by Robin Abrams-Tolden, M.Ed
The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the “New Negro Movement”, was a period during the 1920’s until the mid-1930’s when creativity of black arts, music, literature and culture exploded in America and Harlem in Manhattan was the headquarters.
During World War I, there was a Great Migration of African Americans from the South to Northern cities seeking to escape the Jim Crow laws of the former slave owning southern states.
In New York, most of them made their way to upper Manhattan, where the city’s local blacks were moving to take advantage of abundant housing. Harlem became a magnet for black intellectuals who began writing with a bold voice about what it meant to be a black American. Finally African Americans could freely express themselves through art, dance, music and literature.
Artists like Aaron Douglas captured the African-American experience visually, while writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston expressed the struggle and pride of black people in words.
The Jazz Age flourished during this period and even whites traveled to Harlem venues like the Cotton Club to hear musicians likes Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who became one of America’s greatest popular composers.
Although the Great Depression of the 1930s put a damper on the high times, Harlem remained “the capital of black America for many years and blacks began to play a fuller role in American life. The Harlem Renaissance is remembered as the beginning of a great transformation or a rebirth for black people in America.