The Harlem Renaissance

What should we know?

The Start

During the years 1919 to 1934 Harlem, New York, became a haven for African Americans, and the backdrop for the flowering of so many outstanding authors, poets, dramatists, artists, and musicians in a short span of time. Harlem became the center; the hub from which the works flowed.

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 World War I. 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.

The Harlem Renaissance brought unprecedented creative activity in writing, art, and music and redefined expressions of African-Americans and their heritage in the 1920s and 1930s.

Essential questions to answer:

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

2. What does Johnson’s poem say about the vitality of the city during the Harlem


3. What details does Hurston use to present her views on succeeding despite social barriers?

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

5. Why was Harlem the center of the renaissance of African American arts in the 1920s a

James Weldon Johnson’s 1933 description of the Harlem Renaissance.

6. How did the Harlem Renaissance impact American society during the 1920s and beyond?

7. In what ways did W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington influence politics during The Harlem Renaissance?

8. How do the arts communicate historical data and perspective?

9. What were the significant economic events that preceded the Great Migration, a

movement of African Americans from the South to the North.

10. What was there about the Harlem neighborhood that encouraged so many artists to produce great work at this time?

11. What is the historical significance of “I, Too” by Langston Hughes?

12. What prompted the theme of “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes and how is this theme applicable in any time period?