Harlem Renaissance was an African American cultural, social and artistic movement which peaked in the 1920s. Centered at the Harlem neighborhood in New York City, the movement spread through the United States and reached as far as Paris. Chiefly caused due to the Great Migration, Harlem Renaissance declined and came to an end during the Great Depression. Known as the New Negro Movement during the time, Harlem Renaissance is most closely associated with Jazz and the rise of African American arts. Here are 10 interesting facts about Harlem Renaissance and about its causes, effects and accomplishments.

 

#1 The major cause of Harlem Renaissance was the Great Migration

Great Migration is a term used for the movement of African Americans in America from the South to the North and Midwest. Between 1910 and 1930, in the first Great Migration, around 1.6 million migrants moved from institutionalized racism in the South to seek a better life in the booming northern economy. The southern states had passed several laws against African Americans which among other things prevented black citizens from registering to vote and mandated racial segregation. Also labor shortage due to the First World War was seen as an opportunity by black citizens to seek employment in the North. Movement of African Americans from the rural South to the urban North was instrumental in initiating the Harlem Renaissance.

Migration Series Painting by Jacob Lawrence
A painting from the famous Migration Series by African-American modern artist Jacob Lawrence

 

#2 It is named after the Harlem neighborhood in the Manhattan borough of NYC

Harlem is a large neighborhood within the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Harlem was at first an exclusive suburb of white citizens but by the late 19th century most of them moved further south. The Great Migration started turning Harlem into an African American neighborhood. The population of black citizens in Central Harlem increased from around 10% in 1910 to more than 70% by 1930. Harlem Renaissance is called so as the movement was majorly centered in Harlem, which became a place of residence or assembly of most African American intellectuals who contributed to the movement.

Harlem Population Graph
Harlem Population Graph

 

#3 Though centered in Harlem, it was a nationwide movement

New York was the financial and cultural capital of U.S. and also the central place for writers to get published. Hence Harlem’s location made it an ideal place for the development and advancement of creative works by African Americans. However, though it was centered in Harlem, the Renaissance was a nationwide movement. Its influence can be gauged by the fact that it even had an impact on the French speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris.

A 1924 parade on Lenox Avenue, Harlem
A 1924 parade on Lenox Avenue, Harlem

 

#4 Primitivism played a part in popularizing the renaissance among white citizens

The major factors contributing to the Harlem Renaissance were dramatic rise in levels of literacy among black citizens; development of several national organizations dedicated to their cause like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); increased interaction among black intellectuals; development of pride for their race; and a zest to carve for them a separate identity. Freudian psychology held that primitive people held a more direct relationship with nature. Known as primitivism, it led to increased interest in the creative works of African Americans among white citizens. This was among several trends that led to further popularizing the renaissance.

NAACP Logo
Logo of NAACP

 

#5 When it happened, Harlem Renaissance was called the New Negro Movement

The Harlem Renaissance is considered to have begun in the late-1910s and lasted till around mid-1930s. In 1925, The New Negro: An Interpretation, an anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays on African and African-American art and literature, was published. It was edited by Alain Locke, an African American philosopher and writer who is sometimes referred to as the ‘Dean’ of the Harlem Renaissance. The New Negro is considered by scholars as the definitive text of the movement. Harlem Renaissance, which is said to have peaked between 1924 and 1929, was known as the “New Negro Movement” at the time and it was only later that it became known by its current name.

The New Negro Title Page
Title page of The New Negro, an interpretation

 

#6 Journals played an integral part in the development of the movement

In 1910, the NAACP launched its official magazine The Crisis. It published the work of many young African-American writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance including Arna Bontemps, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Jean Toomer. By 1918, The Crisis had over 100,000 readers. In 1917, Hubert Harrison, who has been described as “the father of Harlem radicalism”, founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper dedicated to the Harlem Renaissance. Opportunity, The Messenger and Negro World were other prominent journals associated with the movement.

Cover of The Crisis journal
Cover of the first issue of The Crisis, November 1910

 

#7 It was marked by unprecedented development in African American arts

W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois

Harlem Renaissance laid the groundwork for all later African American literature and had an enormous impact on subsequent black consciousness worldwide. Its works often referred to double consciousness of the African American experience. A term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois it describes the psychological challenge for an African American to view himself from not only his perspective but also from what the white world views him. This was due to his African heritage and a European upbringing in slavery and education. Harlem Renaissance saw unprecedented development in not only African American literature but in all arts.

 

#8 Jazz music of African Americans became an international craze

African American music; such as blues, spirituals and especially jazz; became a worldwide sensation and amplified the renaissance. Harlem Stride Piano, a jazz piano style, was developed during the 1920s and contributed in spreading the popularity of the music form among the wealthy. Also blacks began to emerge in the classical world of music compositions, an area previously dominated by whites. Charleston, a dance form which developed from black folk dance, was associated with jazz and became an international craze. Such was the popularity of jazz among whites that it sparked a “Negro Vogue” in cities such as New York and Paris.

Ma Rainey Georgia Jazz Band of the 1920s
Ma Rainey Georgia Jazz Band of the 1920s. Such was the influence of Jazz that the period was known as ‘Jazz Age’

 

#9 Langston Hughes is the most famous name of the Harlem Renaissance

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes

Harlem Renaissance was characterized by intense debate and diverse literary styles. Several writers like Countee Cullen used poetic forms associated with Europe and white people while others like Langston Hughes chose African and African American based folk forms in their works. Hughes, who is perhaps the most famous name associated with the renaissance, believed that black artists should focus on the folk and create distinctive ‘Negro’ art. Hughes was also one of the early innovators of the art form known as jazz poetry and famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”.

#10 It had profound and far reaching consequences

Harlem Renaissance declined after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and faded due to the Great Depression that followed. Major accomplishments of the movement include creating a new black identity, reducing racial bias, changing to an extent the way the world viewed people of color and adding a new dimension to art forms which influenced artists for generations. Harlem Renaissance had profound and far reaching consequences and built the foundation for the community for the initial phase of the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

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