The Harlem Renaissance

by Sydney Legee and Prasant Moturu

Harlem Renaissance in the 1920's

As you scroll through the following exhibit you will learn about the Harlem Renaissance and how it contributed to the roaring 1920's. You can scroll through the page to learn about famous people and places of the Harlem Renaissance, video clips will be included throughout the exhibit if you would really like to spend time getting to know the Harlem Renaissance. Also, an interactive crossword is available to you in the presentation if you would like to test what you have learned. At the end of the exhibit, more links will be available for you if you would like to go off and learn even more.


The video below is about a ten minute introduction to the Harlem Renaissance.
Harlem Renaissance

People of Harlem

I, Too by Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

What it is: A seminal poem of the Harlem Renaissance in which Langston Hughes tells the audience that the black community is just as American as all other groups.

Significance to the 1920s: Langston Hughes was highly influential within the movement that showcased black excellence and helped inspire pride in fellow African-Americans.

Why It's in our Virtual Exhibit: Hughes was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, which we are highlighting in our exhibit.

How It Made the Twenties Roaring: This poem, along with many of Langston Hughes’ other works, was incendiary in the cultural, social, and racial movements within the Harlem Renaissance.

Below is a narration of the poem "I, Too" by Langston Hughes

Want to learn more about poets from the Harlem Renaissance? Go to

I, Too

West End Blues performed by Louis Armstrong

Wasunshine Imote

Louis Armstrong West End Blues by Wasunshine Imote
What It Is: West End Blues is a popular jazz song from 1928, performed by one of the most popular jazz artists of the Harlem Renaissance, Louis Armstrong.

Significance to the 1920s: Jazz music was an essential part of the Roaring Twenties, and especially the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, while other forms of art were fairly prevalent, the Harlem Renaissance was primarily a musical movement.

Why It's in our Virtual Exhibit: Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential musicians of the 1920s, and as a successful African American, he was particularly important to the Harlem Renaissance. He highlighted talent and success among black people and was a source of inspiration for many.

How It Made the Twenties Roaring: Many stated that his black skin and rough voice were too unrefined to appeal to "sophisticated" audiences, but he proved them all wrong. In this sense, he helped make the twenties roaring by defying the detrimental stereotypes of the age and also by changing the face of jazz.

Madam CJ Walker, an Entrepreneur and Philanthropist

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What It Is: Madam CJ Walker made hair products and ointments designed specifically for African American women that became incredibly popular nationwide.

Significance to the 1920s: These hair products were some of the first beauty products made for African American women, and therefore meant that Madam CJ Walker was tapping into a brand new marketing niche.

Why It's In Our Virtual Exhibit: Madam CJ Walker, a black woman, was the first American woman to ever become a self-made millionaire. She became an incredible role model for businesspeople of all races and genders as she was born penniless and worked her way up, despite discrimination, sexism, and other adversity.

How It Made the Twenties Roaring: This helped make the twenties roaring as it contributed to the Harlem Renaissance by showing black excellence and also providing products made specifically for African Americans.

The below video is about Madam C.J. Walker and some interesting facts about her life as figured out from the National Archives

Madam C.J. Walker in the National Archives

Always performed by Billie Holiday

Always - Billie Holiday
What It Is: Always is a jazz song written by Irving Berlin and performed by Billie Holiday in 1925.

Significance to the 1920s: Billie Holiday was a cultural icon not only for the African American population and the Harlem Renaissance, but the entire Roaring Twenties. This song in particular was one of her firsts, and was significant in her rise to fame and success.

Why It's in our Virtual Exhibit: Billie Holiday's iconic voice is one that be remembered forever. She was one of the first and most successful jazz artists and grew to be very famous.

How It Made the Twenties Roaring: As jazz was one of the most quintessential aspects of the Harlem Renaissance and the Roaring Twenties, Billie Holiday was one of the most quintessential performers of the jazz movement. Therefore, she contributed greatly to the general culture of the epoch.

To learn more about some of the historic people of the Harlem Renaissance go to some of these links.

Places of Harlem

Cotton Club

The below video gives a description on what the Cotton Club was and allows you to explore why it was one of the most lively places of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Cotton Club - Harlem Renaissance

Striver's Row

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What it is: This area of Harlem were recognized as gems of architecture. It is easily identified by the rows of houses in different colors of brick. There are three prominent types of brick that are used in this area, red, yellow, and a dark brick. It received it's name because of all the ambitious residents who were moving in, doctors and other high profile blacks. Among those high profile blacks was Henry Pace, who founded Black Swan Records (the first black-owned record label in the US). Striver's Row has not lost it's prestige since the days of the Harlem Renaissance.

Significance to the 1920s: This area was and remains a significant part of Harlem. Many significant African-American's lived in this area as Harlem grew into the nightlife and cultural hotbed that it was in the 1920s. The historic architecture is even looked at today as one of the finer accomplishments of the early 1900's.

Why it's in our virtual exhibit: This picture is a picture of Striver's Row, and shows the redbrick townhouse lined by iron rails. While these historic African American performers were not entertaining hundreds to thousands of people they had to live some where, and Striver's Row is as historic of a residential area as any other place in the country.

Why it made the twenties roaring: The twenties were a cultural hotbed with new, innovative designs as represented by Striver's Row. Many new buildings boomed up similar to this and people were moving to the cities and celebrating all the great things in life. The era was marked by all this boom in city life.

The Dark Tower

What it is: Also referred to as the "Walker School of Hair," was a building owned by Madame C.J. Walker. When she died in 1919 her daughter A'Leila Walker inherited the building and converted the building into a nightclub and salon and named it "The Dark Tower." One of the walls of The Dark Tower is covered with the words of a poem by Langston Hughes. The club was open to whites and blacks but was primarily a popular hangout spot amongst non whites although it drew curiosity from some whites.

Significance to the 1920s: The Dark Tower was a club for African Americans. It was owned and operated by an African American and primarily used by African Americans. It was a growth of African American culture which was prominent during the Harlem Renaissance. This club provided many people with an opportunity to enjoy themselves and experience some incredibly talented performers.

Why it's in our virtual exhibit: The Dark Tower signifies the strength of the African American people. There was segregation at the time so they had to create their own establishments, and they were able to do so and still have a grand time. The Dark Tower was a great night club and featured some of the best performers that Harlem had to offer, just as good as the Cotton Club.

Why it made the twenties roaring: The twenties were a lively place and this was pushed by African American culture. Nightclubs such as the The Dark Tower were lively and entertaining places for blacks and whites to dance and enjoy some of the best performers of the era such as Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes. There was nothing boring about this.

The Savoy Ballroom

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What it is: The Savoy Ballroom was a large ballroom for music in dancing located in Harlem. Famous black poet Langston Hughes called it "the heartbeat of Harlem" and it drew praise as one of the most popular places for people to hang out and enjoy their time, typically known as "the world's finest ballroom." It was opened and owned by a white businessman but was managed by an African American. The manager Charles Buchanon sought to run a “luxury ballroom to accommodate the many thousands who wished to dance in an atmosphere of tasteful refinement, rather than in the small stuffy halls and the foul smelling, smoke laden cellar nightclubs. . .”

Significance to the 1920s: The Ballroom became one of the hotspots of the late 1920's in Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance brought life and excitement to a period that followed war. Many people came and danced the night away with strangers, enjoying themselves to no end. As evident by the picture both blacks and whites were allowed in the popular ballroom as it was free for everyone to enjoy.

Why it's in our virtual exhibit: The 1920's were an exciting time with roller coasters and parties. The Harlem Renaissance was just one big party that lasted a decade and every night was like that at the Savoy Ballroom. The picture shows a huge line waiting just to get in with dozens of people smiling and enjoying themselves. It signified the booming place America was at at the time.

Why it made the twenties roaring: Excitement from all sorts of people to go to the Savoy Ballroom. In the picture everyone is jovial and having a dandy time. The twenties were a period of happiness and partying, especially in Harlem, and that was no different in the Savoy Ballroom.

The below video shows about the popularity of the Savoy Ballroom which was one of Harlem's hotspots during the time.

The Savoy Ballroom

The Apollo Theater

What it is: The Apollo Theater is a music hall in Harlem notorious for its African American performers. The theater has a capacity of 1506 seats and was built in 1913. During the 1920s it only served whites, not serving blacks until 1934, despite having famous black performers.

Significance to the 1920s: For African American singers and performers hoping to get a big break, the opportunity to perform somewhere such as the Apollo theater was an honor. However, tensions were high as blacks and whites remained segregated. Blacks eased tensions by making their own clubs and having their talented singers perform their as well but the significance of the Apollo theatre can not be undermined. It was the birth of one of the most famous theaters in the US and saw some of the most talented performers of the time perform there including Billy Minsky.

Why it's in our virtual exhibit: It is one of the most undeniable notable places in Harlem. Many successful artists performed in the Apollo theater when it was still relatively new. It shows the heart of Harlem and how many people at the time received entertainment. Music played a big part in day to day life during that time period and that was because of establishments like the Apollo theater.

Why it made the twenties roaring: The twenties were roaring because of places like the Apollo Theatre. People flocked here at nights to see the best talent that Harlem had to offer without being in the trapped atmosphere of a nightclub. There was something for everyone in Harlem, there was always a way or place where someone could have a good time.

The below video explains the history of The Apollo Theater throughout the years including some of the big stars who have gotten their big breaks there.

Apollo Theater
To learn more about some of the historic places of Harlem go to

but if you would just like to review everything and want information on the Harlem Renaissance in general go to either of these sites.

Test your knowledge

Check your understanding with this crossword on the information in the exhibit. The crossword is in the first picture, and the questions are on the second picture. Print out the first picture and see how you do.
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-Burt, Stephen. "I, Too." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation. Web. 20 Mar. 2015.

-"CALENDAR." Apollo Calendar. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

-Estrella, Espie. "Timeless Love Songs of the 1920s." Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
-"Famous Places of the Harlem Renaissance." Travel Tips. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

-"H A R L E M B E S P O K E: ☞ REMEMBER: The Dark Tower circa 1915." H A R L E M B E S P O K E: ☞ REMEMBER: The Dark Tower circa 1915. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

-"Louis Armstrong." A&E Networks Television. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

-"Madam CJ Walker." A&E Networks Television. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

-"New Year's Ball at the Cotton Club." New Year's Ball at the Cotton Club. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

-"New York Architecture Images- The Cotton Club." New York Architecture Images- The Cotton Club. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

-"Secrets of the Apollo - August 13, 2013 -" EVERYTHING NEW YORK. 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

"Apollo Theater." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

"The Savoy Ballroom." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

"The Cotton Club - Harlem Renaissance." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

-"Vintage Photos: Inside the Cotton Club, One of NYC's Leading Jazz Venues of the 1920s and '30s." Untapped Cities RSS. 4 Aug. 2013. Web. 22 Mar. 2015.

-"100 Treasures - Savoy Ballroom." 100 Treasures - Savoy Ballroom. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.

"I, Too." YouTube. YouTube. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.