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Harlem Renaissance

T The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the New Negro Movement, was a period of great cultural activity and innovation among African American artists and writers, one that saw new artists and landmark works appear in the fields of literature, dance, art, and music. The participants were all fiercely individualistic talents, and not all of them saw themselves as being part of a movement. But in time writers such as Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes; painters like Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden; and musicians and composers such as Duke Ellington and Bessie Smith became widely known as members of the Harlem Renaissance.

Much of the foundation of the Harlem Renaissance was laid by earlier generations of African American educators, students, and intellectuals. In the decades following the Civil War, many racial barriers to education were removed, and African Americans took advantage of the new educational opportunities in great numbers. Dozens of African American colleges and universities were founded, and African American professors and other intellectuals took increasingly public roles.

By the early 1900s, intellectual leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson were writing, lecturing, and being published in journals such as Crisis and The Messenger. Founded 12 February 1909, the NAACP is the nationís oldest, largest and most widely recognized grassroots-based civil rights organization. The NAACP broke away from earlier black leaders such as Booker T. Washington, who believed in a gradual accumulation of equality through education and moral fortitude. The NAACP wanted more immediate action and fought for equality through the courts and political advocacy. It provided a forum for a growing black intellectual class in its magazine The Crisis, edited by DuBois. The NAACP made the fight against lynching a top priority.

Appalled at the violence that was committed against blacks, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard, both the descendants of abolitionists, William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. The only African American among the organizationís executives, W.E.B.Du Bois was made director of publications and research James Weldon Johnson was the organization's first black president. Walter White headed the NAACP from the 1930s to the 1950s.

At the same time, African Americans were moving in huge numbers from the South to northern industrial cities, like New York, where they could find work and escape some of the institutionalized discrimination and mistreatment caused by the Southís Jim Crow laws. Innovative young African American writers, painters, and musicians began gathering in a number of neighborhoods in Manhattan, including Harlem and Greenwich Village, working together and developing new ideas, and in the years after World War I they gained national attention.

Langston Hughes, best known as a poet, also wrote plays, a novel, short stories, and an autobiography. Many of his poems were set to music by African American composers, and he collaborated with Zora Neale Hurston on a play, Mule Bone. Another artist who achieved great things in a number of fields was the multitalented Paul Robeson. An honor student and All-American athlete while at Rutgers University, Robeson went on to graduate from Columbia University Law School, and soon after became a famed concert singer, recording artist, stage and film actor. He was an impassioned advocate of political causes, and his performance tours and activism took him around the world.

The northern migration of African-Americans began in earnest during the Great War. By 1930 there were 1,035,000 more black Americans in the North, and 1,143,000 fewer black Americans in the South than in 1910.

On 01 August 1920, Marcus Garvey's Universal Improvement Association held its national convention in Harlem, the traditionally black neighborhood in New York City. Garvey's African nationalist movement was the first black American mass movement, and at its height it claimed hundreds of thousands of supporters.

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Page last modified: 06-10-2017 19:05:49 ZULU