• Exploring American History

Harlem Renaissance transformed black culture

Centuries of slavery had come to an end, as had the struggle for abolition. Now began a time of cultural celebration for Negro Americans. Unfortunately, the “promised land” setting they envisioned failed to materialize in the New South, due in part to white supremacy.

Beginning around 1890, a mass exodus ensued, as a large number of Negroes moved north due to a case of “push and pull”. The “push” was brought about by Jim Crow and disenchantment on the part of Negroes regarding the promise of land ownership. When this did not materialize, it resulted in most of the Negroes sharecropping instead, with little to show for their efforts. To add insult to injury, the boll weevil blight during the 1890s decimated the cotton crop. The “pull” was forged by the North’s booming economy as industry grew at a rapid rate, putting factory owners in the position of needing more workers. In time, hundreds of thousands of blacks left the rural South for urban communities in the North.

As the Negroes flooded the employment market, factory owners felt at liberty to lower wages. This angered the white employees because their wages went down as well. In search of homes, the new arrivals found themselves congregating in run-down urban slums, with the largest area being Harlem. Banning together despite their situation, the residents ignited a sense of cultural pride which became known as the Harlem Renaissance.

As with the legendary Phoenix, the Harlem Renaissance saw success rise from the ashes of frustration and disappointment. Noted individuals such as writers Langston Hughes and Jean Toomer, along with jazz legend Duke Ellington would go on to make a name for themselves, not only in Harlem, but around the country as well.

The Harlem Renaissance not only transformed black culture, but also made it bloom; particularly with respect to the creative arts, and became the most influential movement in black literary history.

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