Most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlemrenaissance began.
The Harlem Renaissance.
Today most historians recognise 1917 as the year in which the Harlemrenaissance began. Three events lead to this. First was thepublication of two poems by Claude McKay. Second was the opening onBroadway of three plays about black life by a white writer, RidgelyThomas. These plays were remarkable not only because they wereperformed by black artists but because they contained none of theusual racial stereotypes. Finally, on the 28th of July Harlemexperienced its first silent parade when ten to fifteen thousandblacks marched down 5th Avenue to protest against continued racialinequities.
However the rich surge in African American arts and letters that tookplace around the 1920’s was not limited to just Harlem, nor even toNew York City. Although, the intensity of the movement was in thatcity, and the sheer number of black writers, musicians, and scholarswho lived and worked in Harlem has ensured that it is linked with theera.
To understand the Harlem Renaissance it is necessary to appreciateboth the changes that occurred within the African community and thecultural shifts that took place in American society as a whole duringthe 1920’s. For blacks the years during and after World War one wereones of increased militancy and racial pride.
Phillip Randolph was struggling to organise black workers and anational campaign was actively promoting federal antilynchinglegislation. Although white society did not take these politicalmovements particularly seriously, it did give considerable recognitionto the large number of black writers, musicians and scholars who wereemerging simultaneously. These figures being people like, CounteeCullen, James Weldon, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and JeanToomer. All lived in Harlem and Langston Hughes described the area asa “great magnet for the negro intellectual, pulling him fromeverywhere.” Yet Harlem was a magnet not only for blacks, but alsofor whites eager to experience for themselves the glamour and escapismthat its night-clubs seemed to promise. In many ways Harlem became anational symbol of the Jazz Age, a complete antithesis of Main Streetand everything that the artists and cultural critics of the 1920’srejected.
Many Observers, black and white, hoped that this outburst of literaryand artistic talent would help to ensure greater acceptance of blacksby American Society.