The Harlem Renaissance was a significant event in the history of the United States of America. The Harlem Renaissance centered on the culture of African-Americans and took place at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. This era gave rise to music, art, and literature in African-American culture.
Winning the Civil War meant that African American were now free and could, at their risk, go anywhere they wanted. This is when the Great Migration all started. The Great Migration was when large groups of blacks moved in Northern cities like Chicago and New York in massive numbers for jobs because the South had been victim to a crop infestation. Many of them moved particularly to a large neighborhood located in the northern section of Manhattan called Harlem, also known as “the capital of black America”. By this time, chances for employment and education were available for African-Americans, and many of them expected the same treatment and life the white Americans had be given.
This was not to be the case when Plessy v. Ferguson case went to the Supreme Court and the decision had been held that racial segregation was “constitutionally acceptable”. African-Americans were heartbroken; they wanted equality and all they had been given nothing close to the life of the white Americans, not even a secure environment to live. Though they did have some rights, such as, all African-American men could vote, African-Americans, all, could receive better education, and they got better jobs, but that still seemed to be not enough. African-Americans wanted to part ways with their clingy stereotypes and define themselves as something better. They wanted to be something more than just a “negro.” The African-Americans didn’t want to be like their white suppressors, but wanted to create a new meaning to what it meant to be black.
Starting in the early 1900s the African-American middle class started a push towards racial equality. W.E.B. Du Bois was the central leader of the movement. He collaborated with other African-American activists and white civil rights workers in New York to review the difficult challenges facing the African-American population. 1909 the NAACP, or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was found by the group working with Du Bois. This group was specifically organized to advocate civil liberties and fight for African-American rights.
Although this cause was thought to be supported by all African-Americans it was not the case with Jamaica-bred Marcus Garvey. Garvey started the “Back to Africa movement,” which initially was him saying that he thought all African-Americans should just pack up and leave the states because they weren’t welcomed. Garvey founded the UNIA-ACL, or Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, which promoted the “Back to Africa…” slogan. Garvey said it was to encourage African-Americans to come together and feel pride in their roots. These groups, although not all supporting staying and fighting, helped the African-American population develop a sense of empowerment for African-Americans everywhere.
The Jazz Age was an explosion of African-American culture into music. Just at the end of WWI, there was an economy boost and a change in society. During this time Americans started to relax and take up hobbies. The Prohibition had just been ratified, although it didn’t ban alcohol it made it extremely difficult to get, legally. That is when alcohol clubs, called “speakeasies” were created. “Speakeasies” gave Americans the chance to socialize with other, engage in drinking, and go against traditional culture. Some might have even called them Modernist.
There was a certain speakeasy in Harlem called the Cotton Club. It’s them as the look of a plantation in the South. They only allowed African-American musicians to play there and only allowed white Americans, with some exceptions, wine and dine there. One talented jazz musician would be Duke Ellington. Ellington was a wiz at playing the piano; he actually played at the Cotton Club from for four years. His band stomped to theatricality routines in numerous shows.
Forms of art gave some African-Americans a break from reality. Artists painted things from African-American nightclubs, to African-American toiling in the fields. Aaron Douglas was a famous artist whose work exercised the ‘New Negro’ idea. The ‘New Negro’ idea correlated with Dubois idea of “twoness” idea, which meant the finding of one’s individuality with a divided awareness of one’s identity. Douglas painted murals, building, and created illustrations for many African-American books. In 1940 Douglas moved to Nashville and founded the Art Department at Fisk University and taught for twenty nine years there. Douglas said, “”…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible.
Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic,” which means, let’s make something incredible out of tragedy. Writing also became a major step forward in the Harlem Renaissance, especially since during this time most African-Americans were illiterate. African-American writers talked about the past of black culture. They wrote about slavery and the effects it had on society today, etc. Common themes of these books ranged from alienation, to wanting to be individual. The most famous African-American writers include: Langston Hughes, Sterling Brown, and Zora Neale Hurston, just to name a few. Zora Neale was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. She believed in the motto, “I want a busy life, a just mind, and a timely end.”
Zora wrote to preserve African-American traditions and to contribute to new literature. Langston Hughes was a writer who collaborated with Hurston and other artists in his book of poetry entitled The Weary Blues. Hughes also wrote an essay called “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” where he told people what he saw as ‘mountains’ facing African-American writers. In his essay, Hughes mentions a young poet he spoke to and says how the poet wanted to be known as a poet, rather than a “Negro poet,” which is clearly understandable since there was still racial tension during this time.
In conclusion, the Harlem Renaissance was a major event in the history in the United States of America because it brought a culture together using simple things, like music, art, and literature. If it had not been for the Harlem Renaissance, who knows what might’ve happened to the African-American culture, where it might’ve been at this point in time without the occurrence of the Harlem Renaissance. It brought together a race that has, over the years, been beaten, cursed at, talked about, and slaughtered for the comfort of others, and just a simple melody of a song was able to bring them closer together after being ripped apart.
Courtney from Study Moose
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