The Harlem Renaissance and Its Reflection of America of the 1920s
The end of the First World War brought significant changes to the United States, especially in terms of culture. The period that marked some of the changes was between 1919 and 1929. Several cultural changes were witnessed in the U.S. during this period including the birth of Mickey Mouse, jazz, sports, the Harlem Renaissance, and others. The Harlem Renaissance is undoubtedly one of the major events that took place in the America of 1920s. It was traditionally viewed as a literary movement centered in Harlem with the aim of championing for the Black civil rights. It was a cultural movement formed during the time for cultural celebration. Before this period, African Americans endured years of slavery and slave trade. In the 1890s, there was a migration of African Americans to the urban North from the rural South. Upon arrival Harlem, they realized that they had common shared experiences in their past and present. Having broken the ties of slave trade and slavery, the African Americans showcased cultural pride. Notably, the Harlem Renaissance marked the rebirth of the African America culture.
In the period before 1920s, African Americans were subjected to hard labor where they could work for 12 hours a day and six days a week under intense heat (Zinn 355). In 1920, the Congress passed a law that put the immigrants in quotas to lock out black and yellow people (Zinn 355). In 1924, there were campaigns against racial discrimination leading to the formation of a movement that stopped the impossibility of equality between Black Americans and whites. The movement was led by Marcus Garvey, with the key message being racial separation, Black pride, and return to Africa (Zinn 357). It was inspiring and most blacks viewed it as the only way to get their way against white supremacy.
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural-cum-political movement that produced plays, novels, poems, dance, music, and other magnificent artworks. These artworks were the true representation of the African-American distinctive culture. This period reflects the evolvement of Blues and Jazz music in America (Murphy 51). These types of music were hybridized into folk music forms that incorporated White and Black cultural elements (Murphy 51). Harlem Renaissance was characterized by an overt racial pride and the development of black identity through art, literature, and music. These were aimed at promoting progressive politics and mitigating racism. The music that emerged at the time was not considered a uniting factor but encompassed a variety of styles including high and low cultures, Pan-American prospective, and traditional jazz and blues. Experimental and traditional literature forms were also part of the music that emerged at the time. The Harlem Renaissance was a representation of themes including the effect of institutional racism, slavery, and Black identity, most of which catapulted the movement. Blacks, in particular, faced a difficult time when it came to writing and performing for the elite white audience coupled with the difficulty encountered in conveying modern Black life experience in the North. This period was seen as a time of fun, the Jazz age, and the time of Black American prosperity (Zinn 357).
Harlem Renaissance was an artistic experimentation catalyst. During the period, African Americans enjoyed the visibility and opportunities for self-expression and publications that had never been witnessed before. A number of writers and artists made a breakthrough during this period, and it marked the development of the Jazz age in the 1919 to 1929 America. Renowned writers such as Theodore Dreiser and Scott Fitzgerald established their roots during this period (Zinn 358). Another important theme of the blues was vulnerability. The musical tradition of African Americans was fundamentally concerned with hardship. The popularity of blues and jazz during the Harlem Renaissance reflect the possibility of the oppositional sensibility of the music industry (Murphy 51). This period reflects diversity and experimentation in the African American culture. Such diversity flourished in performing arts especially the blues and jazz music. It is the time that weaved the African American rhythm into the Langston Hughes’ writing. Hot jazz incorporated some elements derived from African tonal system (Murphy 52). In fact, there is no Harlem Renaissance aspect that shaped the U.S. and the whole world as the Jazz music. There was the integration of the African American and white American culture. Many musical conventions were flouted with jazz, especially its improvised instrumental solos and syncopated rhythms. Most of the people, especially the northern urban dwellers, flocked entertainment joints to see the artists. Both white Americans and African Americans caught the Jazz fever.
African Americans faced hardship before the Harlem Renaissance. However, Harlem brought great work in arts that saw the people move from hardship to a new era of great minds. Evidently, the artists of the Harlem significantly transformed the African American culture. It was a time white Americans refrained from looking down upon African American cultures. Before the Harlem Renaissance, the rights of women were very limited. Women were not allowed to vote and few politicians spoke on their behalf. However, this period marked the change of culture whereby women were now not considered inferior but enjoyed equal rights to men such as the right to vote, which came after the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment (Zinn 358). The right to vote was not enjoyed by all women but by the middle- and upper-class women.
Other than the artistic works that marked the Harlem Renaissance period, there were elements of the cultural shift from male dominance to equality. For instance, in 1922, there were elements of eviction from work with stories of women being evicted from their homes a coal company (Zinn 359). Continued movements and campaigns during this period ended this cultural view of women as being inferior to men. The Harlem Renaissance reflects a period of massive disruption in culture, social order, and redistribution of power. Old community and customs disintegrated and independence, especially for African Americans was achieved (Murphy 3). Notably, before the Harlem Renaissance period, women faced several legal complications. Women did not have the right to citizenship and those who married foreigners automatically lost citizenship (Murphy 25). The period also witnessed a proliferation of a leisure culture that was created by the middle-class Americans who enjoyed better and stable incomes and could afford luxurious and better lifestyles. The culture was a peculiar blend of repression and openness and played a significant role in bridging cultural barriers while reinforcing intimate leisure activities. Visual arts also trace their root to the Harlem Renaissance. Some artists painted realistic portraits that cultivated the next generation. For instance, Lawrence’s collections of artworks are known to have laid a platform for today’s art and they are a true reflection of African American history. Today, a number of artists continue to produce artwork with roots in the Harlem Renaissance period. Today’s theatres and publishing houses can be traced to or mainly associated with the Harlem Renaissance period.
The music of the Harlem Renaissance period is one of the most prominent legacies today. Jazz music still flourishes today and artists such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are the most significant and prominent figures giving a true reflection and picture of the situation in the U.S. in the 1920s. To-date, nearly a century later, the Harlem Renaissance still serves as a very important referral point when one thinks about black urban art in modern American life. The modern art and techniques are truly taking root in the Harlem Renaissance. The movement also left a legacy in terms of cultural change in male dominance. Today, women are not influenced by the culture and they have equal rights as men. The freedom women enjoy today can be rooted in the Harlem Renaissance. When considering slavery, an individual would think of this period because it is during the period that the ties of slave trade and slavery were cut or eliminated in entirety.
Indeed, the Harlem Renaissance was a turning point in African American culture. In the contemporary world, its legacy is that African Americans enjoy equal rights as Whites and other races. Also, it has done away with notion of women as being inferior to men. Besides, the jazz music enjoyed in society today can be traced to the Harlem Renaissance period.
Murphy, Paul. The New Era: American Thought and Culture in the 1920s. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011., https://books.google.co.ke/books?hl=en&lr=&id=EQ8WUWZUvagC&oi=fnd&pg=PR7&dq=Murphy,+Paul.+The+New+Era:+American+Thought+and+Culture+in+the+1920s.+Lanham:+Rowman+%26+Littlefield+Publishers,+2011.+Internet+resource.&ots=Qx-mXvuw0P&sig=y2N_pb7rWJZWlDX9h9EuhLBHIFU&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false
Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. Routledge, 2015., https://books.google.co.ke/books?id=Y8JcCgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=A+People%27s+History+of+the+United+States:+Highlights+from+the+Twentieth+Century+By+Howard+Zinn&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiE0YaDu7PeAhXLzIUKHdH9Ar0Q6AEILTAB#v=onepage&q&f=false