Harlem Renaissance Re-Examined

By Victor A. Kramer; Robert A. Russ | Go to book overview

"A LACK SOMEWHERE":
NELLA LARSEN'S QUICKSAND AND THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE

LILLIE P. HOWARD

All of us know that the gay and sparkling life of the so-called Negro Renaissance of the '20's was not so gay and sparkling beneath the surface as it looked.

( Langston Hughes, The Big Sea)

That the Harlem Renaissance represents the most phenomenal outpouring of art in all of its forms--music, drama, poetry, fiction, dance, sculpture, painting-- by Black Americans since Africans reached these shores in the 1600s, there is no doubt. Much of the art from that period still remains and much of what we find in contemporary Afro-American literature, art, or music is not new but a recreation of themes, variations of dreams, first posited by black artists during the 1920s. The Harlem Renaissance, then, like no other period before or after it, represents the pinnacle of artistic achievement for Black Americans. It was "the period when the Negro was in vogue." 1

During the 1920s, masses of people, but Black people in particular, were taking the picaresque journey toward the self, toward freedom, possibility, opportunity. It was a journey that had hitherto been thwarted by slavery, sharecropping, injustices of momentous proportions, not all of these the makings of whites. When the thousands of Black picaros arrived in New York and began to express themselves, Black America was in its heyday. Or so we are told. Few Blacks believed this, however, even back then.

For one thing, says Langston Hughes, the famous Cotton Club was "a Jim Crow Club for gangsters and monied whites" and the "cabarets and bars where formerly only colored people laughed and sang" were frequented by whites who

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