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The Harlem Renaissance - Essay Example

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Although generally considered an African-American literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance extended far beyond books and poetry to embrace art, dance, and music. The creative minds behind the Harlem Renaissance used artistic expression to make a significant impact on all aspects of society, while also endowing African-American with their first sense of identity not defined by slavery.
During the early 20th century, three-quarters of a million African-Americans escaped the economic depravation of the South and migrated northward to urban cities in a desperate attempt to find good jobs and economic security and also searching for a more racially tolerant society. 175,000 of these African-Americans settled in New York City (Wintz 15). To attach a stark beginning to the Harlem Renaissance by singling out one particular text is an exercise in futility and bound to spur debate. Black writers had been published since the 19th century, but the differentiation that makes the Harlem Renaissance easily definable as a turning point was the breadth of topics that black writers covered. The true origins of the Renaissance lay not in any single work that ignited a revolution, but in the various and multiple congregations of shared interests by those desiring to propagate the stunning burst of creativity through the publication of literary magazines and books. This collective urge to help one another was a primal element in turning the movement from a purely literary one into one that embraced all the fine arts; it was also integral in turning the Harlem Renaissance into a search for a new identity for an ethnic group previously defined by the centuries of slavery. Although the artists created vital and lasting works of literature, art and music, the Harlem Renaissance quickly became just as important for the way in which is gave African-Americans a real culture and a pride in acknowledging and embracing that culture. Prior to this era, the representations of African-Americans in American literature were that of the illiterate and inferior peasant who made his living in the dirt of the cotton fields. The intellectuals contributed to the significance of the Harlem Renaissance by understanding and contributing to its purpose in defining positive role models for blacks. One of the immensely important traits of the Harlem Renaissance is that cooperation was considered a better way to facilitate even the individual works than competition. An intuitive sense that any single artistic endeavor was going to define all others created an effort by everyone involved to create a cultural tapestry that served not just other artists, but audiences as well. In fact, the movement essentially created the idea of the black intellectual for both Americans and Europeans. The creation of the "New Negro" in Harlem represented the liberation of the last vestiges of slavery, those of low esteem and even self-doubt and self-revulsion (Kramer and Russ 134-136)
Critics, however, question whether the Harlem Renaissance really achieved its aims of forging a new identity for blacks separated from the history of slavery. One of the criticisms is that by trying to create distinct culture separated from the past abuses and even the contribution of Anglo-European traditions it succeeded only in alienation. A more potent criticism is that the Harlem ...Show more


The Harlem Renaissance remains one of the most significant artistic movements in American history, far surpassing its original importance to one specific minority. The renaissance served to create a consciousness of identity for African-Americans, while also forcing white American to confront the importance of an ethnic group too long considered inferior…
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