Known also by the names “New Negro Movement” or Black Renaissance”, the Harlem Renaissance symbolized an enriched movement among African Americans between the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression. The names given to this movement shows its main features. The words "Negro" and "black" mean that this movement centers around African Americans, and the word "renaissance" refers to something new was born or, more specifically, that a cultural spirit was brought back to life in African American cultural life. Even though most historians remember the Harlem Renaissance as a literary movement, African Americans during the 1920s also made great strides in musical and visual arts, as well as science. The Harlem Renaissance pushed for American progressivism in faith in democratic reform, in belief in the arts as agents of change, and in an almost uncritical belief in itself and its future.
The main point of Harlem, an old Dutch-built neighborhood of New York City, shows that this "renaissance" was something of an urban marvel. During the early part of the 20th Century, Harlem became home to a climbing population in the "Negro" middle class. “The district had originally been created in the 19th Century as an exclusive suburb for the white middle and upper middle classes; its prosperous beginnings led to the creation of stately houses, grand avenues, and world class attractions such as the Harlem Opera House” (Kramer 35 ). During the enormous movement of European immigrants in the late nineteenth century, the once exclusive district was abandoned by the native white middle-class. Harlem became an African-American neighborhood in the early 1900s. In 1910, a huge block along 135th Street and Fifth Avenue was bought by select African-American realtors and a church group (Kellner 111).
“Many more African Americans arrived during the First World War. Due to the war, the migration of laborers from Europe ultimately ended, while the war effort resulted in a massive demand for unskilled industrial labor” (Waldron 27). Many important developments during the World War I gave rise to the Harlem Renaissance. First, black people from the South, since the turn of the century had been moving in big numbers to the North's industrial cities. “In consequence, southern blacks who had been denied their political rights and had resorted to sharecropping as a means of livelihood” (Huggins 121). “Those southern African-Americans came into contact with northern African Americans who were more likely the descendants of free blacks and, therefore, had better access to education and employment” (Huggins 125). Additionally, black Americans moving to the cities had much to complain about. World War I, the so-called war to make the world safe for democracy, had been a horrible experience for most African Americans. “The U.S. Army was rigidly segregated, race riots broke out in many American cities during or immediately after the war, and the North was residentially and economically segregated like the South, despite the absence of Jim Crow Laws” (Singh 42).
The Harlem Renaissance through out its era emphasized change in democratic reform. The need for change was rooted in the disappointment that African Americans felt with the limited opportunities open to them as the United States struggled to transform itself from a rural to an urban society. “Increased contact between African Americans and white Americans in the workplace and on city streets forced a new awareness of the disparity between the promise of U.S. democracy and its reality” (Kramer 23). African American soldiers who served in World War I were angered by the prejudice they often faced back at home, compared to the greater acceptance they had found in Europe. A larger, better educated urban population fully understood the limitations that white-dominated society had placed on them. As African Americans became increasingly disillusioned about achieving...
Bibliography: and Commentary. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1982. A wonderful research tool on nineteen influential period authors, complete with citations of published works.
Singh, Amritjit. The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance: Twelve Black Writers, 1923–1933. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Literary study of wide cross-section of black authors.
Waldron, Edward E. Walter White and the Harlem Renaissance. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1978. A mono-graph on the influential civic leader 's role during the period.
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