It was a time in history that changed the course of African American literature forever. The cultural movement referred to as the Harlem Renaissance spanned from 1919 to the mid 1930’s according to most Historians. How long it lasted has been debated, but there is no debate or denial to the fact that in Harlem, New York during the 1920’s “Negroes” were on the move. Black folks were migrating from the South to the North to escape Jim Crow. Claude McKay officially kicked off the “New Negro Movement” with his defiant sonnet “If We Must Die.”
This Movement included unprecedented creative activity in writing, art, and music. It redefined the heritage of African Americans. “Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life” was a party hosted by black writers and many white publishers were in attendance. It led to more opportunities for blacks to be published by mainstream publishers. Many African Americans published novels, magazines and newspapers during this time.
Hubert Harrison who organized the first newspaper of the “New Negro Movement” challenged the notion of a Renaissance. He argued that it overlooked the literary and artistic products made available by Negroes from 1850 until that present time. Harrison said the Harlem Renaissance was a white invention. What he probably didn't see at the time, was the fact that the Harlem Renaissance was more than a literary or artistic movement, it was the social development and emergence of the racial consciousness of the “New Negro.”
Charles Spurgeon Johnson of the National Urban League encouraged aspiring writers to migrate to New York. Among them was Countee Cullen (the Romantic poet), Nora Zeale Hurston (anthropologist), and Langston Hughes (playwright and poet). Other writers like: Helene Johnson, Nella Larsen, and Jean Toomer were among those who answered his call also. The artistry and literature of this period facilitated a transformation in the psyche of the “Old Negro.” The “New Negro” was assertive, racial, artistic, and articulate. Alain Locke immortalized this sentiment in his 1925 novel entitled “The New Negro.”
Hughes and Hurston had a short-lived literary magazine called Fire!! It represented the efforts of younger African American writers and set them apart from their older counterparts such as DuBois and Johnson.
According to most, the Harlem Renaissance ended in the 1930s due to the effects of the Great Depression. The economic downturn led to the departure of Harlem's prominent writers. Some say the Harlem Race Riots 1935 signified the official end of the Harlem Renaissance. The Great Depression may have contributed to prominent African American writers leaving Harlem, but the Movement continued in the hearts and souls of the “New Negro.” The artistic, literary, social, and political contributions made during that time transformed a downtrodden people; and the “Old Negro” would never be the same.
Dianne Rosena Jones is the Founder/CEO of Royal Treasures Publishing, a Transformational Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, and Author of the award-winning “Tragic Treasures: Discovering Spoils of War in the Midst of Tragedy” the "Best Inspirational Book of the Year" .