Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

"Harlem Renaissance"

period: 1910s-30s (some critics extend to extra phases or generations)

How it starts or develops: Large numbers of rural and southern African Americans move to northern cities in early 20th century, partly to escape segregation, partly for economic opportunity created by World War 1 (1914-18).

Formerly isolated artists and intellectuals meet, share ideas, cooperate on shows and publishing.

How it ends: Great Depression in 1929 wrecked patronage system and "fat of the land" on which a movement like the Harlem Renaissance survived, writers dispersed. (As with American Renaissance, though, most of the chief writers survived this period and kept writing, but less as a movement.)

Other terms or names for Harlem Renaissance:

"The New Negro Renaissance"--this term was used frequently during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. (p. 2096 Alain Locke, The New Negro, 1925)

"The African American Renaissance"

Advantages of other names: Renaissance wasn't limited to Harlem; authentic widespread historical usage.

Disadvantages of other names: Many avoid "Negro" except in a historical sense, often with "air quotes."

--African American Renaissance is inclusive but drier and duller.  People remember "Harlem Renaissance" because it sounds like something real, has specificity and flavor, whereas "African American Renaissance" sounds like a scholarly construct. (Cf. "Regionalism" and "Local Color.")

Other continuing critical issues:

Was audience black or white? If both, how to reconcile different traditions and forms?

Need for white support and patronage may have distorted styles.



Major figures or writers:

Claude McKay

Langston Hughes

Zora Neale Hurston

Countee Cullen

Jean Toomer

Nella Larsen

Jessie Redmon Faucet

Alain Locke

Arna Bontemps

Gwendolyn Bennett

Sterling Brown

James Weldon Johnson




Duke Ellington

Count Basie

Fats Waller

Roland Hayes

Billie Holiday

Ella Fitzgerald

Sarah Vaughn

Paul Robeson



Aaron Douglas

Jacob Lawrence 


Politics / Activism:

Hubert Harrison, Liberty League, The Voice

W. E. B. Du Bois

Marcus Garvey

A. Philip Randolph


Cultural sites:

Cotton Club

Savoy Ballroom

Apollo Theater



John Carroll University multimedia site on Harlem Renaissance

Artlex site on Harlem Renaissance visual art

Harlem Renaissance timeline