Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance

By Cary D. Wintz | Go to book overview

10
The Decline of the Harlem Renaissance

T he Harlem Renaissance, which had begun with a burst of creativity in the mid-1920s, gradually dissipated in the early 1930s. Because a number of factors were involved in the decline of the Renaissance and because the movement itself was an abstract concept based on personal commitments and loyalties rather than on a single identifiable person or institution, it is difficult to pinpoint the moment of its death. For the individual writer the end of the Renaissance was a personal event occurring when he or she consciously disassociated from the movement. Black intellectuals also differed in their interpretation of exactly when the movement ended, with some, including historian John Hope Franklin and novelist John A. Williams, suggesting that the movement did not end but continued into the 1960s after undergoing changes in the 1930s. However, the Renaissance did not survive the 1930s. Although black literature continued to exist, it no longer focused on Harlem, and it was no longer dominated by the writers and intellectuals who had so monopolized black literature for a decade.1

The decline of the Harlem Renaissance was a gradual process that began about the time that the economy collapsed in the early 1930s. Rather than a mass defection of black writers from the movement, the Renaissance stopped attracting new recruits. Once vibrant and alive, the Harlem Renaissance began to stagnate in the early 1930s, in part because no new talent or new ideas were infused into the movement. As the older writers died, ceased to be productive, or faded from public view, the new generation of black writers -- Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin -- maintained an identity apart from the Renaissance.

While the end of the Renaissance also ended the careers of several

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