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Harlem Renaissance

Harlem Renaissance flashes in our mind images of the confidence of W. E. B. Du Bois looking into his camera lenses; graceful and serious look of Langston Hughes, feathered dance costume of Josephine Baker, winsome smile of Bessie Smith and lot more. But the actual picture of the black renaissance that took place in Harlem, New York along with the cultural renaissance is something different from these images. This broke out between the two world wars and was an intense movement both literary and political and had great impact on the urban centers of United States. The experiences of black America in the

past and the existing experiences of the blacks of North became the base of the study of artists and scholars of this period. This period saw blacks refusing to copy the styles of white Americans and Europeans and celebrating their own dignity and using their imagination and creativity. They started expressing their own feelings and creations through art and literature challenging racism and white paternalism. The black culture emerged from the slavery and blacks began to celebrate it with the influence of their ties with Africa and this reflected their exploration of personal and cultural identities.

They started to emphasize their freedom of expression in almost every field they were connected to. Harlem Renaissance influenced the culture Last Name 2 of African American as well as that of whole African Diaspora. The exact time period of this renaissance is difficult to say but it was in its full swing during the period of 1919 to 1930s. However it might have started quite before that and continued even longer. W. E. B. Du Bois was a civil rights activist, an academic and a scholar. He was a writer, editor, historian, a professor of sociology and Pan-Africanist too. He worked on each and

every possibility to find the solution to racism of twentieth century from human rights to scholarships, economic and cultural separation to international communism, integration to expatriation and politics to third world cohesion. Du Bois was a well-known political activist as well as an intellectual leader working for the rights and benefits of African Americans of early twentieth century. He helped to organize the “Negro exhibition” in Paris in which positive contributions of African American people to American society was depicted and was the central theme of the exhibition.

This helped a lot of artists get a platform to express their ideas and exhibit their creations in front of numerous people. Du Bois with the help of William Monroe Trotter, found the Niagara Movement along with Fredrick L. McGhee, attorney of Minnesota. This Movement focused on selection of highest and the best human trading irrespective of caste or race, supported freedom of speech as well as criticism, a belief in labor’s dignity and full male suffrage. This movement reflected a unified effort under a sound leadership focusing on the social and political matters.

Du Bois founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and worked for next 25 years as the editor-in-chief for its publication, ‘The Crisis’ that was then subtitled as ‘A Record of the darker Races’. He used to write lot of columns that were published in different newspapers. He commented Last Name 3 freely and unreservedly on the current events and in less than a decade the circulation of the journal rose from 1,000 to 100,000. He also published writers of Harlem renaissance like Jean Toomer and Langston Hughes.

Du Bois wanted the blacks to achieve higher education especially in liberal arts and challenge the Whites in every field. Some of the activists were of the opinion that Blacks should absorb and fit in the American culture so that they could move their status up in the society. Many denied this but Du Bois said that Blacks had “Double Conscious” mind that helped them decide when it was better to act as Whites and when not. He also believed that teaching was not his duty but a kind of calling to the society. He did not want to oppose the racial separation rather he suggested supporting the black institutes to

defend and improve upon so that they are not destabilized or considered inferior. Du Bois was extremely against the current notion that the African American was biologically inferior and was considered as outspoken opponent for this issue. He argued extensively on this matter and said that the Negroes were normally developed men from physical standpoint and they were absolutely not different from the Europeans or other Whites. His message was to uplift the African Americans in every aspect and for this he even advocated the use of birth control methods too.

Langston Hughes was a writer, poet, columnist, novelist and a playwright and he is well known for his works all through Harlem Renaissance. He was given the first break in 1921 to express his ideas and feelings through his verse “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, in “The Crisis”, which was started by Du Bois. Hughes’ works as well as life both were very influential during this period of time but he was continuously in conflict with his Last Name 4 contemporaries on the issues of the objectives and ambitions of black middle class and those who were considered as midwives during the Harlem Renaissance.

He wanted to uplift his people as he was an ample appreciator of them and wanted them to level themselves up to general American experiences in strength, courage, humor and resiliency. His poetry and fiction depicted the lives of the working class of blacks in America as full of joy, laughter and music even if they led a struggling life. Many foreign black writers were deeply influenced with Hughes’ cultural nationalism and race consciousness of being African American. Hughes’ works were filled with racial pride and he called for racial pride rather than assimilation. His works inspired the

concept that took the lead towards the Negritude movement in France. He was completely against the self-hate attitude of the blacks and the feeling of helplessness that actually prevailed among them. He wanted his people to realize their strength and compete with the Whites in each and every field so that they themselves lift up their standards in the American and European society. People began to consider Hughes as the role model for the pride of black racial and he worked on expanding the image of African American, protested their social conditions and dealt with racial stereotypes.

The decline of Harlem Renaissance had many factors behind it and the prominent one was the inset of Great Depression that put immense economic pressure on all parts of life and society. Most of the organizations had to shift their attention towards social and economic issues and this was the period when Du Bois and Hughes left New York City and relocated to France. However, this did not completely end the renaissance as almost 30 percent of the books were published even after 1929. Works Cited Harlem Renaissance, multimedia resource. http://www. jcu. edu/harlem/index. htm

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