The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance brought about many
great changes. It was a time for expressing the African-American
culture. Many famous people began their writing or gained their recognition
during this time. The Harlem Renaissance took place during the 1920’s
and 1930’s. Many things came about during the Harlem Renaissance;
things such as jazz and blues, poetry, dance, and musical theater.
The African-American way of life became the “thing.” Many white people
came to discover this newest art, dancing, music, and literature.
The Great Migration of African-American people from the rural South to
the North, and many into Harlem was the cause of this phenomenon.
Harlem was originally a Dutch settlement. Harlem became one of the
largest African- American communities in the United States, and during
the Harlem Renaissance became a center for art and literature. Many
great writers came about during this time, one of which was Langston Hughes.
Hughes was born in 1902 with the name James Langston Hughes, and died in
1967. He lived most of his adult life in Harlem. He grew up
without a stable family environment. His father moved to Mexico,
and he never really saw much of him. Hughes was often referred to
as “Harlem’s poet” (Haskins 174). Hughes had and still has a great
influence on poetry.
Hughes poetry was a reflection of the
African-American culture and Harlem. He wrote many poems, and continued
to write even after the Harlem Renaissance. He loved Harlem that
was his home. He watched it decline with the onset of the Great Depression.
He saw Harlem turn into a place to be feared by many. It was a sad
and dangerous place to be, after the depression. Hughes described
the impact of the Great Depression upon African-Americans, “The depression
brought everyone down a peg or two. And the Negro had but a few pegs
to fall” (Haskins 174). Langston Hughes valued the teaching of children.
Many of his poems are children’s poems. He often traveled to schools
and read his poetry. His first published works were in a children’s
magazine during the 1920’s. He published a book of ABC’s called The
Sweet and Sour Animal Book. He wanted to inspire the youth, and make
them feel good about themselves. He did not only write poetry, but
that is what he is famous for. Much of his poetry talks of the hardships,
poverty, inequality, etc. of the African-American people. His work
has inspired many people, and is read by many students and scholars.
He is a great positive role model. I personally love his poetry.
It describes these problems within our society that still have yet to be
resolved. It opens the reader’s eyes to the many disadvantages that many
people have suffered through and are still trying to overcome.
Hughes writes about how the African-American
people have been all over the world. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
he talks about them bathing in the Euphrates, building huts by the Congo,
and singing of the Mississippi. I think that this poem is showing
how these people are everywhere. That in America we act as if they
are subordinate, but he is saying to the white people, look at all my race
has accomplished. “We” built the pyramids, and we have been around
as long as these rivers. This is a positive poem. It does not
talk directly about racism nor puts down the white race for being prejudiced
(Lauter 1612-13). In the poem, “I, Too” he describes how he is also part
of what America is. Even if he is sent to eat in the kitchen, he
is as much a part as anyone else. One day he will not be made to
hide and eat in the kitchen. One day people will see that African-Americans
are beautiful people, and will be ashamed of how they were treated.
This poem gives hope to the black community. It makes them yearn
for the day when equality will come and racism will end. Too bad
that the day has still not yet come in this century (Lauter 1618).
In his poem, “Harlem” this is addressed. He wonders what happens
to dreams that are deferred. How long must one still dream of something
that seems like it will never come. The African-American people have
been waiting to be seen as equal for many years, yet it still seems so
out of reach. His poetry seems to address this over and over again
(Lauter 1619). In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” a young
Negro poet said, “I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet” (Lauter 1629).
It also describes how many middle class blacks tried to be more like a”white” person. To disown their heritage in a way and become part
of white America. He talks about how they should learn to appreciate
their diversity and their culture. The blacks should be proud of
their individuality. He thinks that many blacks are taught by white
teachers, see white books and pictures, white papers, and then want to
be what they are seeing. “Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro-and
beautiful” (Lauter 1632). African-Americans must be themselves and
build a foundation for the future blacks to stand upon so they can finally
be “free within [them]selves” (Lauter 1632). He still carries the
hope that one day his people will become equal, and that they can be appreciated
for all that they have done for America (Lauter 1629-32).
James Langston Hughes will always be known
as a great poet who did so much to make his race move toward equality.
He wrote many inspirational poems. He wanted to reach a younger generation
and show them that they can be successful. He wanted the children
to be proud of who they are, and to excel in literature. He was part
of something great. That something great was the Harlem Renaissance.
It was a time of change. A time of happiness for the most part.
A time when many people realized that there were many talented African-Americans.
A time for new things and a new way of doing things. Jazz and Blues
became popular. White people came to Harlem to see how blacks danced,
and what music they listened to. Harlem became a very “hip” place.
The arts flourished all around Harlem. People were having fun.
This influenced many people and ways that still are around today.
The influence of the music can still be heard in some of our music today.
Many authors today were inspired by those of the Harlem Renaissance.
It was a great time for the African- American community, but at the same
time it caused fighting between the middle class and poorer blacks.
The feeling of inequality still existed, but at least African-Americans
were finally getting some recognition for some of the wonderful accomplishments
that they have made.
Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance.
Brookfield, Conn: Millbrook Press, 1996.
Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.”
The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Ed.
Paul Lauter. New York: Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1998. 1619.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.”
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro
Artist and the Racial Mountain.” Lauter 1629-32.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro
Speaks of Rivers.” Lauter 1612-13.