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Emergence Of Black Harlem And The Origin Of Its Residents

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During the 1920’s, a “flowering of creativity” began to sweep the nation. The movement, now known as The Harlem Renaissance caught like wildfire. Harlem, a part of Manhattan in New York City, became a hugely successful showcase for African American talent. Starting with black literature, the Harlem Renaissance quickly grew to incredible proportions. W.E.B. Du Bois, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes, along with many other writers, experienced incredible popularity, respect, and success. Art, music, and photography from blacks also flourished, resulting in many masterpieces in all mediums. New ideas began to take wings among circles of black intellectuals. The Renaissance elevated black works to a high point. Beyond simply encouraging creativity and thought in the African American community, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance completely revolutionized the identity of African American society as a whole, leading black culture from slavery to its current place in America today. There was no single cause which produced the Harlem Renaissance, but there are several historical developments which paved the way.

The first set of contributing factors deal with the cultural background of Harlem from 1900 to 1920. At the turn of the century, Harlem first began to emerge as a distinctly black community. As black population increased, African American culture came to the surface and blacks started to hold prominent roles in this self-motivated community. This afro-centric atmosphere of Harlem appealed to many southern blacks, and as a result, the Great Migration of southern rural blacks to the north began in 1915. Blacks left segregation-endorsing southern states to find newly opened jobs and opportunities in the north. This migration so greatly affected New York that, according to Negroes in the U.S., by 1930 over 52% of Manhattan’s black residents had migrated from South Atlantic states. This migration set the stage for a diverse and interesting Harlem flavor, which led to the Renaissance.

A second cluster of factors contributing to the Renaissance concerns the development of a sense of empowered community among black culture in the “twenties” and the preceding decade. The African American churches played a large role not only in religious thought, but also in building community and self-awareness among blacks. Organizations such as the Negro YMCA and African American lodges and social clubs began to emerge and flourish. In 1909 and 1910, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League were formed. In 1916, Marcus Garvey began the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which stressed nationalism among blacks and urged blacks to be proud of their color and to build social and economic institutions of their own. Although different in some of their ideals, these organizations led to Black Nationalism and community. The prohibition movement also contributed to a broadening awareness of emerging black culture, since prohibition led to illegal sales of alcohol and the flocking of both whites and blacks to the clubs of Harlem. This in turn led to a white interest in black culture, music, and literature.

Another community builder for African Americans was the 1917 East St. Louis Massacre and the increase in lynching incidents, which led to thousands of blacks marching in New York to protest the actions of the whites in the anti-black riot. This event showed whites the strong presence of blacks in New York and opened the eyes of the African American community to see their strength in numbers and the power of a unified goal.

Behind every great movement in history, there are men and women who made their mark. So also the story of the Harlem Renaissance cannot be told without reference to some of the contributors. Carl



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