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About the Harlem Renaissance

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The movement of black masses from the South to the North became known as the Great Migration. Prior to 1910, over 90% of the United States’ black population lived in the United States. By the middle of that decade, the movement had begun. In 1916 it was in full swing and lasted until the early 1970s, with over six million migrants making the North a new home. Many cities, such as Detroit, Chicago, and Harlem, were scarcely populated in relation to the amount of space and infrastructure available, and the black masses populated them. They took the jobs in the factories, rented the tenements houses, and began a new life far from the haunting past left in the South. While their history had been a source of shame and grief, it was time for them to create a future. In years previous they had no place to gather and build their culture. However, these cities would become the launching pad for just such an effort. The Northern cities provided a canvas on which this population could paint a culture to share with the world.

The nation still suffered the cultural curse of the world that existed during the time of slavery. Black Americans were viewed as a different class than all others. Many in the nation viewed them as a people who were less in society than all others. Segregation, the division of black people from all others in every aspect of society, prevailed. This division poised a true setback. Due to the fact that many black individuals were still recovering from being raised by previous generations who were enslaved and had little to no education, they rarely had the jobs that led to wealth. The taxes from the individuals funded schools, which led to schools being drastically below par. With students receiving a less-than-ideal education, the curse could not be broken. The infrastructure in these areas suffered for the same reason. This mean an entire population was not privied to the same facilities as all others. It was apparent to those living on “the other side of the tracks’ that a new train must be rolled out. Two trains of thought began to exist among this population. One train of thought held firmly to the belief that they would demand respect from others. This was a forced respect, which often led to violence. On a completely different track was the train of thought rolling into a station of cultural explosion. This locomotive rolled with the idea that respect cannot be forced but must be earned. At the engine of this train were conductors such as Booker T. Washington, a black orator, writer, and presidential advisor who urged his peers to push for change through education and entrepreneurship. Life in cities such as Harlem was harsh. Poverty prevailed and the mass amount of people newly arrived in these cities made finding a job almost impossible. Leaving time and time again to travel and find work, many fathers finally made the decision not to return, leaving children fatherless and mothers to work for low wages. Crime also increased as a result. This only contributed to the harsh view the outer world wrongfully had of African American culture. For this reason, Washington and other leaders like him, pushed for the population to obtain education, create art, open businesses, and create change. This led to a new image of the culture being perceived by the world.

The leaders of the Harlem Renaissance were well aware that the beginning of becoming a respected culture is education and language. Booker T. Washington once said, “No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.” This inspired a new generation of writers. A plethora of writers came onto the scene as Harlem Renaissance Writers. Possibly the most noted and celebrated was Langston Hughes who mostly wrote short stories and novels.

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