The Negative Impacts of the Harlem Renaissance

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The 1920's were a period or rapid growth and change in America. After World War I American's were introduced to a lifestyle of lavishness they had never encountered before. It was a period of radical thought and ideas. It was in this time period that the idea of the Harlem Renaissance was born. The ideology behind the Harlem Renaissance was to create the image of the "New Negro". The image of African-American's changed from rural, uneducated "peasants" to urban, sophisticated, cosmopolites. Literature and poetry abounded. Jazz music and the clubs where it was performed at became social "hotspots". Harlem was the epitome of the "New Negro". However, things weren't as sunny as they appeared. Many felt that the Harlem Renaissance itself wasn't so much a celebration of Black culture, but rather a regurgitation of White ideals. To these African-Americans, the Harlem Renaissance represented conformity and submission to the White culture. Yet there were also those who were not even given the opportunity to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance. The poor Blacks in the South never received any of the racial tolerance up north. They lived in a world of racism and the Ku Klux Klan. The Harlem Renaissance did not redefine African-American expression. This can be seen through the funding dependence on White Americans, the continued spread of racism and the failure to acknowledge the rights of poor Southern African-Americans.

Harlem provided a source of entertainment for many people. With its Jazz Clubs and poetry readings it was the "hip" place to be. This was a shock to many African-American's, who had never before had the opportunity to perform in such affluent surroundings. Oftentimes funding for these clubs or programs was provided by White Americans. This in itself was not a problem. However, the Harlem Renaissance became so dependent on the funding that when it stopped coming, there was no means by which to keep any of the clubs or literary cafes open. Some clubs in Harlem even discriminated against Black audience members. The popular Cotton Club, which featured solely Black performers, even went so far as to ban African-Americans' from its audience entirely. Even in the Mecca of supposed racial equality, these sorts of discrimination were still prevalent. Advertisements for products produced by African-Americans were also skewed. Paramount Records deemed itself the "The Popular Race Record". (Document F) Many advertisements played on traditional racial stereotypes and utilized this to sell their products. What seemed to be at first a good idea was a subtle form of racism and stereotyping.

Racism was not eliminated during the Harlem Renaissance. In fact, it was more prevalent then ever. The Ku Klux Klan included a membership of more then 4.5 million members by the mid 1920's. In 1924 they passed out membership cards stating, "When aliens run the United Stated States…then the Ku Klux Klan won't be worth a damn." (Document C) The KKK fed on the fear created by the Harlem Renaissance. Many Whites weren't used to the idea of Blacks having an influence, and they panicked. Organizations like the KKK utilized this fear to increase their membership to staggering proportions. They continued to torment the African-Americans, and continued the practice of racial bigotry. In 1922, Congress passed an Anti-Lynching Bill stating that, "depriving any person of his life without authority of law" was a criminal offense. (Document A) However, lynching and burnings still took place. Before the end of 1929 the KKK had lynched more then 200 African-Americans. Congress was ill equipped to enforce this bill, and it had little effect in the areas that needed it most. The KKK believed in White Supremacy and that their problems were caused by Blacks. They continued to discriminate and instill a sense of fear in these people. The use of chain gangs as a form of punishment was still in widespread practice as well. In a painting by William H. Johnson he...
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