Harlem One Stop

The Harlem Renaissance: What Was It, and Why Does It Matter?

What was the Harlem Renaissance and when did it begin?
By Cary D. Wintz – February 2015

This seemingly simple question reveals the complexities of the movement we know varyingly as the New Negro Renaissance, the New Negro Movement, the Negro Renaissance, the Jazz Age, or the Harlem Renaissance. To answer the question it is necessary to place the movement within time and space, and then to define its nature. This task is much more complex than it might seem.

Traditionally the Harlem Renaissance was viewed primarily as a literary movement centered in Harlem and growing out of the black migration and the emergence of Harlem as the premier black metropolis in the United States. Music and theater were mentioned briefly, more as background and local color, as providing inspiration for poetry and local color for fiction. However, there was no analysis of the developments in these fields. Likewise, art was discussed mostly in terms of Aaron Douglas and his association with Langston Hughes and other young writers who produced Fire!! in 1926, but there was little or no analysis of the work of African American artists. And there was even less discussion or analysis of the work of women in the fields of art, music, and theater.

Fortunately, this narrow view has changed. The Harlem Renaissance is increasingly viewed through a broader lens that recognizes it as a national movement with connections to international developments in art and culture that places increasing emphasis on the non-literary aspects of the movement.

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