Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance

By Cary D. Wintz | Go to book overview

6
The Black Intelligentsia: Promoters

A lthough the Negro Vogue, Harlem's famous nightlife, and Van Vechten's notorious novel did much to launch the Harlem Renaissance and to define its nature, equally important was the relationship between the black writers and Harlem's intellectual community. While the writers produced the literature, the intelligentsia served as critics who helped define the movement and give it direction, and they acted as liaison between the creative artist and his or her publishers, patrons, and public. A major critic of the Harlem Renaissance, Harold Cruse, castigated the movement for its dependency on white financial support and accused black intellectuals and the black middle class of failing to provide adequate support and guidance for the Renaissance. To some extent these concerns were valid -- especially the complaint that the black middle class did not adequately support its writers. However, the involvement of black intellectuals in the Harlem Renaissance was both considerable and complex.

The black intelligentsia of the 1920s was a diverse group of men and women scattered throughout the country who were associated with colleges and universities, newspapers, periodicals, black churches, and black political and civil rights organizations like the Urban League and the NAACP. While most black intellectuals, and especially those who resided in Harlem, were deeply concerned about the developments in black literature in the mid-1920s, only a handful including James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP, Alain Locke of Howard University, and Charles S. Johnson of the Urban League can be characterized as major boosters of the movement. These three men were highly visible promoters of the Renaissance whose commitment to and support of black writers was considerably greater than that of any white patron and who were as involved in the movement as any of the black writers. These three men,

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