“…Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black…let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible. Let’s create something transcendentally material, mystically objective. Earthy. Spiritually earthy. Dynamic.” – Aaron Douglas
The Harlem Renaissance was originally called the New Negro Movement – a literary and intellectual era that birthed a new black cultural identity in the 1920s and 1930s.
Critic and teacher Alain Locke (a meticulous Virgo) described it as a “spiritual coming of age” in which the black community was able to seize upon its “first chances for group expression and self determination.” Racism was rampant and economic opportunities were scarce therefore creative expression was one of the few avenues available to African Americans. The renaissance was primarily literary while the birth of jazz is generally considered a separate movement—the Harlem Renaissance, according to Locke, transformed “social disillusionment to race pride.”
W. E. B. Du Bois (the encouraging Leo) was a Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar. He was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and white civil rights workers in 1905, Du Bois met in New York to discuss the challenges facing the black community. Four years later the group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement.
Black-owned magazines and newspapers flourished, freeing African Americans from the constricting influences of mainstream white society. Charles S. Johnson (a literary Leo – like myself) owned Opportunity magazine which became the leading voice of black culture, and the leading publisher of W.E.B. DuBois’s journal, The Crisis.
With Jessie Redmon Fauset (a steady Taurus) as its literary editor, they launched the literary careers of such writers as Arna Bontemps (the Libra perfectionist) , Langston Hughes (the hospitable Aquarius), and Countee Cullen (the “me first” Aries).
Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey began his (Leo courageous) promotion of the “Back to Africa movement.” Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government. The movement not only encouraged African-Americans to come together, but to also feel pride in their heritage and race. Marcus was known to hold ‘unity’ meetings in Harlem from time to time – including at the current residence of Fab5Freddy ( the analytical Virgo). It’s good to know that the future of our history remains positively in progress.
Alas, a (Virgo) poet/novelist Claude McKay is published in the magazine Survey Graphics as a literary reflection of the movement in Harlem, along with Jean Toomer (the ambitious [ethnic mixed] writer and philosopher Capricorn) and the (charismatic Gemini) painting artist Aaron Douglas . Survey Graphics was edited by black philosopher Alain Locke, the magazine featured a plethora of works by prominent black writers of the time period.
James Weldon Johnson was a (Gemini) poet, editor and civil rights leader, who wrote about Harlem during the 1920s in his autobiography, Along This Way (1933). He described it as the era “when Harlem was made known as the scene of laughter, singing, dancing, and primitive passions, and as the center of the new Negro literature and art; the era in which it gained its place in the list of famous sections of great cities”. The Making of Harlem, is an article written by James Weldon Johnson, which was published in The Survey Graphic Harlem Number (March 1925) – the article has since ’gone global’.
Zora Neale Hurston (the literal & profound Capricorn) contributed four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays to the credit of the era. She is best known for her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God”. In a letter to Countee Cullen, Zora wrote:
“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”
I agree with Zora as well as all of the artists that were involved in the movement & had great plans for the future. They thought that they could change the world and prevent racial prejudice with their literature and art, and this cultural conviction was taken more than less seriously. Even though we can look back now and see that their hopes were highly optimistic, it doesn’t change the fact that some of the best known African American Authors came from this period. Many wrote in Harlemese; meaning they wrote as they spoke – broken English and all. Zora Neale Hurston was one of the many authors during the Harlem Renaissance that wrote and spoke the lingo . Zora was a southern woman, born in the South but birthed in Harlem….again, much like myself.
The Harlem Renaissance era started “this literal revolution” that I stand on today. The Negro Movement has evolved over the last 90 years. I can truly say — what our ancestors put in place less than a century ago is still serving us today.
Literal, Black & Creatively Expressing,
I’m Qui (a word witty Leo she)
The Harlem Renaissance era is my current blessing.