The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was the most exciting and important cultural movement which Afro- Americans had ever experienced. In fact, it was the first period during which a significant number of Americans actually examined Afro-American culture closely and encouraged increased productivity for artistic reasons.
By 1920, Afro-Americans had been publishing literary works for more than one hundred and fifty years: Lucy Terry, a slave in Deerfield, Massachusetts, is known to have composed a poem as early as 1746; Brutus and Jupiter Hammon wrote poetry and essays in the 1760s; and Phillis Wheatley, born in Africa and enslaved in Boston, had a collection of poems published in 1773. In the first half of the nineteenth century, while America debated the issue of slavery with intensifying fervor, additional Afro-Americans earned modest reputations in literature -- in particular, William Wells Brown for fiction and essays, Frances Harper for poetry, and Frederick Douglass for nonfiction. Nevertheless, during the first half of the century Americans generally turned to black writers for pathetic recitations of the agonies of slavery rather than for artistic literature.
After the Civil War, collections of spirituals and Joel Chandler Harris's collections of folktales familiarized some Americans with Afro-American talent for song and tale. Others, however, continued to doubt the edu-