The Harlem Renaissance

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The Harlem Renaissance

Table of Contents



Literature Review4

Blacks Come to Harlem: The Color Line5

The Making of a Ghetto7

Community Solidarity and Harlem's Second Renaissance8



The Harlem Renaissance


The Harlem Renaissance was the cultural front of the New Negro movement heralded by privileged intellectual leaders during the 1920s. It was also a marker of drastic demographic change with huge political implications, and the historical occasion in which African America's expressive tendencies took on an urban cast. More broadly the Harlem Renaissance was an inspiration for, and a manifestation of, the worldwide Negritude movement which grew out of, and in some quarters superseded, Pan-Africanist thought. Though difficult to date precisely since its sources and effects were both subtle and profound, the creative flowering that centered in a relatively small corner of New York City is generally thought to have begun with the armistice that brought an end to World War I and to have declined when financial support for the arts dried up during the Great Depression.

This paper also discusses the Harlem Renaissance writers that were mentored by several prominent black intellectuals. W. E. B. Du Bois—one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), author of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), and editor for The Crisis—advocated black racial pride through rediscovering the cultural heritage of Africa. Particularly inspiring to younger black writers was his idea of the duality of the African American identity: “One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Du Bois, 1903, p. 9). James Weldon Johnson prefigured the Harlem Renaissance with his celebrated novel The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), which invoked Du Bois' idea of “two-ness.” Johnson is best remembered for his God's Trombones (1927), which comprises seven black sermons in free verse. Founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and leader of the “back-to-Africa” movement, Marcus Garvey promoted black separatism. His philosophy was conveyed to younger black writers through his newspapers, the Negro World and the Blackman. Alain Locke edited The New Negro: An Interpretation (1925), a landmark anthology of the Renaissance, for which he contributed several critical essays offering new directions for black American writing. The Renaissance was also significantly supported by white donors and writers including Carl Van Vechten, author of the novel Nigger Heaven (1926). (Leavitt and Susan, 2000)


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