By Lisa Batchelder-Hetrick
The Harlem Renaissance refers to the period of time, during the 1920s and 1930s, that was rich with culture and filled with an explosion of art celebrating African Americans! This celebration of Black life and identity, and a rising awareness of inequalities and discrimination, set the stage for the civil rights movement of later decades.
During this time, the expression of freedom through the arts set the tone for how a neighborhood in New York became one of the most recognizable in modern history. The neighborhood of Harlem became the headquarters for important cultural developments in the Black community. An increased concentration of Black intellectuals and artists in the area, due to the great migration from the south, led to a faster outspread of ideas and works. In the beginning this was considered the “new Negro” movement, but the later name of “Harlem Renaissance” acknowledges the importance of this neighborhood.
Blacks from the South, which tended to be poorer than their counterparts in the North, were now concentrated in the same neighborhood. Each group brought important benefits to the community, and each needed the other to break through racial barriers.
Innovative and creative ideas from the southern Blacks, combined with the experience of those from the north, merged to create new art forms that would be accepted by white communities. This was the first time in history that black artists and intellectuals were gaining widespread recognition from their white counterparts. This was only a stepping stone. Their success also gave the Black community a sense of pride and empowerment; Black artists were gaining recognition and respect in forums that had previously been blocked to them. It felt like progress was being made.
In the video below you will see an overview of some of the events and people who shaped this period of time, and you will see how the Harlem Renaissance continues to influence modern society.