During the Harlem Renaissance
It seems unfair that the pages of our history books or even the lecturers in majority of classrooms speak very little of the accomplishments of blacks. They speak very little of a period within black history in which many of the greatest musicians, writers, painters, and influential paragon’? emerged. This significant period in time was known as the Harlem Renaissance. Blacks attained the opportunity to work at ?upper-class? jobs, own their own homes, and establish status among themselves. To no ones surprise, they still were not accepted into the so called ?upper-class? of white society, but they neither worried nor became distressed over the fact. They created societies of their own which opened doors for blacks to attain opportunities that were absolutely unheard of, just before the Renaissance. It was from this same society where the beautiful melodies of jazz emerged. Colleagues and peers of their own race, which created a powerful bond between them, accepted Blacks. The attitudes which prompted the movement were those that came about because of the beginning of : (1) the nationalist tendencies of the time, (2) the movement of black Americans from slavery to freedom and from rural to city living, (3) Afro- Americans renewed pride in their African heritage, and (4) the influences of the period ?bounded by the close of the Civil War and the economic collapse of the 1930?s.? From education, to the stage of Broadway, to music, and to a revived race, blacks possessed more intelligence, talent, and ingenuity then they will ever be given credit for and it all began with the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the ?New Negro Movement?, was the greatest of literary periods in which creativity and vehemence were clearly expressed. Literature was no longer a white write looking at the black experience from his/her perspective, making judgments and trying to find understanding about the black culture, but of emerging Black American writers that obviously could understand and relate to the context of black life and culture. With these writings came a new feeling of confidence and racial pride which gave these writers the freedom and power to express what it really meant to be black, living within a dominant white society. These writings that vary from novels, autobiographies to poetry behold the unforgettable memories of pain and turmoil and the continuance of the Black American struggle for freedom. The writers of the Renaissance period had to accept a nationalistic perspective so to be able to be totally aware and conscious of the social limitations forced upon the Black American. They also had to understand the frame- work of America to totally understand that they were to be possessions and nothing more. One of the most influential writers of the Renaissance period was James Weldon Johnson. He not only expressed the impact of the characteristic style of the black preacher, but also became a mentor to a majority of black writers who subsequently formed the core of the Harlem group. Just a few of the most eminent writers that emerged from this period was the great Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and W.E.B. DuBois.
Along with the outpouring of literary genius, also came a plethora of black art. Black artists contributed to Harlem?s excitement by creating art, which expressed their identity and introduced black themes in to American Modernism. Form the period of 1919-1929, Langston Hughes described the artistic explosion of the times as he wrote the ?Harlem was in Vogue?. Like the brilliant musicians, poets, novelists, and dramatists that created such influence during the Renaissance of Harlem came the outstanding visual stories of black painters and sculptors. Unfortunately, whites controlled the black exhibition of black art, which they entered into competitions exclusively for black artists. During the 1930?s the programs were abruptly halted which meant that private support for the artists virtually disappeared. Yet, during the period in which black art emerged, it was the first of the arts to define visual vocabulary for Black Americans.
The artists born within the period of the Harlem Renaissance were spread across the country and knew nothing of one another. As time progressed, they began to develop a type of kinship driven by their feelings of political activism, unwavering ethnic pride and a peerless sense of cultural understanding, which ventures out along all geographic regions. It inspired artists to create in a way they never fathomed before. During the 1920?s, black artists had an abundance of professional and creative options in which they chose to represent. One of the great artists of the Renaissance period was know as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. She was an eloquent Victorian, deeply spiritual, a successful sculptor, and was seen as one of the most influential and expressive artists of her time. Aaron Douglas was another artist that associated himself with leading black writers and by illustrating their works, established himself as the ?official? artist of the Renaissance. James Van Der Zee was an astounding photographer that captured the world of that 1920?s Harlem in his portraits. Meta Fuller was an artist before her time but it was only until the 1930?s, that along with Palmer Hayden and William H. Johnson, that she and the rest of them would reach full artistic maturity. It was through the frequent Harmon Foundation exhibitions that their work was first introduce to a national audience. These artists were the visual ?storytellers? of the Harlem Renaissance. They represented all the facets of Black African and American heritage, the traditions of the black folklore and the true essence of black life. Each of these artists broke the mold of previous art and brought to the world the true portraits of the black experience.
The start of the 1920?s may be seen as the end of the ragtime era and the opening of what came to be called the Jazz Age. The transition was inevitable as the passage from one generation to another. The ragtime years are known to have witnesses some of the more radical political developments in American life- socialists and antiwar agitations and the beginning of Black- nationalist ferment. The jazz age was known to be far more irreverent that the ragtime years. Besides making use of some of the affirmations that defined the ragtime era, and pondering on some of the emotional aftermath of the war, the jazz age was filled with new ideas of spontaneity and expression. It astounded the world with its uncanny variations of melody, decoration the word of poets and the feelings behind sculptures and paintings, seizing the new style of Harlem, and giving forth the expressions that have been repressed for too long.
The objective of the ?New Negro? was to create a type of pedestal in which both prominent blacks and whites could see eye to eye. Although black music was nationally acclaimed all around the world, the New Negro felt that it was a threat to their overall plan as a changed people all because it deviated from the accepted norms of the European musical standards. To these people blues and jazz were expressions of an uncivilized people. Yet, the facts still stand that through these types of sounds the true essence of the Renaissance period was better shown and understood rather than through any other expressive resource. A newly formed National Association of Negro Musicians, organized in 1919, felt that the New Negro?s leadership, through music, should be to stimulate progress, discover and nurture talent, to pattern tastes, to encourage fellowship, and to advocate racial expression. Jazz was different, downtown, New York, was a showplace for black musicians, but after hours both blacks and whites went straight to Harlem to hear Black music. The sounds of the dance music of the cabarets, the Black Theater shows the blues and ragtime of the recital and concert halls all created ambiance for the Renaissance.
There were no rules to jazz and it destroyed any limitation set upon it. Jazz is a mixture of Negro origin, plus the influence of the American environment. It is just as deep as religious spirituals yet, tells a more comedic side of the Black history. The elements of jazz have always existed. Just to name a few in which jazz influenced was the ?Irish- jig?, the ?hula hula of the South Seas?; the ?strains of gypsy music?, and of course the ?ragtime of the Negro?. Yet, jazz is all together something more that all of these. It is a release of all of the suppressed emotions at once, an explosion of expressions, and fireworks of musical combinations. Two pioneers of Renaissance jazz were Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington. Henderson?s jazz band was such an influential paragon that it became a standard which later bands would be measured. Duke Ellington was also one of the great elite jazz artists of his time. His bands were influenced by the magical sounds of musicians such as Will Vodery and Will Marion Cook. From them he was able to acquire pointers on technique and orchestration. Two of his most popular 1930 pieces were ?Mood Indigo? and ?It Don?t Mean a Thing if it Ain?t Got That Swing?. Jazz expressed freedom, feelings, sensuality, and soul, all that the music of today originates from.
Temporarily, putting aside all the wonderful things that came about during the Harlem Renaissance, we must then wonder ? how was Harlem conceived?? There was a move known as the Great Migration, which, in essence, was the migration from people in the South to New York City. Examining this period in time, there were just a few Black neighborhoods and their population seemed to be dangerously overflowing. Harlem, at the time, was predominantly white but it had no clue of the drastic change that was bout to take place. In Harlem, real estate prices were rising beyond the actual prices that left the market no alternative but to explode. As the prices plummeted, blacks had the opportunity to buy property, which was unthinkable, just a short time ago. They became the dominant residents of Harlem. The biggest church parishioners, such as that of St. Phillips, moved to Harlem. Along with him came black newspapers, social clubs, and political organizations. In essence, in one rapid moment black Harlem was born.
Harlem residents varied from Black southerners to Afro-Caribbean people who came, specifically, to escape poverty. When foreigners think of America, they vision endless opportunity and streets paved with gold. Well, to even the poorest Harlemite, Harlem symbolized a promise land. Those that migrated to Harlem sang praises of the new-foundland. When given the chance to visit their previous homes migrants arrived wearing the most stylish of garments, singing praises of a place where everyone from the police to their neighbor, in Harlem, shared both the same culture and color. A Black person never had to worry about racism and scrutiny. Harlem was like a hose and the door was shut to any unwanted or undeserved noise.
Not everyone in Harlem was rich. As a matter of fact, most of its residents were hard working people employed as domestics, barbers, number- runners, laborers, and other less important occupations. One innovative idea, which was a way to make needed ends, was to throw what was known as ?rent-parties?. Rent parties were parties given by an occupant of that specific home. Whoever threw the party would charge from ten cents to fifty cents, a person. On the weekends, rent parties thrown in the same neighborhood or even on the same block ran competitions to see who could acquire the most customers. A host?s reputation all depended on the amount of good liquor or good music, if not both. Harlem had several nicknames, some of the many names were ?The City of Refuge?, ?The Negro Mecca?, and ?The Black Manhattan?, and these names were not just given by the high-class of Harlem. Even those that struggled to survive saw Harlem as a place of opportunity. A Harlemite did not care if he/ she was poor, just as long as they could be poor in Harlem is all that mattered.
Writers and intellectuals all around the world were attracted to the optimism, the vibrant nightlife and politics. Painters, writers, and musicians were inspired by Harlem?s cabarets, churches, political clubs, and street corners. What was best about this period was that whites were involved in this era. It was the time when White people accepted Blacks expressing their culture and prosperity without limitations or rules. The only problem with the integration of the nightlife was that the acts were so racy and vulgar that Blacks portrayed themselves as comedic and sexual beings, which fed right into the White perspectives.
This Harlem was the attraction of Black writers, artists, intellectuals, and other ambitious Black men and women. Harlemite’s felt a belonging to a place that they felt belonged to them. It was within this environment that Blacks began to witness the wonders of its culture and race. It was a moment of pride and love among all Harlemites alike. In essence, Harlem symbolized freedom, a type of freedom that has been repressed for so long and a type of freedom that could never be taken away. During the 1920?s novelists, poets, musicians and other artists came to Harlem and began to create their art from the expression of Black people. It was, at that time, when inspiration was in formation, this was Black Harlem.
The Renaissance period could very well be defined as the causes of the beginning of the ?melting pot? theory. IT was a time when Blacks and Whites both entered into free-enterprise; where the subject of class struggle was an open one in which both races partook in and everyone began to take a greater look at what ?inferior? and ?superior? races and civilizations really meant. This phenomenal explosion of emotional expression, known as the Negro-Renaissance, could never be compared to or matched with any other period in Negro or American history. It brought hope and inspiration to a people that yearned to be noticed on America. James Weldon Johnson, along with W.E.B. DuBois emerged in the period right before the 1920?s. They acknowledged that a great part of White America was wondering what they were going to do with the Negro, which of course is now out of slavery. Those were the same White people that never took the time to step into Harlem and see what the Negro was doing for him/herself, to acknowledge any of their accomplishments. That part of white America failed to realize, just yet, that the Negro had accepted America for what it was and in turn put no limitations on their abilities to do great things.
To many that came to Harlem, just like the world-renowned Claude McKay, Harlem was the first positive reaction that most Blacks saw to American Life. It was compared to a paradise filled with beautiful, strong joyous, Black people that were enjoying life. He worked several jobs in Harlem but he continuously ceased to observe the greatness of his people, in turn taking out the time to write poetry expressing all that he was witnessing every spare chance he got. Langston Hughes, one of the most extraordinary writers of all time, wrote as a young Negro artist, for himself and the other Negro artists, that this was their time to express the uniqueness of their individuality of their dark- skinned selves without feeling anything but pride and accomplishment. The feelings of fear and shame no longer existed. It did not matter, whether White or Black, who was pleased or displeased, he, as a young artist, was going to express himself anyway he chose along with many other young artists.
The goal of the New Negro was to become equal to the White society. During the Renaissance, Blacks attempted to secure economic, social, and cultural equality, but it was through the arts that they were going to reach that goal. Charles S. Johnson believed that by using the arts that black people, as a whole, would create a crack in the wall of racism. Unfortunately, racism is what America was founded on, so not even the ingenuity of blacks at that particular time would make much of a difference. What Blacks did accomplish was proving to the world that in which ever field they decide to venture out into, whether it be music, literature, painting, sculpturing, or performing Blacks will always be paragons of creativity, forever astounding the world with Black ingenuity.
To research a time in American history where Black culture, leisure, and people had reached its peak would be to open the door to acknowledge the accomplishments made by Blacks during the Harlem Renaissance. It was so much more than an out poor of artistic genius. If we examine the people of that time we would find there was nothing that they felt they could not do. This self- confidence in which they possessed at that moment is unmatched to any other accomplished moment of Black history. We could only wish that the African American society of today could possess the type of passion and undying spirit once possessed by those that lived in Harlem during that period.
Images of the Black Woman from Slavery to the Depression
Images as Webster states, are the representations of the forms and features of someone or something. The Black woman in the American society has been portrayed many different ways. These portrayals have stuck with the Black woman from slavery times all the way to the Depression. As Zora Neale Hurston said the African- American woman is the mule of society, the Negro woman has not only been oppressed by White men an women, but she has also had to deal with persecution by Black men. It is bad enough when White America bullies the Black woman, but it is doubly offensive when Black men do the samething. The Black woman has always had to be strong and stand up to these injustices of the world. That is why they wore the ?masks that grinned and lied.? The African-American women has played the same role throughout time. It is a wonder that the Black woman did not become extinct due to the mistreatment of her oppresive society.
Catherine Clinton states that the Black woman in slavery had to deal with many issues, not only was she Black, she was also female. This made her have two strikes against her. The slave woman was often required to do the same type of agricultural work as the slave man. Even though she was doing back breaking work on the field she still had other tasks to do during the day. She had to do many duties, such as domestic and child rearing chores that neither White or Black men were supposed to do. The Negro woman was also supposed to be the servant, cook, maid, and wet nurse for the White woman (Finkelman, Paul 12).
It is common knowledege about the relationship between the Slave Woman and her master. The slave master is the reason why there is a Black race. When slaves were first brought to America by Dutch traders, they were Africans. After the Africans came to America and became slaves the White masters raped the African women creating the Black race. This race of people was made to feel inferior. There were so many master raping their slave women that it became nothing unusual, since the Black race was ?inferior? to the White race it was okay for the the master to rape his slave woman. It became very common for members of the southern planter class who recorded their critiques of slavery not to attack the immorality of the owners. But they bemoaned the immorality of the slave. The slave woman was not only having sexual intercourse against her will, she was at fault that the master was raping her. The realtionship between the Black woman and the White man stirred up anger and resentment from White women (Finkelman, Paul 18-20).
The White southern woman scorned the Black woman?s physical attributes. The White woman ?s complaining about the ?unattractiveness? of the Black woman was a defense mechanism against the ? attraction? many White men acted upon with southern society. Joan Gundersen writes about how Black and White women shared the gender created community but they still were not equals. The White woman?s experience was totally different than that of the Black woman?s. The Black woman never had the opportunity to live a ?normal? life. Both races of women had the same gender restraints, but Black women had some different ones. The Negro woman had resrtiction on having children and wheter she was able to keep her child. Slave masters sold many of the slave children to other slave masters and when the masters were raping their slaves they produces many illegitmate children. So instead of taking responsibility for them they either killed the child, denied that it was hteire child, or sold them off. The white woman seldomly worked away from home, but the slave woman had been taken away from her family to work (Finkelman, Paul 129-143).
When the slave woman had to go work on another plantation she left her family behind. Even though slaves were moved from one plantation to the other some of them made strong bonds. The Black woman not only had to deal with the problems of White society they had to deal with the Black man. Slavery among men and women were quite different due to sexual oppression. Many Black men did not know how to treat the Black woman. The only examples they had on how to treat their women was by wathching the masters and how they treated their women. The master did not necessarily treat his woman better than how he treated his slave woman. Many times he was kinder to the slave woman than he was to his own woman (Finkelman, Paul 20).
After slavery the colored woman was still the lowest on the totem pole. No other woman in any other race has suffered the the mental abuse, degradation, and exploitation like the Black woman. In an effort to raise awareness to the suffering of the Black woman, Zora Neale Hurston wrote a widely acclaimed novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, let it be known of the struugles that the Black woman had to go through because of the demands that society makes on her.
Hurston wrote because she wanted the world to see how the Black woman was mistreated after slavery time. The African ?American woman has had her dream deffered many times throught out her life. Just like Hurston?s main character, Janie in Their Eyese Were Watching God, her dream in a way had been deffered for breif moments. It was first deferred by her first husband Logan Killicks and then by her second husband Jody. But unlike so many black women, Janie saw these people as problems and just waited to the right momment to leave these misguided situations (Hemenway 98-100).
It is common knowledges that the image of the Colored woman is that she is supposed to do exactly what her White ?superiors? and what her husband tells her to do. Even though that was what the Black woman was supposed to do she wore the masks that talked about in her poem so that they did not really know what she was thinking and feeling inside. Just because the Black woman was treated badly and were supposed to think negatively of themselves many did not. They only let others see what they wanted to see.
As the years have progressed from slavery to post slavery to predepression times, society was under the notion that the African- American woman can be classified in these other catergories. They feel that she will either be a faithful obeidient domestic servant, the matriarch, the wellfare mother , or the jezebel (James, Stanlie and Busia, Abena 183).
The faithful and obedient domestic sevant was created to jsutify the economic exploitation of the Black woman during slavery. One of the more dangerous consequences may be the tendency for her to agree to do anything that her superior asks of her. She will say yes amd do anything without thinking of the consequences that go along with it the task at hand (James, Stanlie and Busia, Abena 184).
The matriarchs are considered to be overly aggressive, emasculatin, strong, independent, and unfeminine women. The matriarch image, allows the dominant group to blame African-American women for the success or failure, (usually the latter) of their children. The society blames these type of Black women for being to strong and not demure and caring. THEy are in a way scared of these women because these women stand their ground on ceratin issues (James, Staanlie and Busia, Abena 184).
The Black woman has also been depicted as a welfare mother. The welfare mother image is essentially a updated version of the breeder image that was created during slavery. Welfare mothers are viewed as being lazy and content to sit around and collect checks. Whites feel that these women are dangerous because they are fertile and that they produce too many economically non-productive children (James, Stanlie and Busia, Abena 185).
The last stereotype is the jezebel. THe Black woman who is known as a jezebel is basically being called a whore or a sexually aggressive woman. The Euro-American elite male tries to control the jezebels sexuality. They use this image of the jezebel to contrast the white womans virgin appeal. It made it seem that the Black woman waaanted the White man to sexually assualt her. This depiction was to undermine the African-American woman?s self-esteem(James, Stanlie and Busia, Abena 185).
Not only does White men and women put down The Black woman, Black men also put down the Black Woman. In Richard Wright?s Native Son, his main character is Bigger Thomas, and his mother, Mrs. Thomas reprsents the deterioration of the foundation of the Black community. Wright made Mrs. Thomas and the other Colored women in his book weak. There is not one single Black woman that is positive in his book( Kinnamon 35).
Mrs. Thomas was never strong; she worked a menial degrading job that was accepted by white people. She was ?always never a militant,? Harris states. As many Black women came to cultivate and shape the Black culture, Mrs Thomas never did that (Harris 63). What is inconceivable is why would Wright want to depict such a negative image of the Balck woman.
Richard Wright grew up with very strong spritual women in his life, but his book Native Son does not show any of the strong Black woman like his grandmotehr. He reflections of nagging, bitter, self-concisous, haggard women (Felgar, Robert 20).
The picture of the African ?American woman during the depression had not changed very much in the eyes of many. She was still the mule of the world. Noone wanted to give her the recognition that she deserved, she worked twice as hard as her Black male, White male and female counterparts.
During the Depression the Negro woman primarily did domestic work, because they were in doemstic work and that was the largest group of workers at that time, they played a dominat rile in the emergence and formation of the community and were central to its survival. The Depression drastically altered the employment situation for Black doemstics, Unlike natives and foreign born white domestics, the Black woman in response to the situation, had to resort to standing on street corners to find work(Gray, Brenda 4-5).
The greatest influx of Blacks to New York City came during and immediealely after WWI. The foremost reason for the move North was economical surivival, The Severe Depression of the South 1914-1915 had made wages plummet. The Black woman could not get factory work because as Roseschnidermen president of Women?s Trade Union league explained,? the colored girls came from agricultural environment and whites came from sweat shops and because of this the factory work requires too much grind for the color girl who was not willing to endure hard work.? This depiction of what a Colored girl will and will no do is defientely unfair. When it all comes down to it anyone will do just about anything to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. This is an unfair image because it basically states that the Black woman is incapable of doing something very trivial. The Black woman rarely got clerical work or sales work, but if hse did get the job she had to double as a maid so as not to offend the white customers ( Gray, Brenda 21).
With all the problems of an oppressive society the Black woman still made sure she kept her appearace up. She still found time and money to go to the hairdressers. The Depression was bad for everyone especially for Black men and women. Many time the Negro woman had to go and get a job because the White man will not give the Black man a job. The Black woman became the economic stablizers in the community and the survial would not be possible without their well established input (Gray, Brenda 138).
People always talk about the negative side of some Black women and make that the norm for all of the Black women. If it was not for the Black woman this society would not have progressed they way it has. The slave woman started it off by creating the Balck race. The slave woman also took the burden of everyone else and carried it on her back. If it was not for the African_american woman being the lowest portion on the totem pole their would not have been a steeping stool for all the other races to climb on to get to the next level. This woman has been mistreated and overlooked to the point that a lot of others like her feel that this is how they are supposed to be treated. During the tiem from slavery through to the depression the images of the Black woman has not changed much, but the progress that the Black woman has made since then has made a steady trail toward the Black woman taking a stand and trying to erase these negavite depictions of her.