Centered at the Harlem neighborhood in New York City, Harlem Renaissance was an African American movement which peaked around the mid-1920s and during which African Americans took giant strides politically, socially and artistically. Known as the New Negro Movement during the time, it is most closely associated with Jazz and the rise of African American arts. Know about the 10 most famous people associated with the Harlem Renaissance including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, WEB Du Bois and Duke Ellington.

 

Claude McKay
Claude McKay

#10 Claude McKay

Lifespan: September 15, 1889 – May 22, 1948

Role: poet, novelist, journalist

Claude McKay was a Jamaican immigrant who at first wrote poems primarily in Jamaican dialect but switched to Standard English forms after moving to the United States. His militant sonnet “If We Must Die” was published in 1919 during a period of intense racial violence. The poem noted for its revolutionary tone became popular among African American readers and is considered a landmark of Harlem Renaissance. His 1928 novel Home to Harlem became a best-seller and won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. The following year his novel Banjo was published which was hailed as a radical work that envisioned the black political identity in a global framework. McKay was among the most famous writers of the Harlem Renaissance and an influential figure of the movement.

Famous Harlem Renaissance Works:-

If We Must Die (Poem, 1919)

Home to Harlem (Novel, 1928)

Banjo (Novel, 1929)

 

Alain LeRoy Locke
Alain LeRoy Locke

#9 Alain LeRoy Locke

Lifespan: September 13, 1885 – June 9, 1954

Role: writer, philosopher, educator

The first African American Rhodes Scholar, Alain Locke was the editor of The New Negro: An Interpretation, which was published in 1925. An anthology of fiction, poetry, and essays on African and African-American art and literature, The New Negro is considered the definitive text of the Harlem Renaissance and gave it the name by which it was known during the time, the “New Negro Movement”. Along with W. E. B. Du Bois, Locke was the leading philosopher of the Harlem Renaissance and gave the movement direction and inspiration.

 

#8 Aaron Douglas

Lifespan: May 26, 1899 – February 3, 1979

Aaron Douglas
Aaron Douglas

Role: painter

After moving to Harlem in 1925, Aaron Douglass became involved in the Renaissance and started creating illustrations for the two most important magazines associated with the movement, The Crisis and Opportunity. In his canvases and murals he moved away from traditional landscape painting and developed his own modernist style of geometrical figurative representation in dealing with “Negro” subject matter. Douglass depicted the realities of the black struggle for political and creative freedom. He played a leading role in the Harlem Renaissance and is considered the signature visual artist of the movement.

Famous Harlem Renaissance Works:-

Harriet Tubman (Mural, 1930)

Symbolic Negro History (Murals, 1930)

Dance Magic (Murals, 1931)

 

Marcus Garvey
Marcus Garvey

#7 Marcus Garvey

Lifespan: 17 August 1887 – 10 June 1940

Role: political leader, publisher, journalist

In 1914, Marcus Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry of the world. The greatest period of UNIA was in the 1920s and the organization remains active even today. The paper of UNIA, Negro World was among the prominent journals associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Garvey worked as its editor for a while. He then led the Back to Africa movement of the 1920s which called for the return of the African diaspora to the African homelands of their ancestors. Though only a few prominent figures of the renaissance identified with the Back to Africa movement, Garvey was an influential leader of Harlem Renaissance and played an important role in inculcating racial pride among African Americans.

 

#6 Zora Neale Hurston

Lifespan: January 7, 1891 – January 28, 1960

Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston

Role: author

Zora Neale Hurston arrived in New York City in 1925 when the Harlem Renaissance was at its peak and she soon became a prominent figure of the movement. Her writings, more than anyone else, revealed the truth of the black Southern experience as being a native of the rural South she was intimate with black folklore. Hurston was the most prominent female writer of the Harlem Renaissance and her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered among the most influential works of not only the Renaissance but also of African American and women’s literature.

Famous Harlem Renaissance Works:-

Sweat (Short Story, 1926)

The Gilded Six-Bits (Short Story, 1933)

Their Eyes Were Watching God (Novel, 1937)

 

Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington

#5 Duke Ellington

Lifespan: April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974

Role: Musician

Jazz is considered the heartbeat of Harlem Renaissance and Duke Ellington’s contribution to the genre was phenomenal. He moved to Harlem in the mid-1920s and became one of the early innovators of orchestral jazz, which is a fusion of jazz’s rhythmic and instrumental characteristics with the scale and structure of an orchestra. His orchestra, which he led from 1923 until his death, is the most famous orchestral unit in the history of jazz. Often collaborating with others, Ellington wrote more than one thousand compositions making him the most prolific composer of jazz ever. Considered by many as the greatest jazz composer and bandleader, Ellington was awarded the highest civilian award in US, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969.

 

Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker

#4 Josephine Baker

Lifespan: 3 June 1906 – 12 April 1975

Role: dancer, singer, fashion icon

Josephine Baker rose to prominence after performing in the chorus of the ground-breaking and highly successful Broadway musical comedy Shuffle Along. She went to Paris and became an international sensation for her erotic dancing at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in La Revue Nègre. Though she performed in Paris during the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Baker was a highly influential figure in the movement being the first black woman to become a world-famous entertainer. She was a fashion trendsetter for black and white women alike and a muse for several famous artists of the time. Later she contributed to the African American Civil Rights Movement and is known for refusing to perform for segregated audiences.

 

#3 W. E. B. Du Bois

Lifespan: February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963

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

Role: writer, sociologist, civil rights activist

In 1909, Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), an organization which remains active even today. In 1910, the NAACP launched its official magazine The Crisis and Du Bois was its editor for the first 24 years. The Crisis played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance providing a platform for several well-known writers of the movement, including Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. Du Bois was among the leading intellectuals of the renaissance and wrote several important pieces which introduced concepts like ‘double consciousness’ which were widely used by writers of the movement.

Famous Harlem Renaissance Works:-

The Souls of Black Folk (Non Fiction Book, 1903)

Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (Autobiography, 1920)

Dark Princess (Historical Novel, 1928)

 

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong

#2 Louis Armstrong

Lifespan: August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971

Role: Musician

In popular culture, Harlem Renaissance is famous for African American music which gained prominence during the movement, especially jazz. Rising to prominence in the 1920s as the renaissance peaked, Louis Armstrong is not only the most popular musician of the movement but also considered among the greatest artists in jazz history. He first became known as an inventive trumpet and cornet player. And in the mid-1920s he emerged as the first great jazz soloist. Known for his unique voice Armstrong was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics). His contribution in the development and popularity of jazz music cannot be overstated.

 

#1   Langston Hughes

Lifespan: February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes

Role: poet, novelist, playwright, columnist, social activist

Langston Hughes is the most famous person associated with the Harlem Renaissance and among the most influential leaders of the movement. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”. Considered among the greatest poets in U.S. history, Hughes was one of the earliest innovators of jazz poetry, poetry that “demonstrates jazz-like rhythm”. His works often portrayed the lives of middle class African Americans. Hughes was a proponent of creating distinctive “Negro” art and not falling for the “urge within the race toward whiteness”.

Famous Harlem Renaissance Works:-

The Weary Blues (Poetry Collection, 1926)

Fine Clothes to the Jew (Poetry Collection, 1927)

The Ways of White Folks (Short Stories Collection, 1934)

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