New York became “ The Black Capital” of America during the 1920s. When Black Americans started heading north, or west, during, what we now call, the great migration, Harlem became heavily populated with justice seeking African Americans. Coincidently, this movement was also heavily associated with the Jazz movement, which was also created by Black musicians and artists. Many household names like Langston Hughes and WEB Du Bois rose up to fame during this era, and contributed greatly to the cause by generating their own crafts, whether it was music, writing, or art. The impact of the Harlem Renaissance seeped deeper than just visual or literary art, however. Although the Harlem Renaissance didn’t actually achieve its goal of bringing systematic equality to African Americans, the supporters reidentified the choices and liberties of Black people had, which paved the way for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, by integrating their culture with those of white societies and by challenging the inherent racial stigma for the first time through artistry.
Jazz was created by Buddy Bolden in 1895, but it’s effects truly began to ripple out in the early 1920, which in a way revolutionized music and art. While music and art were not a new concept, the creation of jazz, modernized art while giving a voice to marginalized groups. From the very beginning of African American history, black people were silenced by people in power through insufficient education and laws that forbid them to have a valuable input in politics. So when artists like Duke Ellington released songs like “Black, Brown, and Beige”, even if they were not jazz, they were still quite revolutionary.(not finished)
Music was not the only melodic form of regression during the Harlem Renaissance; poetry also became a prominent way activists chose to take a stance against inequality. Beyond the systematic oppression colored people faced in America, black people were still being hunted for the color of their skins, quite literally. Many became the victims of lynching, hate crimes, and other forms of aggressive acts. White people were still deluded to believe that they had done their part just because they had, licitly, given African Americans the right to vote. Without the support of the government and non-marginalized groups, poets like Claude McKay conducted their own call to action. In March of 1922, he wrote “The Lynching” which summarizes the “the cruelest way of pain”a man can face, lynching, and how it was a vicious yet common act. He was greatly criticized for poems, mostly because it put a spotlight on an issue in which most people wished to neglect, so he wrote “If We Must Die”, which was even more obscene in it’s imagery.
Although it was originally a statement about the discrimination black people faced in America, it also served as a message of hope for those people. Although many felt defeated by the lack of progress, Mckay believed that the only right form of action would be to “nobly die” as they fought back.
Some activists chose to fight for equality in a less direct approach; instead of making the target audience people of their own skin color, many chose to fight the system by winning the corrupt game that was created to ensure their failure. Jack Johnson, the creator of the Cotton club nightspot in Harlem, was one of these people. He, and his successor Owen Madden, limited the audience to white people only, while exclusively hiring African American to be performers. Many household names like “ Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Bill (“Bojangles”) Robinson, and Stepin Fetchit” were notable performers at the club. This movement wasn’t widely accepted in the African American community, however. Langston Hughes, for example , wrote a long essay named “ The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” to reflect his discontent with black people throwing away their “racial individuality”and be “as little Negro and as much American as possible” for the sake of self profit. His concerns demonstrate the exponential rise of this tactic in Harlem.
- “Harlem Renaissance.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 29 Oct. 2009, www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/harlem-renaissance.
- Hughe, Langston. “‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.’” Modern American Poetry,
- 1926, www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/mountain.htm.
- McKay, Claude. “If We Must Die by Claude McKay.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44694/if-we-must-die.
- ‘Harlem Renaissance.’ International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, edited by William A. Darity, Jr., 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2008, pp. 424-426. World History in Context, https://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3045300994/WHIC?u=j043907002&sid=WHIC&xid=742331f7. Accessed 30 Jan. 2019.
- Misra, Anjali J. “‘Jazz Is My Story:’ A Historical Analysis of Jazz and 20th Century African-American Literature.” Inquiries Journal, Inquiries Journal, 1 Nov. 2017, www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1704/jazz-is-my-story-a-historical-analysis-of-jazz-and-20th-century-african-american-literature.
- Hutchinson, George. “Harlem Renaissance.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Dec. 2018, www.britannica.com/event/Harlem-Renaissance-American-literature-and-art.