Here is the story of a great art movement which influenced culture and life, especially in New York. The Harlem Renaissance refers to the development and transformation of Harlem, the neighborhood of New York. Lasting from 1910 to the 1930s, is considered the golden age of African American culture. It included all forms of art, from literature, to painting and music.
Manhattan in the Early 1900s
Starting from the 1880s, Northern Manhattan was an upper class white neighborhood. Because of overdevelopment, landlords were desperate to fill in the empty buildings that were many at the time. Few middle-class African Americans managed to find their way to the neighborhood. As a result, more African American families followed from a neighborhood Black Bohemia. Some of the white residents initially fought to keep the new residents out, but it resulted to many whites leaving the area. This is the “Great Migration”.
Additionaly, after WWI many recruiters headed north to employ Black workers for their companies. Because of this, by 1920 more than 300.000 African American families had moved to Harlem, making it one of the most popular nneighborhoods.
The Development of Arts
As a result of the population shift, the Black Pride movement was born. Its leaders like De Bois, worked hard to ensure that Black Americans got the recognition they diserved for theeir contribution in culture. Some important works of fiction from that time include, Claude McKay’s collection Harlem Shadows in 1922 and Jean Toomer’s Cane in 1923. Additionally, James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of An Ex-Colored Man in 1912, followed by God’s Trombones in 1927 added to the new movement.
Most of the written works from that time, explored the idea of Black Americans finding a cultural identity in a white-dominated Manhattan. Also, The Crisis, the first magazine for African – American childrenmade its appearance. Soon more magazines hosted more writers that kept coming in the neighbohood. Poetry also flourished during the Harlem Renaissance.
The music that prevailed in the bars and stores which offered illegal alcohol is Jazz. Some great musicians made their appearance during that time. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Fats Waller and Cab Calloway are only some of them. Their music became popular, not only in Harlem, but also in other citties too. Accompanying the music, tap dancers also became popular.
The dynamic music and lifestyle brought many changes in the nightlife of Manhattan as a result. Some iconic nightclubs opened their doors during the time that the Harlem Renaissance flourished. The Savoy, which opened in 1927, included two stages where Jazz bands and dancers performed.
However, the most succesful of all the nightclubs that operated was Cotton Club. The venue regularly featured performances by Ellington and Calloway, two of the most famous musicians then.
Performance Arts and Theater
The cultural revolution in Harlem, gave the opportunity to Black actors to stage plays and perform on the stage. Usually, they appeared on musicals and rarely on serious dramas. The most famous of all these actors was Paul Robeson, an actor, singer, writer, activist and more. Robeson believed that arts and culture were the best paths forward for Black Americans to overcome racism and make advances in a white-dominated culture. In 1929 Wallace Thurman and William Rapp’s Harlem finally managed to stage a play about Black lives in Broadway.
The End of the Harlem Renaissance
In 1929 with the Stock Market crush, the Great Depression started. That was also the beginning of the end of the Harlem Renaissance. It hardly survived until 1933, when Phohibition ended and not many people were looking for illegal alcohol in the neighborhood. By 1935, many residents of the historic neighborhood left to seek new employment opportunities.
During the same year, the Harlem Race broke out, following the arrest of a young shoplifter, which resulted in three deaths, hundreds of people injured and millions of dollars in property damage. The riot was the death for the Harlem Renaissance as well. After these series of events, the golden age for African American artists came to an end, but it had already set the stage for the civil rights movement.