The Harlem Renaissance: The Rise of African American Literature, Art, and Music

This short film, produced and created by Rob Johnson of San Rafael, CA, is an introduction to an interdisciplinary unit on the Music, Art, and Literature of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance (also known as the Black Literary Renaissance and the New Negro Movement) refers to the flowering of African American cultural and intellectual life during the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the “New Negro Movement”, named after the 1925 anthology The New Negro edited by Alain Locke. Centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, the movement impacted urban centers throughout the United States. Across the cultural spectrum (literature, drama, music, visual art, dance) and also in the realm of social thought (sociology, historiography, philosophy), artists and intellectuals found new ways to explore the historical experiences of black America and the contemporary experiences of black life in the urban North. Challenging white paternalism and racism, African-American artists and intellectuals rejected imitating the styles of Europeans and white Americans and instead celebrated black dignity and creativity. Asserting their freedom to express themselves on their own terms, they explored their identities as black Americans, celebrating the black culture that had emerged out of slavery, as well as cultural ties to Africa. The Harlem Renaissance had a profound impact not only on African-American culture but also on the cultures of the African diaspora. Afro-Caribbean artists and intellectuals from the British West Indies, who had migrated to New York in number, were part of the movement. Moreover, many French-speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.[1] Historians disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. It is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid 1930s. Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of this “flowering of Negro literature”, as James Weldon Johnson preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, is placed between 1924 (the year that Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance) and 1929 (the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression). In 1917 Hubert Harrison, “The Father of Harlem Radicalism,” founded the Liberty League and The Voice, the first organization and the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement”. Harrison’s organization and newspaper were political, but also emphasized the arts (his newspaper had “Poetry for the People” and book review sections). In 1927, in the Pittsburgh Courier, Harrison challenged the notion of the renaissance. He argued that the “Negro Literary Renaissance” notion overlooked “the stream of literary and artistic products which had flowed uninterruptedly from Negro writers from 1850 to the present”, and said the so-called “renaissance” was largely a white invention. (


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