Rebirth of African Culture & Expression in America The Harlem Renaissance “I, too, sing America” (Langston Hughes)
“Renaissance” • “Rebirth” or “revival” • Refers to the European Renaissance that took place from 1300-1600 • Born in Florence, Italy • Spirit of innovation, curiosity, & adventure in fields ranging from architecture to science and fine art.
“Harlem Renaissance” • Upsurge of African American cultural expression that took place in Harlem, New York during the 1920s.
The Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes W.E.B. Du Bois Countee Cullen Marcus Garvey Claude McKay Alain Locke Zora Neale Hurston Richard Wright
The Great Migration Hoping to escape tenant farming, sharecropping, and peonage, 1.5 million Southern blacks moved to cities. During the 1910s and 1920s, Chicago's black population grew by 148 percent; Cleveland's by 307 percent; Detroit's by 611 percent. The racial composition of the nation's cities underwent a decisive change during and after World War I. In 1910, three out of every four black Americans lived on farms, and nine out of ten lived in the South. World War I changed that profile.
Confined to all-black neighborhoods, African Americans created cities-within-cities during the 1920s. The largest was Harlem, in upper Manhattan, where 200,000 African Americans lived in a neighborhood that had been virtually all-white fifteen years before
The Harlem Renaissance The movement for black pride found its cultural expression in the Harlem Renaissance--the first self-conscious literary and artistic movement in African American history.
During the 1920s, Harlem became the capital of black America, attracting black intellectuals and artists from across the country and the Caribbean. Soon, the Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom. The poet Countee Cullen eloquently expressed black artists' long-suppressed desire to have their voices heard: "Yet do I marvel at a curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!"
Many of the writers and artists associated with the Harlem Renaissance became an elite class of black Americans. For some, this status was comfortable; others, however, felt uneasy at being soremoved from the majority of black Americans. Also debated was just what kind of writing, or art, should be created by African Americans. Because of the racist views of most white Americans, some African American leaders argued that black artists had a responsibility as "representatives of the race." For writers, this means certain restrictions in what they could write, and how they could depict black characters. Many writers rebelled against this notion and argued for their own freedom; and in exercising this freedom, new kinds of written works were created. Langston Hughes's poetry, for example, seeks to imitate the sound of jazz and blues music, rather than stick with more traditional poetic meter. Zora Neale Hurston's fiction relies on black folklife and dialect, and expresses thoughts about life and relationships among people in very fresh ways.
Harlem was also the home of a new and very popular musical sound of the 1920s, jazz, which catered to both a black and a white audience. Fletcher Henderson's sound, big-band "swing," often called "sweet" jazz, was the dominant music of the 1920s among white New Yorkers.
Henderson's main competitor was the Cotton Club orchestra led by another famous Harlem musician, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington, also popular among white audiences. In fact, the Cotton Club, Harlem's best known and gaudiest nightclub, was for white patrons only. Vocalists Mamie Smith and Ethel Waters were also famous musicians who regularly performed in Harlem, as frequently for black as for white audiences. The sound of their music was more "bluesy," and very early recordings of their music became "hit records" within the African American community.
Jazz Is truly an American artform Evolved from African folk music, European harmonies, American gospel sounds, & plantation work songs that flourished during & after slavery “Sorrow Songs”- “The Blues” evolved
Jazz • Ragtime & Dixieland Jazz came from New Orleans in the 1890s. • Louis Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans, LA (1901-1971). • Grew up in extreme poverty and sent to reform school • Learned to play the coronet (trumpet) there • Gained prominence as a big • band musician • Pioneered improvisational • music or “scat” • Nicknamed “Satchmo”
Louis Armstrong • Listen to Louis • “What a Wonderful World” • “Jeepers Creepers” • “St. James Infirmary”
Other Famous Jazz Musicians • Bessie Smith – “Empress of the Blues” • Duke Ellington • Billie Holiday • Dizzy Gillispie • Ella Fitzgerald Listen to Billie Holiday’s “Without Your Love”
Claude McKay • McKay had established himself as a poet, publishing two volumes of dialect verse, Songs of Jamaica (1912) and Constab Ballads (1912). Having heard favorable reports of the Work of Booker T. Washington, McKay enrolled at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama with the intention of studying agronomy; it was here that he first encountered the harsh realities of American racism, which would form the basis for much of his subsequent writing. He soon left Tuskegee for Kansas State College in Manhattan, Kansas. He was finally able to publish two poems, "Invocation" and "The Harlem Dancer," under a pseudonym in 1917. *Agronomy is the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, feed, fiber, and reclamation*
"If We Must Die" If we must die, let it not be like hogsHunted and penned in an inglorious spot,While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,Making their mock at our accursèd lot.If we must die, O let us nobly die,So that our precious blood may not be shedIn vain; then even the monsters we defyShall be constrained to honor us though dead!O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!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! During the period of racial violence against blacks known as the Red Summer of 1919, McKay wrote one of his best-known poems, the sonnet, "If We Must Die," an anthem of resistance later quoted by Winston Churchill during World War II. The generation of poets who formed the core of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes and Countée Cullen, identified McKay as a leading inspirational force, even though he did not write modern verse. His innovation lay in the directness with which he spoke of racial issues and his choice of the working class, rather than the middle class, as his focus.
Zora Neale Hurston Zora used her talents to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters. But the late 1930s and early '40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her.
Listen to her words…. Zora’s Website
Countee Cullen • As a schoolboy, Cullen won a citywide poetry contest and saw his winning stanzas widely reprinted. • Cullen's first collection of poems, COLOR (1925), was published in the same year he graduated from NYU. Written in a careful, traditional style, the work celebrated black beauty and deplored the effects of racism.. Cullen's Color was a landmark of the Harlem Renaissance. • The title poem of THE BLACK CHRIST AND OTHER POEMS (1929) was criticized for the use of Christian religious imagery - Cullen compared the lynching of a black man to Christ's crucifixion. • As well as writing books himself, Cullen promoted the work of other black writers. But in the late 1920s Cullen's reputation as a poet waned. In 1932 appeared his only novel, ONE WAY TO HEAVEN, a social comedy of lower-class blacks and the bourgeoisie in New York City.
As a poet Cullen was conservative: he did not ignore racial themes, but based his works on the Romantic poets, especially Keats, and often used the traditional sonnet form. However, Cullen also enjoyed Langston Hughes's black jazz rhythms, but more he loved "the measured line and the skillful rhyme" of the 19th century poetry. After the early 1930s Cullen avoided racial themes.
Langston Hughes • Hughes entered Columbia University in the fall of 1921, a little more than a year after he had graduated from Central High School. Langston stayed in school there for only a year; meanwhile, he found Harlem. Hughes quickly became an integral part of the arts scene in Harlem, so much so that in many ways he defined the spirit of the age, from a literary point of view. The Big Sea, the first volume of his autobiography, provides such a crucial first-person account of the era and its key players that much of what we know about the Harlem Renaissance we know from Langston Hughes's point of view. He got to know other writers of the time such as Countee Cullen, Claude McCay, W.E.B. DuBois, and James Weldon Johnson. • When his poem "The Weary Blues" won first prize in the poetry section of the 1925 Opportunity magazine literary contest, Hughes's literary career was launched. His first volume of poetry, also titled The Weary Blues, appeared in 1926.
In Langston Hughes's poetry, he uses the rhythms of African American music, particularly blues and jazz. This sets his poetry apart from that of other writers, and it allowed him to experiment with a very rhythmic free verse. Hughes's second volume of poetry, Fine Clothes to the Jew (1927), was not well received at the time of its publication because it was too experimental. Now, however, many critics believe the volume to be among Hughes's finest work.
Alain Locke • Locke complained that he couldn’t understand how his peers “come up here in a broad-minded place like this and stick together like they were in the heart of Africa.” • “[By] common consent,” Locke wrote to his mother about dining-room habits at Harvard, black students had “unanimously chosen to occupy a separate table together. Now what do you think of that? It’s the same old lifelong criticism I shall be making against our people.” • His future work, now seen as the fount, in African American thought, for what came to be called “multiculturalism,” would celebrate cultural pluralism, both philosophically and personally.
Having studied African culture and traced its influences upon Western civilization, he urged black painters, sculptors, and musicians to look to African sources for identity and to discover materials and techniques for their work. He encouraged black authors to seek subjects in black life and to set high artistic standards for themselves. He familiarized American readers with the Harlem Renaissance by editing a special Harlem issue for Survey Graphic (March 1925), which he expanded into The New Negro (1925), an anthology of fiction, poetry, drama, and
W.E.B. Du Bois Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In 1905 Du Bois, in collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and white civil rights workers, met in New York to discuss the challenges facing the black community. In 1909, the group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement.
Marcus Garvey At this same time, the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey began his promotion of the “Back to Africa movement.” Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government. The movement not only encouraged African-Americans to come together, but to also feel pride in their heritage and race.
Richard Wright One of America’s greatest black writers, Richard Wright was also among the first African American writers to achieve literary fame and fortune, but his reputation has less to do with the color of his skin than with the superb quality of his work. He was born and spent the first years of his life on a plantation, not far from the affluent city of Natchez on the Mississippi River, but his life as the son of an illiterate sharecropper was far from affluent. Though he spent only a few years of his life in Mississippi, those years would play a key role in his two most important works: Native Son, a novel, and his autobiography, Black Boy.
Richard Wright • Wright's first novel, Native Son (1940), a brutally honest depiction of black, urban ghetto life, was an immediate success. The story's protagonist embodies all the fear, rage, and rebellion, all the spiritual hunger and the undisciplined drive to satisfy it, that social psychologists were just beginning to recognize as common elements in the personality of the underprivileged and dispossessed of all races.
Richard Wright Wright's intention was to make the particular truth universal and to project his native son as a symbol of the deprived in all lands. Contemporary critics, however, unimpressed by the universal symbol, were interested instead in Wright's passionate indictment of white racism and the life-style it imposed upon blacks. Wright's implication that there was another and a better way of social organization than democracy, and that communism was perhaps that better way, also impressed them. This implication was toned down in the stage version (1941). In 1941 Wright also published Twelve Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro of the United States.