Harlem Renaissance Movement (1920s): A Measure of a People’s Greatness

January 29, 2009

In the 1920s, Harlem Renaissance Movement, expressed in the artistic flowering of artistic creation – literature, music, poetry, painting, and dance –made an indelibly mark on American popular culture. This is the decade in which African Americans came of age. The artists who contributed to this renaissance were informed, instructed and inspired by the vision and ethos of the New Negro. As such, the Harlem Renaissance represents something more than the actual works of art it produced. The Harlem Renaissance had both and internal and external message, signaling that African Americans were to be taken seriously by themselves as well as by others.  The Harlem Renaissance was a period of unprecedented creative production by any group of people in the United States. The migration of blacks from the South as well as Africa and the Caribbean to New York, coupled with New York being the center of American publishing, and the emerging Cultural Revolution, made Harlem the ideal and logical urban city for the flowering of black cultural production.

The primary artistic leaders of the Harlem renaissance movement were a group of intellectuals dubbed “The Six”- Jessie Redmond Faucet, Charles S Johnson, Alain Locke, WEB DuBois Walter White, and James Weldon Johnson. They put a premium on the rediscovery and promotion of black folk material for the purpose of documenting and celebrating the black cultural heritage and for the use of these materials as sources of inspiration and points of departure for artistic creation.  To advance the movement, Johnson and Locke issue a call for artistic to come to Harlem.  W.C. Handy, father of the blues, composer William Grant Still, and jazz great Duke Ellington answered the call. The emergence of blue and jazz as America’s popular music suggest the primacy of black music to the Harlem Renaissance philosophy and practice. The idea that black music was America’s only distinctive contribution to American and world musical culture was accepted and emphasized by the Renaissance leaders and participants of the Renaissance movement. The cultural environment created by the Renaissance leaders promoted literature and established a network of institutions and possibilities-nightlife, cocktail and rent parties, literary discussions and strategy sessions that supported all artistic.  The music of the black theater shows, the dance music of the cabarets, the blues and ragtime of the speakeasies and the rent parties , the spiritual and the art songs of the recitals and concert halls all created and ambiance for Renaissance activity and contemplation. Reference: Nathan Irvin Huggins, Harlem Renaissance.

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