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The Harlem Renaissance was an era that began in the 1920's, in the Harlem neighbored of New York City. This was a period that after World War I but the start of the Great Depression. This was a time where African Americans expanded in literature as well as art and music. Black culture received recognition during this time and was said to be "reborn," which was how the word "renaissance" was interpreted (267). As African Americans migrated to Harlem, many realized it wasn't a city blacks dreamed of. Many faced overcrowded living conditions and unequal employment opportunities. With this in mind, Harlem had the largest population of urban black people in the world. Though times were unbearable, Harlem received nicknames such as: "Mecca of the New Negro," "Culture Capital of the Black World," "City of Refuge," and the "Promised Land (269)." It then became the center of African American political life and the cultural capital of the United States. Many have made a contribution to this prestigious time period, some more than others, but everyone made a commitment to change and development of the culture of African Americans.
Literature was the main area African Americans progressed. Alain LeRoy Locke was named, the "Father of the Harlem Renaissance." He was born on September 13, 1885 and died on June 9, 1954, at age sixty-eight. He was a writer, philosopher, and educator who's remembered for his writings on the Harlem Renaissance. Some of his works include: The New Negro: The Interpretation, Harlem: Mecca of the Negro, and, Life of Four Negro Poets, which were published
in 1925 to 1928.
James Weldon Johnson was also an active person in Harlem Renaissance. He was born on June 17, 1871 and passed on June 26, 1938 at sixty-seven years old. This was a period where his career was the most productive. Toward the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance, Weldon had been a high school principal, newspaper editor, lawyer, songwriter, foreign consul novelist, editorial writer, and the head of the National Association of Colored People. He was also the first African American professor at New York University.
Although many writers where just beginning at this time; James Weldon already published various memorable pieces of writing, including poetry. He began writing poems in a formed style that used rhymed verse, as in a sonnet. He also used free verse and wrote poems after folklore sermons. The Book American Negro Poetry is a collection of 177 works all with the influence of the Harlem Renaissance; it was edited by James Weldon in 1922. The academy of American Poets named the book "A contribution to the history of African American literature." God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse, is a book James Weldon is most remembered by; and published in 1927. It discussed African
American religion and culture.
Another influential person of the Harlem Renaissance was Claude McKay. He was born on September 15, 1889 and died on May 22, 1948. In 1922, he published a crucial collection of poems called, Harlem Shadows. Not only did he possess talent writing poetry, but novels as well. One of his known novels is the, Home to Harlem, written in 1928. The book also received the Harlem Foundation Gold Medal Award for Literature. It was also one of McKay's first books published during the Harlem Renaissance.
Langston Hughes is a very familiar scholar of the Harlem Renaissance. When his father offered to send him to college in Europe, he refused stating, "I wanted to see Harlem, the greatest Negro city in the world (738)." He then decided to spend the rest of his life celebrating Harlem and the life as well as the culture of African Americans. Langston began writing poetry in high school and understood the life of poverty, although his father was wealthy. Hughes was mostly known as a poet, and used the beats of blues and jazz music in his writings; He also used the language of the people he commonly encountered. He wrote fiction, drama, known songs, and even satirical sketches. "The Crisis" was a magazine, published in 1921. His signature poem is, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." He received the nickname, the "Poet of the people," because of how his poems related to the African American people and grasped the struggles of them. In 1926, Hughes first book, The Weary Blues was published. Langston Hughes also received recognition for participating in The Nation newspaper in 1926. The article was called "The Negro artist and Racial Mountain."
The Harlem Renaissance didn't limit to accomplishments of in literature, but in art and music also. Every Broadway season was from 1921 to 1928; everyone saw a new black production; Known musicals included, Shuffle Along, and, The Chocolate Dandies. Two important plays of the time period were, The Emperor Jones in 1920, and, All God's Chillun Got Wings, in 1924. They were both written by Eugene O'Neill. He was a man who was often called a great dramatist. Serious black dramas were unpopular but served as significance in the time period.
Modern art is a style that became very popular among Harlem. Initially, modern art was traditional in Africa. An artist named, Aaron Douglas was a sculptor and Richmond Barthe produced many pieces of African motifs. Both were artists that made their mark on the Harlem Renaissance.
Music was also a vital movement. Negro spirituals were performed on stage. People like Marion Anderson, Roland Hayes, and Paul Robeson. Songs that were sung by slaves included: Go Down Moses, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, and Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. Gospel was the new form of music that developed and it used lyrics from some of the Negro spirituals. Many thought it sounded like the blues. A classic blues singer of that time was Bessie Smith, who was also crowned, the "Empress of the Blues." Another form of music that became common was Jazz. It became so popular around white Americans that the decade was called the Jazz Age.
These are only a few of the many contributors of the Harlem Renaissance. Countee Cullen, Rudolph Fisher, John Toomer and others, all produced excellent material during the 1920's. African Americans have not only made accomplishments then, but many today. A recent time in history is the latest presidential election of President Barack Obama. That election proved that anything can be achieved with dedication and hard work. He and the scholars of the Harlem Renaissance removed any excuse of why anyone couldn't become successful. With that in mind, any African American can accomplish anything they set their mind to.