Most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlem

Most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlem

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Most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlem
renaissance began.

The Harlem Renaissance.

Today most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlem
renaissance began. Three events lead to this. First was the
publication of two poems by Claude McKay. Second was the opening on
Broadway of three plays about black life by a white writer, Ridgely
Thomas. These plays were remarkable not only because they were
performed by black artists but because they contained none of the
usual racial stereotypes. Finally, on the 28th of July Harlem
experienced its first silent parade when ten to fifteen thousand
blacks marched down 5th Avenue to protest against continued racial
inequities.

However the rich surge in African American arts and letters that took
place around the 1920’s was not limited to just Harlem, nor even to
New York City. Although, the intensity of the movement was in that
city, and the sheer number of black writers, musicians, and scholars
who lived and worked in Harlem has ensured that it is linked with the
era.

To understand the Harlem Renaissance it is necessary to appreciate
both the changes that occurred within the African community and the
cultural shifts that took place in American society as a whole during
the 1920’s. For blacks the years during and after World War one were
ones of increased militancy and racial pride.

Phillip Randolph was struggling to organise black workers and a
national campaign was actively promoting federal antilynching
legislation. Although white society did not take these political
movements particularly seriously, it did give considerable recognition
to the large number of black writers, musicians and scholars who were
emerging simultaneously. These figures being people like, Countee
Cullen, James Weldon, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and Jean
Toomer. All lived in Harlem and Langston Hughes described the area as
a “great magnet for the negro intellectual, pulling him from
everywhere.” Yet Harlem was a magnet not only for blacks, but also
for whites eager to experience for themselves the glamour and escapism
that its night-clubs seemed to promise. In many ways Harlem became a
national symbol of the Jazz Age, a complete antithesis of Main Street
and everything that the artists and cultural critics of the 1920’s
rejected.

Many Observers, black and white, hoped that this outburst of literary
and artistic talent would help to ensure greater acceptance of blacks
by American Society.

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However, almost as suddenly as it had blossomed,
Harlem declined into an urban ghetto neglected by outsiders and
offering little to its residence. The Harlem Renaissance went
forgotten for over 30 years. It was only until 1967 when the New York
public Library published a book called: The Negro in New York. This
book was compiled of a series of manuscripts prepared by the Harlem
branch of the public library. The interest in the public was
enormous, and the wealth of information contained in the collection
has ensured that it is still being mined by students and scholars
today.
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