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The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (1926)

  • Langston Hughes
  • Opening of the musical Shuffle Along 1921
  • The Civic Club dinner March 21, 1924
Harlem Rennaisance

1918 -1937


Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.

In the early 1900s, a few middle-class black families from another neighborhood known as Black Bohemia moved to Harlem, and other black families followed. Some white residents initially fought to keep African Americans out of the area, but failing that many whites eventually fled. Outside factors led to a population boom: From 1910 to 1920, African American populations migrated in large numbers from the South to the North, with prominent figures like W.E.B. Du Bois leading what became known as the Great Migration.In 1915 and 1916, natural disasters in the south put black workers and sharecroppers out of work. Additionally, during and after World War I, immigration to the United States fell, and northern recruiters headed south to entice black workers to their companies. By 1920, some 300,000 African Americans from the South had moved north, and Harlem was one of the most popular destinations for these families.


The Black Arts Movement was politically militant; Baraka described its goal as “to create anThe literary aspect of the Harlem Renaissance is said to have begun with a dinner at the Civic Club celebrating African American writers. The likes of Countee Cullen and W.E.B. DuBois mingled with members of the white literary establishment, and doors opened: editor and critic Alain Locke was offered the chance to create an issue of the magazine Survey Graphic on “Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro,” which later became a book-length study. Even before the Civic Club dinner, writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance were publishing important early works. Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows, James Weldon Johnson’s anthology The Book of American Negro Poetry, and Jean Toomer’s Cane were all published in these years.

By the 1930’s, unemployment and municipal neglect had transformed Harlem. Though scholars hold differing views as to when the Harlem Renaissance ended, some point to the Harlem race riot of 1935 as a bookend to the movement. When rumors circulated that police had murdered a black Puerto Rican teenager for stealing a ten-cent pocket knife from a local store, more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Harlem. The protests soon turned violent and resulted in three deaths, 125 arrests, and more than two million dollars in property damage. Other economic factors brought changes to Harlem, and many residents moved away from the area. Poets from the Harlem Renaissance left an immeasurable impact on modern and contemporary poetry, inspiring the Black Arts movement of the 1960s and 70s, as well as international art movements of the African diaspora, known as Negrismo in the Caribbean and Négritude in the Francophone world.