Harlem Renaissance: Burst of Creativity among African American Writers and Artists in the 1920s


If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, 0 let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honour us though dead!
0 kinsmen1 We must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!  ”- Claude McKay’s militant sonnet If We Must Die (1919)

Harlem Renaissance, the burst of creativity among African American writers and artists in the 1920s and early 1930s that was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Variously known as the New Negro movement, the New Negro Renaissance, and the Negro Renaissance, the movement emerged toward the end of World War I in 1918, blossomed in the mid- to late 1920s, and then faded in the mid-1930s. The term ‘Renaissance’ which literally means rebirth is loosely applied to this creativity (efflorescence, for it was really a birth) for this was the first opportunity African Americans had to create and celebrate the uniqueness of their culture. The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time that mainstream publishers and critics took African American literature seriously and that African American literature and arts attracted significant attention from the nation at large. Read More Literary Terms Although it was primarily a literary movement, it was closely related to developments in African American music, theater, art, and politics.

Several Factors laid the Groundwork for the Movement the Harlem Renaissance:

The large scale migration of blacks from the rural south to the urban north in search of jobs and a better life for themselves and their children is one of the best reasons. During a phenomenon known as the Great Migration, hundreds of thousands of black Americans moved from an economically depressed rural South to industrial cities of the North to take advantage of the employment opportunities created by World War I. As more and more educated and socially conscious blacks settled in New York’s neighborhood of Harlem, it developed into the political and cultural center of black America. The industrial expansion in the north had created a new demand for labour which was filled in by blacks. The beginning of World War I also required the employers to recruit blacks in order to replace white males who had gone to war. Read More Literary Terms A black middle class had developed by the turn of the century, fostered by increased education and employment opportunities following the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Equally important, during the 1910s a new political agenda advocating racial equality arose in the African American community, particularly in its growing middle class. Championing the agenda were black historian and sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was founded in 1909 to advance the rights of blacks. Read More Literary Terms This agenda was also reflected in the efforts of Jamaican-born Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey, whose “Back to Africa” movement inspired racial pride among blacks in the United States.

Great Writers of this Movement:

Paul Laurence Dunbar , Charles W. Chesnutt , James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay ,McKay, Jean Toomerr, Jessie Fauset, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes,Countee Cullen ,Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright etc.

Reference: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica


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