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The Harlem Renaissance -Expressions of Freedom
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.
Dr. Carter G Woodson, The Father of Black History (1875-1950)
Carter Godwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, to former slaves, Anna Eliza Riddle Woodson and James Woodson. The fourth of seven children, young Woodson worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family until he was almost 20. Understanding the importance of gaining a proper education motivated him to earn a high school diploma in West Virginia and bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago in just a few years. In 1912, Woodson became the second African American, following W.E.B. Dubois, to earn a PhD at Harvard University.
Passionate about history and painfully aware of the lack of information about the accomplishments of blacks in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which still exists today under the name, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
Under Woodson’s leadership, the Association created research and publication outlets for black scholars by establishing the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937).
In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and today Black History Month is recognized throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience. Woodson’s desire was not that black people would have a separate history, but that black history would not be overlooked as an integral part of American history.
Woodson formed the Associated Publishers Press in 1921 to help black authors publish their work. and also wrote more than a dozen books over the years, including A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The History of the Negro Church (1921), The Negro in Our History (1922) and Mis-Education of the Negro (1933).
Why We Still Need Black History Month
By Robin Abrams-Tolden, M.Ed
Do we still need a Black History Month? Well, is the history of African Americans well integrated into American history? Are the contributions of black people in America celebrated regularly outside of February? Sure, superior black athletes attract a lot of attention and recognition. Maybe it’s because of the money they generate for their “owners”.
But what about this year’s Academy Awards, which will air at the end of Black History Month? It appears that African Americans in the film industry have been overlooked. One might say that perhaps there wasn’t one black person who deserved to be nominated this year. However, Hollywood didn’t think that someone like Tyler Perry was worthy of their attention, so he created his own mega empire and proved them wrong. Just because someone says you’re not worthy, doesn’t make it true.
While it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world, Black History Month is necessary, not just to recollect a timeline of events and the profiles of a few important people, but also to remind Americans of the paths we’ve taken. Not so that we can disregard our diversity, but in a way that embraces diversity and stirs up a deeper appreciation of the struggles and triumphs of the black citizens of our country.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the founder of the original Negro History Week, once said: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
Black History Month is a catalyst that inspires all students to work toward their goals in spite of any adversity they might face, which expands beyond the boundaries of the month of February. Black History Month encourages deep conversations, stirs up the memories of the elders, and stimulates critical thinking in the young.
More about the “Father of Black History Month”, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, tomorrow…