The Harlem Renaissance

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Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie is emblematic of the mixture of high class society, popular art, and virtuosity of jazz.

A glance at the Harlem Renaissance, a breeding ground for many significant 20th century American authors, such as Langston Hughes and W.E B Dubois.

The Harlem Renaissance spanned from the years 1919 till the mid 1930s. This movement of literature, music, art and theater took place in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City.

A Rebirth of Creativity, Political and Social Thought

As well as being a movement in the arts, the Harlem Renaissance is well known for being a new emergence of African American social and political thought, with such social movements motivated by Malcolm X and the Black Panthers, the Back to Africa movement lead by Marcus Garvey and the foundation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The in surge of many black Americans from the rural South to the more industrialized North contributed to the rise of the Harlem neighborhood in the 1920’s. The main driving force and inspiration for the explosion of ideas and philosophies was to uplift the pride of the African American race. The production of art and literature helped to instill a sense of self-respect, which was nearly crushed due to overt racism and stereotypical attitudes of the time. Many new forms of literature came from the Harlem Renaissance including new types of styles like jazz poetry and modernism. Many writers, such as Langston Hughes would incorporate the rhythm of traditional African and jazz music into the poetic verse. Folk traditions from Africa, the black experience in America, and the effects of slavery and racism on the black identity were major themes touched on by writers during this time period.

The Significance of Langston Hughes

Important and significant writers of the Harlem Renaissance were Sterling A. Brown, Countee Cullen, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Nella Larsen,Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Charles S. Johnson, and W.E.B Dubois.

Langston Hughes was an influential poet, novelist and playwright during this time period. His poems such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “A Dream Deferred”, and “My People” are among his most famous writings. These poems spoke about the importance of embracing racial consciousness and the pride of African American cultural heritage. His first novel, Not Without Laughter won a Harmon Gold Medal and his collection of short stories The Ways of White Folks spoke about the interactions between white and black people during the time period that he lived.

W.E.B Dubois’s Political Contribution

Another influential writer of the time, W. E B Dubois was born in 1863 in the mainly white town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His writings had a profound affect on the Harlem Renaissance with his novels such as The Philadelphia Negro, The Souls of Black Folk, John Brown, Black Reconstruction and Black Folk, Then and Now. His writings were considered very political and helped to spark an interest in social movement in Harlem in the 1920s. Dubois argued that African Americans had a profound affect on American culture and civic life especially during the Civil War and in the aftermath of the Reconstruction.

The Harlem Renaissance’s Cultural Effect

The Harlem Renaissance was indeed an important and unique flowering of African American cultural and intellectual life. The Renaissance produced important American authors that profoundly changed the landscape of American literature of the time, creating new genres and stylistic approaches to writing. Langston Hughes can largely be considered one of the most important writers to emerge from the Harlem Renaissance due to both his breadth of work and creation of new styles. W.E.B Dubois can largely be considered one of the most influential political influences during the time. He sought to push forward a new wave of political thought. The combination of all these influences and ideas brought the Harlem Renaissance’s rebirth of African American culture to the forefront and public attention.

Source:

  1. Ferguson, Brown Jeffery. “The Harlem Renaissance: A Brief History with Documents (The Bedford Series in History and Culture)”. Bedford and Saint Martins, New York 2008.
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