The Harlem Renaissance: Planned Phenomenon and The Search for An Identity

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In the introduction to The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader, David Levering Lewis states the Harlem Renaissance was not a cohesive movement, but a constructed and forced phenomenon that was “institutionally encouraged and directed by leaders of the national civil rights establishment for the paramount purpose of improving race relations.” (Lewis, xiii) However, after researching many influential artists, politicians, and orators of the time, I must disagree. While, yes, the movement of an entire cultural and racial awakening can only be seen as a phenomenon and the movement itself was by no means cohesive, these powerful men and women needed no institutionalized encouragement. Each of their works were their own with diverse ideas and methods, yet somehow, came together to form an interconnected goal within the movement. Lewis’s viewpoint is not without it’s truths. The Harlem renaissance was overseen by a number of intellectuals such as Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B. Dubois. Booker T. Washington‘s, a highly influential speaker of the age, words appealed to both Caucasians and African-Americans. Washington forged an interracial bridge of communication through his unique tactics in the quest for equality. He believed in more subtle ways of gaining equality through hard work, cunning, and humility. He stated, “The wisest among my race understands that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremist folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing.”(Salley, 15) With this statement, Washington himself denies that this new awakening in equality and arts could be forced,... ... middle of paper ... ...g besides the stereotypical opinion set by the majority. And so, with the entirely conceptual identity set within the movement, the sheer numbers and absolute variety of such powerfully raw works created in such a short period of time is incredible and almost certainly goes unsurpassed by any other movement. These works could not be guided or coerced by even the greatest minds but instead, could only be from the souls with a newfound voice in a turbulent America. Works Cited Gates J.R., Henry Louis & West, Cornel. The African-American Century. New York: The Free Press 2000 Kellner, Bruce, ed. The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984 Lewis, David Levering, ed. The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader. New York: Penguin, 1994 Salley, Columbus. The Black 100. New Jersey: A Citadel Press Book, 1993.

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