From the end of World War I in 1920 through the middle of the 1930s depression, an unprecedented outburst of creativity among African Americans occurred in all fields of art. African American artists, writers, musicians and performers were apart of a great cultural movement in the lower Manhattan (Greenwich Village) and upper Manhattan (Harlem) sections of New York City. This African American cultural movement became known as "The New Negro Movement", "The New Negro Renaissance", and later as the "Harlem Renaissance."
More than a literary movement and more than a social revolt against racism, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of African Americans and raised racial consequences. African Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and become "The New Negro."
One of the factors contributing to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance was the migration of African Americans to northern cities, such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. between 1919 and 1926. The huge migration brought African Americans from all walks of life. Doctors, singers, students, musicians, shopkeepers, painters and writers congregated, forming a vibrant Mecca of cultural affirmation and inspiration.
As Langston Hughes wrote, "It was the period when Negroes were in vogue." Marcus Garvey's "Back to Africa" movement was in full swing, inspiring racial pride among blacks in the United States. The blues were vibrantly alive; jazz was just beginning. "Shuffle Along" opened on Broadway with all black performers. And mainstream America was developing a new respect for African art and culture.
African American writers affirmed the role of black talent in American culture and focused on different aspects of black life. They addressed issues of race, class, religion and gender. Some writers focused entirely on black characters, while others addressed relationships among people of different races. Some attacked racism, while others addressed issues within black communities.
African American musicians and other performers played to mixed audiences. Harlem's cabarets attracted both Harlem residents and White New Yorkers seeking out Harlem nightlife. Harlem's famous Cotton Club carried this to an extreme, by providing black entertainment for exclusively White audiences. Ultimately, the more successful black musicians and entertainers who appealed to a mainstream audience, move their performances downtown.
Unfortunately, by the early 1930s, the Great Depression had depleted many of the funds that had provided financial support to individual African American writers, institutions, and publications. Organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, which had actively promoted the Renaissance, shifted their interests to economic and social issues.
Finally, a riot in Harlem in 1935, set off in part by the growing economic hardship of the Depression and the mounting tension between the black community and the white shop-owners in Harlem, shattered the notion of Harlem as the "Mecca" of the New Negro.
Nevertheless, the Harlem Renaissance altered forever the dynamics of African American arts and literature in the United States. Harlem and African American culture would never forever be changed.
- History.com - Harlem Renaissance
- Poetry Foundation - An Introduction to the Harlem Renaissance - Tracing the poetic work of this crucial cultural and artistic movement
- Humanities Texas - The Harlem Renaissance: What Was It, and Why Does It Matter?
- Britannica.com - Harlem Renaissance - American Literature and Art