What Was the Harlem Renaissance?

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  • Originally Written By: Sheri Cyprus
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  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2018
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The Harlem Renaissance was a celebration of African-American heritage and culture between 1919 and the mid-1930s, manifested through an outpouring of new business, art, literature, music and dance. This boom of expression, also called the New Negro Movement, had long-lasting, positive effects on the social, intellectual and economic standing of African Americans. People consider the period to be a significant foundation for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.


Following the Civil War, hardships such as prejudice and lack of money were common in the South. Increased industrialization in the north promised job opportunities as well as an escape from problems in Southern life. Millions of African Americans migrated north as a result, converging in the Harlem, New York area along with other foreign immigrants. Whites who lived the area moved further north, freeing real estate for Negros. Harlem was considered a black city by the early 1900s.

In response to World War I, foreign immigration drastically slowed in America. Many people had left their jobs to fight in the war, however, so African Americans had an opportunity to fill a large number of vacant positions. Harlem became a center for Negro enterprise and a symbol of the new black middle class. For the first time, the stage was set for people of color to more freely express themselves in the arts and entrepreneurial settings.


Main Concepts and Ideas

The main theme during the Harlem Renaissance was that developing African-American intellect and art would challenge both racism and stereotypes, bringing blacks to a new level of equality. They routinely fell back on concepts such as marginality, alienation and the effects of slavery in their works. The use of folk material and difficulties associated with writing for the elite were also common threads.

Genres Affected

The celebration of African-American pride was not limited to any particular genre within business or the arts. The area of literature arguably saw the most changes, however. Publishers produced African-American plays, poetry, fiction, essays, articles and other works at a very high rate. This provided a legitimate platform through which African-Americans quickly could spread their ideas and lobby for increased rights.

Music also saw enormous advancements. Jazz, blues and gospel music became especially popular and refined through artists such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Colored musicians played to mixed or all-white audiences. Mixed performance groups also became accepted. Genres of music normally reserved for whites, such as classical performance, saw their first African-American masters.

African-American and White Patrons

Both African-American and white people supported the Harlem Renaissance. Middle class Negros worked to provide jobs and other opportunities for other individuals of color. Whites opened doors for publication or the start of businesses and artistic projects. They also patronized black enterprises. Groups such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave African Americans a sense of community and gave them ways to work with whites.

The End of the Renaissance

The Great Depression had a major role in the end of the Harlem Renaissance. As money trouble worsened, people of all races paid more attention to necessities. They did not invest as much in the arts or expression, although they still valued these elements. Many of the African Americans who had established themselves in the city left the region to pursue work elsewhere.

Major Social Effects

African Americans were able to assert their humanity and demand equality during this era. Their work changed how America and the world saw the race. It made society more aware of Negro abilities and culture, elevating the race to a more accepted and sophisticated level. Prejudice and hardships still face people of color, but they have greater opportunities than in the past.

This period of cultural empowerment and advancement also set the stage for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The work done unified African Americans, gave them hope and confirmed their self-worth. This new determination and the precedents set encouraged blacks to take stronger stands for themselves individually and as a people.


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Post 31

Long live Langston Hughes!

Post 24

This helped me with my homework. Thanks.

Post 9

this really helped. thanks! i got lots of info.

Post 6

this is very good to know. i've also been to the Apollo Theater.

Post 2

Thanks for your comment, overreactor. The Apollo Theater is a popular tourist attraction that I'd love to see if/when I visit New York! :)

Post 1

In the early 1900's black people migrated mostly from the south to north and settled in Harlem, bringing with them music and culture.

One of the well known places in Harlem is Apollo theater that opened just before World War I.

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