Harlem Renaissance

Harlem Renaissance2018-12-31T22:46:20+00:00

The Harlem Renaissance for APUSH

About the Author: Christopher Averill has taught AP US History for 27 years and been actively involved in APUSH grading for 22 years. Christopher has served as an APUSH exam reader, table leader, exam leader, and question leader. Christopher was integral in establishing the AP Teacher Best Practices Workshops at the annual AP US History reading. He has been endorsed by the College Board as an AP Consultant since 1999 and has conducted numerous AP single-day workshops as well as Teaching and Learning Seminars. Starting in 2010 he began a four year term on the AP US History Test Development Committee. Additionally, he was a Faculty Consultant editor for the 15th edition of the Alan Brinkley American History textbook.

The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural explosion of African Americans music, art and literature in the early 20thcentury, roughly from the 1910’s through the mid-1930’s.  This “renaissance” gave African American culture a national platform on an equal footing to other American cultural traditions and resulted in the emergence of racial pride which led to political movements to rectify racial discrimination.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural explosion of African Americans music, art and literature in the early 20thcentury, roughly from the 1910’s through the mid-1930’s.

Centered in the area of New York City known as Harlem, black musicians and artists brought forth both the tunes and tones of African American heritage.  Musicians such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong helped to usher in the Jazz age. Literary giants emerged such as Langston Hughes and Zora Hurston. Aaron Douglas known as the “Father of Black American art” and sculptor Augusta Savage led the way in breaking down the doors of discrimination that had kept African Americans out of mainstream American art culture.

Many of the themes of this cultural movement revolved around African American heritage and opened the eyes of millions of Americans to the injustices of prejudice and discrimination. It also bred a self-confidence in African Americans to speak out and protest against the discrimination and racism prevalent in America in the early 20thcentury. This cultural movement helped to bring a new found sense of racial pride to African Americans.  No longer willing to be considered second class citizens, this movement gave voice to African American culture.

This cultural movement helped to bring a new found sense of racial pride to African Americans.

The Road to Renaissance

The inspirational slave spirituals sung during slavery and oral history passed down from generation to generation established much of the African American roots in music. These songs told the story and culture that gave substance to the post-Reconstruction African American communities. Music in African American communities centered on these spirituals and helped establish some of the earliest forms of Blues sung by black entertainers before and after the turn of the 20thcentury.

Music in African American communities centered on these spirituals and helped establish some of the earliest forms of Blues.

Additionally, the syncopation of Ragtime in the early 1900’s arose from African beats passed down from generations. With Ragtime and the Blues as backdrops, Jazz arose in the 10’s and 20’s played by both white and black bands. This cross over of African American music to mainstream American listening helped to establish the value of African American music to all of America.

It was not until voices such as Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois started writing of the plight of African Americans in the wake of Reconstruction that African Americans saw the beginnings of hope that there might be a voice for them.

As this evolution of music became one of the cornerstones of the Harlem Renaissance so too did the turn of the century African American political writers. It was not until voices such as Booker T. Washington and WEB Dubois started writing of the plight of African Americans in the wake of Reconstruction that African Americans saw the beginnings of hope that there might be a voice for them. The culmination of both the African American culture and political advocacy at the turn of the century became the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance which was a widespread emergence and acceptance of African American culture around the country.

The culmination of both the African American culture and political advocacy at the turn of the century became the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance

But Why a Renaissance in the North?

Following the Civil War, African Americans had long hoped that freedom would translate into economic opportunity and equal participation in American life. Instead, most African Americans were forced out of necessity to abide racial discrimination in the South in the last part of the 19thcentury.  With nearly 90% of African Americans living in the south, black America was silenced both economically and culturally. Most were engaged in tenant farming or sharecropping which left them at the mercy of white land owners.

With nearly 90% of African Americans living in the south, black America was silenced both economically and culturally.

With economic opportunity in northern factories beginning in the early 20thcentury, a Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North was set in motion. The scattered and dispersed African American cultural elements of the South began to coalesce within large expansive communities in the North.

With economic opportunity in northern factories beginning in the early 20thcentury, a Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North was set in motion.

By the late 1920’s, in one three square mile area known as Harlem in New York City, over 175000 African Americans lived.  The result was an explosion of African American culture. Harlem thus attracted some of the greatest African American minds and talent in the world. It became the mecca of African American life.

Harlem attracted some of the greatest African American minds and talent in the world. It became the mecca of African American life.

The Effect of the Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance resulted in a rising tide of self-pride and social activism in African Americans around the country. Black music, art and literature were heralded as part of the American identity. It will establish the cultural underpinnings for future African American artists. It will also give rise to political activism for equality under the law. Groups such as Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association attempted to bring about equal justice for African Americans.

The Harlem Renaissance resulted in a rising tide of self-pride and social activism in African Americans around the country.

The concept of the “New Negro” emerged which stressed independence, racial pride and a commitment to bringing about racial equality.  The Harlem Renaissance inspired the younger generation who will lead the civil rights movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s that brought forth such tremendous change.

The concept of the “New Negro” emerged which stressed independence, racial pride and a commitment to bringing about racial equality.

The Continuity and Change of the Harlem Renaissance

Musical forms of African American traditions go back to Africa prior to enslavement. Rhythms and syncopations of drums and other instruments were blended into songs and dancing by slaves on American plantations. Played and sung by individuals they took on regional and local flavorings and offered many opportunities for improvisation. These elements can be seen in the development of Jazz both in the syncopation used and the ability of the performer to improvise.

The major change occurred in the acceptance of African American culture by the larger American mainstream audience.

The major change occurred in the acceptance of African American culture by the larger American mainstream audience. African American music and by extension literature and art were now seen as the “norm” and of equal importance to other forms of American culture. No longer regional or localized, African American culture

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