A rebirth of the old negro

Harlem Renaissance

African-Americans have progressed both socially and politically since their early days of captivity in the United States of America. Society negated these people a voice and portrayed them in a negative light. Neglecting to look back at history is to be ignorant of the strength and determination carried by those before us. African Americans, who sought racial equality to the whites, used the Harlem Renaissance to their advantage. From 1920-1930, African Americans acknowledged the need for integration. Artistic means were used to describe the ongoing social oppression of the African Americans. Through this the white people to begin acknowledging the blacks' contributions to society. The Harlem Renaissance allowed for writers and artists to integrate into the mainstream culture which shaped a new American culture and racial inclusion.

The Great Migration was the main factor that led to the Harlem Renaissance. The Great Migration was caused by a decrease in European immigration from previous years. Millions of poor black farmers and laborers went to heavily populated cities such as New York and Detroit in search of job opportunities. During this time period, Big Businesses were more apt to hire cheap African American labor than that of the white veterans returning home from World War I. African-Americans had fewer jobs because white veterans would often demand to be paid higher salaries than them (Bodenner, Chris). Along with the pull factor of job opportunities, the living environments of African-Americans in the South caused a push factor. Many living in the South were forced to cope with natural disasters such as boil weevil infestations and drought (Hill, Laban Carrick).

African Americans living in both the North and South had been accustomed to the stereotyping by the white people. Blackface was a popularly used mask that reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans. For instance, in many of the minstrel shows, in which Blackface characters act in, African-Americans were portrayed as foolish and uncivilized beings. The unfair generalization placed upon African Americans increased their desire for change in society. This desire only increased socially and politically as the years progressed. The impact of the stereotypes had renewed the need for African-Americans to show society their new character (Bodenner, Chris). Stereotyping of the African-Americans in various medias such as theatre and art also helped lead to the Harlem Renaissance.

Along with stereotyping, a passion to change from the "Old Negro" in society moved African Americans to renew themselves. W.E.B DuBois, a leader during the Harlem Renaissance, felt that in order to leave the old stereotypes of African Americans behind, a new title for African Americans needed to be applied. As a result, W.E.B DuBois created the term "New Negro" to describe the ideas and attitudes of the new African American of the 1920's. Unlike the "Old Negro" this "New Negro", Alain Locke described would "smash all of the racial, social and psychological impediments that had long obstructed black achievement". Locke also wanted black artists to "powerfully express their own lives thoughts and culture." The term "New Negro" was essential to be implemented if any hopes of social, political and racial equality were to be reached. The "New Negro" allowed for African Americans to recreating a new persona and helped the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem, New York was the prime location for African Americans to create a new persona. There, African Americans explored numerous medias as a means to find acceptance in society. Struggling for acceptance, they also reminded society of the importance of peaceful cultural integration. With this in mind, Harlem, being the only place in the U.S that allowed for the most interaction between black and white artists and entertainers, became the, "Negro capital of all the world" (Bodenner, Chris). Harlem also gave African Americans optimism and belief that they may be able to contribute to society as artists and entertainers.

As African Americans progressed forward towards racial equality, there were white people who held resentment against them and worked hard to make sure African Americans failed. One particular act created by white people to hold back the African American movement created the 'Property Owners Protective' in Harlem as a response to the Great Migration that would, "get rid of colored people" (Hill, Laban Carrick). This group specified the rights of home owners concerning which types of people were allowed to be sold to. White people who had lived in Harlem and attempted to sell their houses were unable to sell to African Americans. If an African American was to move in next door to a white person, chances are the white person would move instead.

Aside from the attempts made by many white people to restrict African Americans, few white people made efforts to support the artists and entertainers the Harlem Renaissance produced. African American artists and leaders took their trials and tribulations faced on a daily basis in the 1900's, and transfigured them into a media easily accessible to the world. White patrons sponsored numerous works of art and writing during this time period that Harlem Renaissance artists created. For instance, writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, wrote "Their Eyes Were Watching God" a tale of a woman mistreated in society and trying to find her purpose in life. As a symbol of their interest, more white people supported them financially as patrons and pushed blacks to continue releasing newer content. White people gradually began coming to Harlem as a place to escape the "pressures of society and respectability put on them in a predominantly white area".

Although more white patrons began supporting Harlem Renaissance artists, African Americans had to change themselves as individually. In order to support W.E.B Dubois's term, "New Negro", African Americans had to prove that they are different people that can contribute to society. They were constantly reminded of the obstacles in their way such as poor self-images and national mindsets of minority. In hopes of adding hope, James Weldon Johnson in his Book of American Negro Poetry, he stated: "The status of the Negro in the United States is more a question of national mental attitude...nothing will do more to change...than... the production of literature and art". James W. Johnson most bluntly states that in order to allow for cultural integration, blacks must show themselves to be dignified through expressive art. (Chambers, Veronica). Once African Americans were able to change themselves, integration was able to be sought after.

Cultural integration was sought after by numerous African American leaders once they acknowledged the fact that cultural integration was possible through Harlem Renaissance artists. These artists, who had initially been focused alone on expressing and perfecting their art, now were in charge of keeping a positive portrayal of black people to allow for integration. Harlem Renaissance artists were now looked at as the epitome of all African Americans. As a result of this, many African Americans looked up to these artists and supported the movement. Harlem Renaissance artists also felt that by expressing themselves artistically and showing their talents, they would one day be seen as "cultured as whites" (Bascom, Lionel C). African Americans had a yearning to become cultured and it was this desire that pushed them on.

African Americans and white people assimilating culturally called for a redefinition of the term American. Many African-Americans felt the only way to be racially included was to "to be as much American and as little Negro" (Hardy, Stephen P). This belief held by many African Americans showed that being American meant leaving behind some African roots in order to learn the American way. W.E.B DuBois acknowledged this and said, "Because of the socioeconomic and political disadvantages that African Americans faced, he argued, the time was not yet right to produce art for art's sake" (Bodenner, Chris). Since racial inclusion was so close, DuBois felt that Harlem Renaissance artists should neglect focusing on the art and instead on the positive impacts it makes on the racial struggle. "As black art gained general acceptance, they reasoned, blacks would be poised to gain political, social and economic equality" (Bodenner, Chris). Not only this, but that the art and literature of the Harlem Renaissance had to focus more on proving the humanity and equality of African-Americans with whites.

The results of the Harlem Renaissance were apparent in the years that followed. African Americans had positively contributed to society with the new styles of music and writing. For once in history, "Black pride surged and a new race-consciousness centered on self worth emerged in nearly all walks of black life" (Hill, Laban Carrick). Racial inclusion with mainstream society helped the lives of all African Americans to come.

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