The Harlem Renaissance

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Introduction to the “The Harlem Renaissance”

Oppressive: harsh conditions, unfair

Caste system: ranking people in society based on what/where they were born. Poor/Rich, good/bad, smart/dim

NAACP: National Association for the Advancement of Black People.

Mecca: a place where people want to travel to and meet up to share ideas a center.

Militancy: actively involved or actively supporting a cause, like African American rights.
The Harlem Renaissance was the name given to the cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem between the end of World War I and the middle of the 1930s. During this period Harlem was a cultural center, drawing black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars. Many had come from the South, fleeing its oppressive1 caste system2 in order to find a place where they could freely express their talents. Among those artists whose works achieved recognition were Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, Countee Cullen and Arna Bontemps, Zora Neale Hurston and Jean Toomer, Walter White and James Weldon Johnson. W.E.B. Du Bois encouraged talented artists to leave the South. Du Bois, then the editor of THE CRISIS magazine, the journal of the NAACP3, was at the height of his fame and influence in the black community. THE CRISIS published the poems, stories, and visual works of many artists of the period. During this period Harlem was the mecca4 to which black writers, artists, musicians, photographers, poets, and scholars traveled.

The Renaissance was more a literary movement: It involved racial pride, fueled in part by the militancy5 of the "New Negro" demanding civil and political rights. The Renaissance incorporated jazz and the blues, attracting whites to Harlem speakeasies (a bar), where interracial couples danced. It may have contributed to a certain relaxation of racial attitudes among young whites, perhaps its greatest impact was to reinforce race pride among blacks.

The renaissance had many sources in black culture, primarily of the United States and the Caribbean, and was experienced beyond Harlem, this movement expanded across the United States and was felt internationally as well. As its symbolic capital, Harlem began an artistic experimentation and a highly popular nightlife destination. Its location in the communications capital of North America helped give the “New Negroes” visibility and opportunities for publication, they could not have experienced in another place. Located just north of Central Park, Harlem was a formerly white residential district that by the early 1920s was becoming virtually a black city. Black intellectuals from Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and other cities also met in Harlem or settled there.

Directions: In complete sentences, embedding the question, using “quoted” evidence from the text, answer the questions below. For questions that do not require quoted evidence make sure you use academic vocabulary and specific vocabulary no “they, him, she, it, stuff, things, etc…)

  1. In line 3 the phrase cultural center is underlined. Finish reading the rest of that sentence. In your own words, explain what the phrase cultural center means.

  2. According to this text what was the Harlem Renaissance?

  3. Who were key figures that the Harlem Renaissance brought to mainstream American culture?

  4. What did W.E.B. Du Bois encourage?

  5. What is the “New Negro”?

  6. Do African Americans experience a new type of freedom because of the Harlem Renaissance?

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