7 Important Facts About the Harlem Renaissance

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7 Important Facts About the Harlem Renaissance

For about 15 years, the Harlem Renaissance promoted culture development within the African-American communities of the United States. Art, literature, and intellectual pursuits became one of the most influential ways to express oneself. In many ways, it became a time when this demographic shook off the final bonds of slavery, took its first steps forward, and said, “This is who I am.”

1. The Birth of the Great Ones

We still say some of the names that helped to influence the Harlem Renaissance. People like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and Langston Hughes all helped to shape the way their cultural demographic was beginning to think. No longer were these folks subservient to masters. They were their own master and they were going to prove their equality. If the Great Depression hadn’t kicked in, this awakening could have happened for decades longer.

2. A New Philosophy

One of the most common quotes about the time of the Harlem Renaissance was that it was time for a new person to emerge. At the time, they called it the “New Negro.” The impressions of what this meant at the time can still be seen today in many of the artistic pieces that were created. Just as jazz is fluid and often improvised, the artistic styles of the era’s painters show vivid fusions of modern and traditional styles to capture the moment at hand.

3. It Wasn’t Just In Harlem

The awakening may have happened in Harlem and many of the important events may have happened, there, but the Renaissance of the African-American people at this time was a nationwide movement. No longer was there this idea that segregation was fine because it was “the way things had always been.” Many moved to Harlem and found jobs just so they could be part of the action. It was a chance to establish a unique identity and they took it.

4. A Night At the Apollo

Despite the spiritual fire that was growing in this community at the time, there were few spots for all of this creative work to be displayed. Outside of Harlem, the rest of the world was still dealing with white lunch counters and black bathrooms. That’s why the Apollo Theater was such an important component of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a place where everyone could be themselves, be expressive, and be able to perform. Numerous careers were started at the Apollo and some of those recordings can still be heard today.

5. A Great Writer

Today Langston Hughes is considered one of the greatest writers of all time. His poetry is still often recited and studied in classrooms. He was awarded for his distinguishing service in 1960 and was one of the first to learn is classes that were fully integrated. If you ever read anything of his and you can only choose one thing, make sure it is I Too Sing America. It was one of the first times someone was able to remove the prior cultural influences in writing to speak from the heart on behalf of an entire people.

6. Stand Up and Fight

With Jim Crow laws still in place, there were influences all around that were encouraging African-Americans to be more “white” in their conduct. Songs written by folks like Claude McKay helped to encourage everyone to cast off the shackles that had held them back for so long. For the first time in a long time, the call wasn’t to end slavery. The call was to become equal with real rights that for so long had been held by the white folks.

7. It Was Still a Tough Road

Harlem may have been a bit more friendly to African-Americans at this time than the South happened to be, but that didn’t mean the folks up north liked them any more. There were many complaints about an influx of laborers that was driving down salaries in the area. Many of the folks who moved to Harlem to start a new life still found themselves segregated in the slums of the city. These conditions were celebrated and glorified in word, song, and art, but that doesn’t change the fact that the choice many faced was begin a hard place and a harder place.

The Harlem Renaissance helped to set the stage for what would become the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately not everyone who helped to build the foundation of equality got to see the fruits of their labor. We still have a long way to go as a nation to remove prejudice from our society, but in this moment, at this time, there was hope. It’s up to us to make sure that hope stays alive.