Reading the Harlem Renaissance into Public Policy: Lessons from the Past to the Present

By Harden, Renata; Jackson, Christopher K. et al. | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, July 2012 | Go to article overview

Reading the Harlem Renaissance into Public Policy: Lessons from the Past to the Present


Harden, Renata, Jackson, Christopher K., Pitts, Berlethia J., Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


Harlem. 1917. Music bursting from the seams, the wondrous sounds of Cab Calloway's "scat" singing, and the majestic melody of Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club orchestra. The cool crisp air is almost perfectly aligned to the tunes of the jazz that captivates the night air.

Lights, camera, action--The "Queen of Happiness," Florence Mills takes center stage at the Alhambra Theater on Seventh Avenue for her performance in the musical Blackbirds while Anita Bush's, The Lafayette Players, the first African American acting company, prepares its 300 performers for the stage.

At a small outdoor cafe, straddled alongside broad sidewalks and newly constructed homes, amidst the sounds of voices and the echoes of the city, sit four brightly colored chairs, each in its own lavish raiment. Here we see Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Claude McKay sharing a literary moment, a moment that would eventually develop into a profound cultural and artistic expression, a decade of prominent and expressive publications by African Americans, the Harlem Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance is a product of African American culture and history, as Gates and McKay describe it as "the irresistible impulse of blacks to create boldly expressive art of a high quality as a primary response to their social conditions, as an affirmation of their dignity and humanity in the face of poverty and racism." (1) This period represents the beauty, strength, and intelligence of an oppressed people. (2) The term "renaissance" is used by historians to characterize some moment when a culture, once dormant, has been reawakened. It is during this time that the world saw a plethora of publications by African American authors, including Countee Cullen's Color, whose work became the first African American book of prose to be published by a major American publishing house, as well as Jean Toomer's Cane, which is a book of fiction published by DoubleDay. These works follow the poetic and artistic approaches of Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born immigrant to the United States, who is believed to be the first major poet of the Harlem Renaissance. The ability of Claude McKay to become one of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance speaks to the systematic conditions of racism and discrimination that linked black people all over the world. French-speaking blacks were uniting themselves with the Negritude movement while the British West Indies saw an explosion of literary achievements, especially through the literary work of Derek Walcott.

Yet, there was something about Harlem, New York, that made the renaissance become one of the most acclaimed literary and artistic movements in the history of the United States. Harlem, per se, and its strategic location as the home of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, W.E.B. Du Bois' Crisis and other prominent literary, cultural, and political magazines and newspapers, and jazz legends such as Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, was a haven for black folks, or as the title of the March 1925 issue of Survey Graphic proclaimed, "Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro." The subtitle was designated by Alain Locke, whose later work, The New Negro, is said to be the text that actually launched the Harlem Renaissance. Although later criticized for some of his decisive editorial judgments as editor of The New Negro, Locke's work helped to propel the idea that a cultural awakening, a new spirit, was emerging among African Americans in Harlem. Locke viewed the Harlem Renaissance as a "belief in the efficacy of collective effort in race co-operation." (3)

The goal of this collective effort was to use art as a vehicle for knowledge, understanding, and change. In his pivotal work, The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance, Locke makes the distinction between the "Old Negro" and the "New Negro. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reading the Harlem Renaissance into Public Policy: Lessons from the Past to the Present
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.