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Harlem Renaissance

Topics: African American, Harlem Renaissance / Pages: 7 (1724 words) / Published: Apr 17th, 2013
The Significance of the Harlem Renaissance
Starting around the year 1917, Harlem, New York was bustling with life. Harlem was a diverse area where there little authority on cultural aspects for any one race, but in particular the African Americans. The African American people migrated to Harlem, and to other major cities in the North, in search of better opportunities than those found in the South. African Americans, though, were still cut down in society and the effects of the segregation in their lives convinced them that unappreciation and being at the bottom of society was a normal thing. Maeve Devoy discusses in her article about the Great Migration that, “African Americans often found the urban North to be as inhospitable and hostile as the South had been” (The Great Migration 1). The forming of the Harlem Renaissance turned that idea around for people. The significance of jazz music, graphic visual art, and poetry from the Harlem Renaissance changed the way African Americans and the whites thought about “Negro” culture and the people themselves in the 1920’s. The rise in literacy rates and the number of African Americans who moved to the North from the Great Migration established the beginnings of the Harlem Renaissance. Two reasons essential behind the Harlem renaissance are written about in an article where, R.A. Lawson states, “black authors tried to point out the injustices of racism in American life. Second, newspaper editors, activists, authors, and other artists began to promote a more unified and positive culture among African Americans” (Harlem Renaissance 1). The Harlem Renaissance seemed to centralize around Harlem, New York for numerous reasons. Harlem, like many other major cities, was large in its African American population especially after the Great Migration. Once they arrived and settled, the African Americans were kept out of society like before when they lived in the South. David Levering Lewis discusses in his article Harlem Renaissance, “The "race problem" definitively became an American dilemma and no longer a remote complexity in the exotic south” (Harlem Renaissance 1), affirming the problems that African Americans faced. They had to deal with the effects of segregation in society, neighborhoods, and schools for their youth. Also according to Langston Hughes poem, “I, Too, Sing America,” he helps perceive the fact that African American people were kept in the dark of society. Hughes expresses in his poem, “I am the darker brother” (Poems of the Harlem Renaissance 2), that the belief of considering African Americans to be a part of the society around them was a taboo for the time period. Things became worse for African Americans, according to Maeve Devoy, “in 1919 when American soldiers returned from the war only to find a social and cultural landscape vastly changed by the Great Migration. A series of race riots erupted in several cities, igniting racial hatred” (The Great Migration 2). During the course of the Harlem Renaissance, older European and white American traditions and styles were built upon by the African Americans to create their own side of the culture. A few major aspects became popular during the Harlem Renaissance, one of which is jazz music. The blues influenced jazz music and became its own form of genre with the help of Billie Holiday and Jelly Roll Morton, both of whom changed the way African Americans viewed their culture. Together they transformed the deep, melodic blues to a more syncopated and upbeat style that is jazz. In an article about the Harlem Renaissance, the author express that jazz music is, “The source of musical authenticity and the reservoir of musical abundance lay in those recently urbanized and economically beleaguered men and women whose chosen recreational environments were raucous, boozy, and lubricious” (R. A. Lawson 2). Many productions on Broadway used jazz music to elevate the sense of optimism and African American pride. Influenced by this change, African American culture changed, becoming a basic for innovation and self-expression for the people. It also brought about the optimism and the enjoyment of African American culture to other people around the country. African Americans largely influenced music. David Levering Lewis discusses that, “The very centrality of music in black life, as well as of black musical stereotypes in white minds, caused popular musical forms to impinge inescapably on Renaissance high culture” (Harlem Renaissance 3). Another altering change of culture during the Harlem Renaissance happened within the subject of visual art. Before, visual art moved based off traditional landscapes and that during the Renaissance with the presence of the KKK. Their presence made it hard for African Americans to change the set ideas of race relations. Aaron Douglas, an African American painter and graphic artist, took visual art to a new level by using cubism and geometric shapes to change those set ideas. In the biography about Aaron Douglas, Amy Helene Kirschke says Douglas thought his art made of, “a matter of depicting beauty but rather of depicting life in a way that spoke to the black masses, and his high-contrast, high-impact images were heavily influenced by African art as well as cubism and modernism” (Aaron Douglas 1). His style used African American subjects to show off racial pride. Another influential artist during the Harlem Renaissance appeared to be Lois Mailou Jones. Jones’ work consisted of a broad spectrum, including works ranging from the traditional landscapes to abstract works. In a biography about her, the biography asserts that by being an African American woman trying to become an artist, “Jones had waged a never-ending battle to gain professional respect for the artistic works of all black American artists” (Lois M. Jones 1). Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr., and Rebecca Valentine all describe that artists during that time shaped their art, “in an attempt to correct unflattering or distorted ideas of their race and heritage” (Harlem Renaissance 2). The changes proved to be for the better improvement of art acceptance of African American painters during the Harlem Renaissance.
Rules and old traditions blocked the new ideas of African American authors. Literature changed during the Harlem Renaissance from those old and traditional English literary forms. Poetry largely led the Harlem Renaissance, but not the only form of literature; it helped African Americans believe in their culture and not just accept everyone else’s. Countee Cullen, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes were famous poets during the Harlem Renaissance. In Countee Cullen’s poem “Heritage,” Cullen talks about how race should not determine poetic inheritance, “Night or day, no slight release from the unremittent beat made by cruel padded feet” (Poems of the Harlem Renaissance 2). Alain Locke was also made famous during the Renaissance but he wrote novels, such as, “The New Negro,” that suggested a time where African Americans were culturally aware. In a Claude McKay biography he reveals a poetic catechism he wrote to help bring about African American race appreciation, “Like men we 'll face the murderous, cowardly pack/Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!" (1, Claude McKay) The significance had changed from following other culture’s styles that white novelists had set in place. The Harlem Renaissance, overall, brought much culture appreciation to the African American people all over the country. It was a time where, “respect for the artistic achievements of African Americans grew as their literature, art, and music flourished” (Harlem Renaissance 1), according to an ABC-Clio article. David Levering Lewis described the Harlem Renaissance as a “natural phase in the cultural evolution of another American group” (Harlem Renaissance 2). At the end of the Renaissance, in the year 1934, African Americans came to terms with their culture. Every change that happened during the period of the Harlem Renaissance happened for the greater purpose to change the minds of people, in the United States, about race relations. A better way to change the mindsets of so many people across the country without the help from intellectual individuals during the Harlem Renaissance devised the only workable solution. The significances behind the time period of incredible growth and renewal helped establish a sense of common culture to not just the African Americans but also white Americans, who came to respect the African American ways and culture styles. If the Harlem Renaissance went absent from history, nothing would have changed from past white ancestors who acted by overrunning African Americans and using them as their slaves. Would that be the right world to live in today?

Works Cited
"Countee Cullen." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
Cunningham, George P. "New Negro." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 4. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 1648-1649. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.
Devoy, Maeve. "The Great Migration: Background." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.
"Harlem Renaissance." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
"Harlem Renaissance." Civil Rights in the United States. Ed. Waldo E. Martin, Jr. and Patricia Sullivan. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2000. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.
"Harlem Renaissance." U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr., and Rebecca Valentine. Ed. Lawrence W. Baker and Sarah Hermsen. Vol. 4. Detroit: UXL, 2009. 673-677. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 14 Oct. 2012.
Kirschke, Amy Helene. Aaron Douglas: Art, Race, and the Harlem Renaissance. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995
Lawson, R. A. "Harlem Renaissance." Dictionary of American History. Ed. Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 4. New York: Charles Scribner 's Sons, 2003. 95-97. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 28 Sept. 2012.
Lewis, David Levering. "Harlem Renaissance." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 998-1018. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 Sept. 2012.
"Lois M. Jones." Notable Black American Women. Gale, 1992. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
"McKay, Claude (1890-1948)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
"Poems of the Harlem Renaissance (1919–1931)." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 2449-2452. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

Cited: "Countee Cullen." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. Cunningham, George P Devoy, Maeve. "The Great Migration: Background." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. "Harlem Renaissance." American History. ABC-CLIO, 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. "Harlem Renaissance." Civil Rights in the United States "Harlem Renaissance." U*X*L Encyclopedia of U.S. History. Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr., and Rebecca Valentine. Ed. Lawrence W. Baker and Sarah Hermsen. Vol. 4. Detroit: UXL, 2009. 673-677. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 14 Oct. 2012. Kirschke, Amy Helene. Aaron Douglas: Art, Race, and the Harlem Renaissance. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995 Lawson, R Lewis, David Levering. "Harlem Renaissance." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 998-1018. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 Sept. 2012. "Lois M. Jones." Notable Black American Women. Gale, 1992. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. "McKay, Claude (1890-1948)." Encyclopedia of World Biography "Poems of the Harlem Renaissance (1919–1931)." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. Ed. Colin A. Palmer. 2nd ed. Vol. 6. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 2449-2452. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.

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