The People Leisure and Cultures of Blacks During t Essay

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The People Leisure and Cultures of Blacks During the HArlem Renaissance



The People, Leisure, and Culture of Blacks
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
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