The Harlem Renaissance, which took place in the 1920s and 1930s, was a cultural and intellectual movement centered in Harlem, New York City.
It marked a period of immense artistic, literary, and intellectual expression by African Americans.
During this time, Harlem became a vibrant hub for African American artists, writers, musicians, and intellectuals who sought to celebrate their heritage, challenge racial stereotypes, and demand social and political equality.
The Harlem Renaissance showcased the richness and diversity of African American culture and had a lasting impact on American art, literature, and social consciousness.
Timeline of the Harlem Renaissance
1917 – The Great Migration begins
The Great Migration refers to the mass movement of African Americans from the rural Southern United States to urban areas in the North, including Harlem in New York City.
This migration was primarily driven by the desire to escape racial segregation, economic hardships, and violence in the South. African Americans sought better job opportunities, improved living conditions, and the hope of greater freedom and equality.
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The migration significantly increased the African American population in Harlem, transforming it into a vibrant cultural and intellectual center.
1918 – Charles S. Johnson moves to Harlem
Charles S. Johnson was a prominent sociologist, writer, and editor who played a crucial role in documenting and promoting the achievements of African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1918, Johnson moved to Harlem and began studying the African American community. His work focused on the social, economic, and cultural conditions of African Americans, and he became a leading figure in shaping the intellectual discourse surrounding the Harlem Renaissance.
1919 – Publication of “The Negro in Industry” report
“The Negro in Industry” was a significant report published by the National Urban League in 1919. The report documented the challenges faced by African Americans in urban areas, particularly in the industrial sector.
It highlighted the discriminatory practices, limited job opportunities, and harsh working conditions experienced by African American workers.
“The Negro in Industry” shed light on the systemic racism and economic inequalities that African Americans faced and contributed to the growing awareness of racial injustice, laying the groundwork for discussions on civil rights and social equality during the Harlem Renaissance.
1921 – African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) is founded
The African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) was a socialist organization founded in 1921 in Harlem. The ABB aimed to fight for the rights and liberation of African Americans through direct action and political activism.
It sought to address the social and economic inequalities faced by African Americans by advocating for self-determination, equal rights, and fair treatment.
The ABB believed in the power of organized labor and encouraged African Americans to unite and challenge the systemic racism and oppression prevalent in American society.
1922 – Article in The New York Times brings attention to African American issues
In 1922, The New York Times published an article titled “Colonial Exploitation Seen by Reds: Communists Denounce Britain’s African Policies at Harlem Meeting.” This article drew attention to a meeting held in Harlem where Communists denounced British colonial policies in Africa.
The article helped bring national attention to political and social issues faced by African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance.
It highlighted the growing activism and political consciousness within the African American community, as well as the importance of international solidarity in addressing racial injustices.
1924 – Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life is founded
Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life was founded in 1924 by Charles S. Johnson. It quickly became one of the leading publications during the Harlem Renaissance.
The journal provided a platform for African American writers, artists, and intellectuals to showcase their work and express their perspectives.
Opportunity played a significant role in promoting and shaping the cultural and artistic achievements of African Americans during the movement. It featured poetry, fiction, essays, and visual art, contributing to the rich literary and artistic landscape of the Harlem Renaissance.
1925 – Publication of Alain Locke’s anthology “The New Negro”
“The New Negro,” edited by Alain Locke, is a groundbreaking anthology published in 1925. It became a defining publication of the Harlem Renaissance, as it presented a comprehensive collection of works by African American writers, poets, and artists.
The anthology showcased the diversity and talent within the African American community, challenging prevailing stereotypes and demonstrating the intellectual and artistic capabilities of African Americans.
“The New Negro” played a crucial role in shaping the movement’s identity and highlighting the significance of African American cultural contributions to American society.
1925 – The New Negro Movement flourishes
The New Negro Movement, also known as the Harlem Renaissance, reached its peak in 1925. This period saw a vibrant and flourishing artistic, literary, and cultural scene in Harlem.
African American writers, poets, musicians, artists, and intellectuals gathered and collaborated, exchanging ideas and creating groundbreaking works.
The movement celebrated African American heritage, challenged racial stereotypes, and sought to redefine the image and perception of African Americans in society.
It was characterized by a sense of pride, cultural exploration, and a demand for social and political equality.
1925 – The Savoy Ballroom opens
The Savoy Ballroom, a famous Harlem jazz club, opened its doors in 1925. It quickly became a cultural epicenter and a symbol of the vibrant nightlife during the Harlem Renaissance.
The Savoy Ballroom was renowned for its innovative dances, such as the Lindy Hop, and its lively jazz performances.
It attracted both African American and white patrons, becoming a space where racial barriers were momentarily blurred, and people could come together to enjoy music, dance, and socialize.
1927 – Langston Hughes publishes “The Weary Blues”
In 1927, Langston Hughes, one of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance, published his first poetry collection titled “The Weary Blues.”
This collection established Hughes as a leading voice of the movement. His poems, inspired by the rhythms and experiences of African American life, resonated with readers and celebrated the beauty, struggles, and aspirations of the African American community.
“The Weary Blues” showcased Hughes’ lyrical talent and his ability to capture the essence of the Harlem Renaissance in his writing.
1928 – The Apollo Theater opens
The Apollo Theater, originally a burlesque venue, opened in 1928 in Harlem. It quickly transformed into a renowned theater and performance space that showcased African American talent during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.
The Apollo Theater provided a platform for African American musicians, comedians, dancers, and performers to showcase their skills and gain recognition.
It became a launching pad for many artists who later achieved fame, and its legendary Amateur Night offered aspiring performers the chance to compete for audience approval and potentially secure professional opportunities.
1929 – Stock market crash and the Great Depression impact the movement
In 1929, the stock market crash marked the beginning of the Great Depression, which had a profound impact on the Harlem Renaissance.
The economic downturn led to significant financial hardships, reduced funding for arts and cultural institutions, and limited opportunities for artists and writers.
Many individuals and organizations that had supported and patronized the Harlem Renaissance faced financial struggles, resulting in a decline in artistic and intellectual activity.
The movement gradually lost momentum, although its cultural impact and legacy endured, continuing to influence future generations of artists and activists.
1935 – Establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)
In 1935, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was established. The WPA aimed to provide employment and financial support for individuals affected by the Great Depression, including artists, writers, and performers.
During the Harlem Renaissance, the WPA played a crucial role in sustaining the cultural and artistic scene in Harlem. It funded various projects, including public art, mural paintings, and community-based initiatives.
The WPA’s support helped many African American artists and intellectuals continue their creative endeavors and contributed to the preservation and promotion of African American culture during a challenging period.
1940 – The Harlem Renaissance comes to an end
By the 1940s, the Harlem Renaissance had come to an end. Several factors contributed to its decline. The economic hardships of the Great Depression had taken a toll on the financial support and resources available for artistic endeavors.
Additionally, shifting societal and political dynamics, including the onset of World War II, diverted attention and resources away from the cultural movements of the 1920s and 1930s. However, the impact and influence of the Harlem Renaissance continued to resonate.
The movement had laid the groundwork for future generations of African American artists, writers, and intellectuals, and it remains an essential chapter in African American and American cultural history. The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance endures, inspiring ongoing discussions on race, identity, and artistic expression.