The Harlem Renaissance – A Brief History and the Major Players

The Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War American South did a lot of damage to Blacks mentally and physically, as these types of laws kept them from eating in the same restaurants, drinking from the same fountains, and going to the same theaters as Whites. And, exclusion can have the adverse effect of keeping people from feeling human. It would stand to reason then, that many blacks wanted to find a way out of the South.

As states: “Disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws led many African Americans to hope for a new life up north. Hate groups and hate crimes cast alarm among African American families of the Deep South. The promise of owning land had not materialized. Most blacks toiled as sharecroppers trapped in an endless cycle of debt” ( However, if a benefit of the Jim Crow South could be argued, it might be the emergence of the Harlem Renaissance that grew out of Blacks moving north and doubling-down on their cultures and histories—much in the same way marginalized groups had done in the past to maintain their own languages against the aggressions of European integration.

What was the Harlem Renaissance?

The Harlem Renaissance was a period between 1910 and the mid-1930s that saw a large amount of Blacks generating art from Harlem in New York City. “ … this period is considered a golden age in African American culture, manifesting in literature, music, stage performance and art” states. The convergence of Blacks on the Harlem area stemmed from The Great Migration from the South to the North that was spurred by the previously mentioned Jim Crow laws that actively worked to undermine Black power. Other factors that led to this migration included, “natural disasters,” a smaller amount of immigration to the United States, and recruitment from Northern companies (

Who were the major players?

The Harlem Renaissance would see the likes of W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Jean Toomer emerge as powerful voices. McKay would produce a collection of poems titled “Harlem Shadows” in 1922, which was a breakthrough for Black writers, and he would go on to write more prominent works. Countee Cullen, who had published volumes of poetry including Color, Copper Sun, and The Ballad of the Brown Girl, was also important in the Harlem happenings. He married W.E.B. DuBois’ daughter Nina Yolande and this was seen as a “major social event in Harlem” (

While this is a small picture of the Harlem Renaissance, it is important to recognize its lasting legacy on writing (and other art forms) due to the publication of many important voices in Black literature, which gave levity and authority to the culture.

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