writers

There are many influential writers during the Harlem Renaissance, but a few stand out. Charles Johnson, Carl Van Recton, and Langston Hughes are all authors that influenced literature during the Harlem Renaissance. Charles Johnson wrote the National Urban League that promoted literacy in the African American community. Carl Van Recton wrote the novel Fire, which exposed all of Harlem life--the good and the bad. Lastly, Langston Hughes had a large effect on Harlem literature. He put together a volume of poetry from many writers which stimulated economy in Harlem.

Harlem Renaissance Poetry

Poetry was a way for African Americans to express themselves publicly. Poetry was a,so African American's claim to fame, because so many African Americans became famous for their poetry-- like Langston Hughes. This helped African Americans express themselves with words and not their actual mouths. By writing poems that became very famous, African Americans helped make a face for themselves.

Harlem Society

  • Flock of African American residents to Harlem, New York
  • Brought many new writers and artists to New York
  • Many new entertainment districts, theaters, and ballrooms
  • Apollo theater opened in 1913 to bring in entertainment and performers

Harlem Art

Harlem art was a new style and new way for African Americans to express themselves. Many sources describe the art as being "African-styled" with a whole new style to painting.

Prominent Harlem Painters

Aaron Douglas

  • 1899-1979
  • painted large murals
  • He knew that artists needed to come together to make a new art era for African Americans
Lois Mailou Jones

  • Entered her art into exhibitions by having her white friends carry her paintings in
  • Prevailed as an artist despite her challenges
  • Painted depictions of poor people

Painting by Aaron Douglas

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Influential Men on Harlem Politics


W.E.B. Dubois was a very influential man on politics. Dubois was very wealthy and attended Harvard University. He was an advocate for radical change mainly in civil rights. Dubois said that the "talented tenth," African Amrrican elite, should take leadership in politics. Dubois was also a very influential person on the NAACP.


Booker T. Washington saw politics in a completely different light than Dubois. Booker said that change could not happen quickly and that people would not accept radical change. He said the best way to make change was slowly so that it would be effective.

W.E.B. Dubois

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Booker T. Washington

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The Jazz Scene

  • Mixed black and white patrons in clubs
  • used syncopated rhythms and improvised music solos
  • grew out of ragtime music
  • Louis Armstrong was a prominent trumpeter
  • Duke Ellington was a famous music composer and performed at the Cotton Club

Jazz Music Example

The Pink Panther Theme Song (Original Version)

Harlem Renaissance Questions

1. What historical, social, and cultural forces shaped the Harlem Renaissance?

The ending of slavery had a large impact on the Harlem Renaissance. African Americans were finally allowed to express their opinions freely. Also, the Great Migration shaped African American culture because many African Americans relocated from the North to South and brought their customs with them. African Americans started to write and express themselves through Rt, literature, and music. People began to write about their life experiences as well as their grievances.

2. What does Johnson's poem say about the vitality of the city during the Harlem Renaissance?

Johnson loved his city immense amounts. The city meant everything to all people living in the Harlem area. The city was very important because it represented what the Harlem Renaissance was about and what the people in the city loved. The sights, sounds, and music in the city were extremely vital to the people because it represented who they were and what they had become.

3. What details does Hurston use to present her views on succeeding despite social barriers?
She uses the human trait of judgement. In her short story "Their Eyes were Watching God", she uses the townspeople as preppy gossip girls. People are going to be judgmental no matter their social status or race.

4. How does Hughes use the analogy of rivers to express his perception of African American heritage and history?

"The Negro Speaks of Rivers" by Langston Hughes goes deep into the past of African American heritage. He states how long the rivers have been here on Earth and compares the rivers to how long blacks have been on Earth. Just because they are different or new to the United States does not mean they aren't free human beings.

5. Why was Harlem the center of the renaissance of African American arts in the 1920's?
African Americans moved to the North at this time to settle in the cities and to work in the factories. Harlem, New York was a small neighborhood where they all settled. When they all migrated the people brought their culture with them and their memories of hardship. This is how they were about to create a new genre of art and literature about their lives when they had little hope. These new stories, feelings, and opinions are what made the Harlem Renaissance.

6. How did the Harlem Renaissance impact American society during the 1920's and beyond?
The Harlem Renaissance helped the black and white cultures merge together through literature, music, and art. This merging is what has helped with integration, not just with race, but with sex, religion, age, and different social classes. The Harlem Renaissance made people see who each other for who they really are.
7. In what ways did W.E.B Dubois and Booker T. Washington influence politics during the Harlem Renaissance?
W.E.B. Dubois wanted radical change in civil rights. He saw Booker T. Washington's view of slow integration of black rights as menial. He said that the "talented tenth", African American elite, should take leadership in politics. Booker T. Washington was the complete opposite of Dubois and fought for the Atlanta Compromise. This compromise stated that Southern blacks wold work and submit to white rule, while Southern whites would guarantee blacks would receive basic education and economic opportunities. His slow approach later lost to the Civil Rights' Movement.

8. How do the arts communicate historical data and perspective?
The arts of music communicated African blues notes and ragtime, showing the connection to African music. Their perspective was from poverty, relationships, etc. Art showed displays of old African traditions, musicians, slavery, and poverty of the day. Their perspective was of a "robber" outlook. Poetry was more realistic and metaphoric of the hard life of blacks in the early 1900's.
9. What were the significant economic events that preceded the Great Migration, a movement of African Americans from the South to the North?
The Great Migration spurred an enormous increase of African American communities in Northern cities and populations began to increase rapidly. The higher demands for agriculture and other supplies within these cities led to many new economical inventions. The main economic improvement came about with the new way of African American workers. Employers began to accept that without the negro employees, the factories would all struggle to keep up with the means of production.

10. What was there about the Harlem neighborhood that encouraged so many artists to produce great work at this time?
All of the influx of new African American cultures influenced artists to discover new forms of art and unique ways to express themselves.
11. What is the historical significance of "I, Too" by Langston Hughes?
Langston Hughes poetry fueled the civil rights movement. "I, Too", shows the reality of racism in America during the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes shows that regardless the way he is treated, he still believes in America.

12. What prompted the theme of "Mother to Son" by Langston Hughes and how is this theme applicable in any time period?
In "Mother to Son", the theme is prompted by the mother's difficulties in her life. The mother is telling her son that life has not been easy for her. She also tells her son how she made it through all the hard times. The theme is applicable in today's society because everyone goes through hard times. No one can make it all the way through life without any complications.