The Harlem Renaissance was a social and cultural movement that occurred in Harlem towards the end of the World War I until the mid-1930s. During that time Harlem was a popular cultural focal point attracting authors, scholars and photographers, fleeing from the oppressive political regime of the south. The primary objective of the artists was finding a platform where they could freely showcase their talent and mastery of art without any form of prejudice. The movement brought a sense of cultural identity to the black people after years of social and political disillusionment. The leaders of the movement included popular artist of that period like Langton Hughes, Jean Tooner, Rudolf Fisher, and Countee Cullen, while experienced artists like John Locke and James Weldon Johnson provided mentorship for the younger generation. Also known as Negro Renaissance or Jazz movement, the Harlem Renaissance was majorly perceived as a literary movement with its center in Harlem. The movement was born out of mass migration of black people to escape the cast political system of the South. Black people had endured prolonged periods of slavery and a struggle for the abolition of same; the end of slavery had brought the freedom they had struggled for many years. However, there emerged a sense of white supremacy in the South where most the black people had resided. As a result, a huge population of African Americans relocated to the North. While in the North, most of them discovered they had gone through the same experiences and found a sense of belonging and unity – They had the first chance to self-determination and expression. In the North, economic opportunities for people of color were scarce; creative work was one of the few avenues for making a living. Magazines and journals owned by blacks flourished. For instance, the Opportunity Magazine owned by Charles Johnson became a platform for expression of African American culture and agitated for the rights of the blacks. A famed writer like WEB Du Bois convinced talented authors residing in the South to leave. The CRISIS, a magazine owned by Du Bois was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance. The magazine published stories and other artistic works of artists during the movement. Through the magazines, writers tried to reveal the evils of racial discrimination. The magazines provided leadership to the blacks. For instance, the Crisis magazine agitated against violence on Africans Americans.
The Harlem Renaissance was not just a literary movement, but a movement that provided a platform for agitation of African American rights. Even though the movement had minimal impact on breaking the barriers that divided different races, it had a huge effect in restoring pride among the black people. The main aim of the Harlem Renaissance was to portray blacks as people of ability. Portraying African Americans in a good light was no easy task. However, the movement achieved success in depicting African Americans as individuals who had the capacity and skills to make incredible achievements in life if granted opportunities, even in the midst of widespread prejudices that had deep roots in the American society. Harlem provided a safe haven for blacks; it was the place where they got the opportunity to express their talent. The leaders of the movement believed that if discrimination and racial prejudice ended, the lives of African American would dramatically improve.
Writers would not have been in a position to publish their literary were it not for the support of a few whites of good will. Apart from just helping the black writers publish their literary works, white intellects provided financial assistance that facilitated the works of black artists. Case in point was Miss A’ Leilia who had made a fortune in hairdressing industry; she provided massive financial support and even reserved a part of her apartment as a place where black artists would meet and discuss their issues.
The Harlem Renaissance had a tremendous significance in the American society, in particular on the African American community. It led to the rise of a newspaper like the Voice that gave the black community a political voice in agitation of human rights. The movement also resulted in the rise to prominence of black writers like Langston Hughes; the writers helped to bring to attention to the plight of blacks through their works and restore a sense of pride to the black society. The movement brought about a feeling of black beauty among the African American community. The Harlem Renaissance helped the blacks promote their community as equal and valuable to the American society. The movement helped eliminate the defeatist and inferiority attitude that had historically developed among the black people. Scholars, writers and poets started writing works based on their African American culture rather than imitating the literary workers of the whites.
The Harlem Renaissance was vital to the black American artists and their scholarly life; the movement attracted the interest of black and white intellects. However, it also faced hostility and criticism from different quarters. Nevertheless, its success was surprising, since it led to the rise of black scholars and brought a feeling of pride and beauty among the black people.
Baker, Houston A. Jr. Modernism And The Harlem Renaissance. University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Wintz, Cary D. Remembering the Harlem Renaissance. Vol. 5. Routledge, 2013.
Huggins, Nathan Irvin. Harlem Renaissance. OUP USA, 2007.