Voices of the Harlem Renaissance Lesson 1

Lesson 1 Study Notes

I want to begin here with what might appear to be the obvious, and that is a somewhat rhetorical question. What was the Harlem Renaissance? Now, I know students who have been with me before have certainly heard me reference this insist in the past, but I want to be not only comprehensive, but a bit more specific and detailed in my description and definition of what exactly the Harlem Renaissance was. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural and spiritual awakening in America by black people that redefined who they were and how they operated.

1920 just after World War I to 1945 just after World War II. And it included achievements in the areas of scholarship, entertainment, literature, sports, and religion. Now, let me say this because I think this is the most compelling component of the discussion that we're having today in terms of the value of the Harlem Renaissance, and that is that the Harlem Renaissance took place approximately 50 years after the close of slavery. Let me say that again. So, the birth of the Harlem Renaissance occurs 50 years after the close of the Civil War. That would have been 1865. So, in 1920 or 1921, several things had happened.

Not only had America come to a close to the Civil War in 1865, but that was followed by an approximate 10-year period that we call Reconstruction. That was a golden era for black people. Millionaires were made, property was purchased, movement took place, migration was nationwide, and it was a bright moment for the African-American community from 1866 to 1876, the presidential election of 1876, which included the Hayes-Tilden compromise. I do encourage you to Google it and become familiar with it. But essentially, it was the election of Rutherford B. Hayes out of Ohio who was running against Governor Tilden from New York. The race, the political race, was so close until it had to be decided in Congress.

The state of Florida and Ohio, the Electoral College let the conclusion of the race literally up in the air, and Congress had to decide who would be president. Rutherford B. Hayes made a compromise or a suggestion or a proposal that if he was allowed to become president through the Electoral College, he would withdraw federal troops from the South who had been protecting

black people. And by withdrawing those federal troops, the era of Reconstruction would collapse. And the result was Jim Crow, segregation, and a return to the oppression and the persecution of black folk, especially in the Southern region of this country. So the election of 1876 literally reversed what was taking place in African-American communities all across the country. In the wake of that 1876 decision, we come up with Jim Crow laws where states in the South re-instituted legal measures to keep African-Americans not only separated, but

disenfranchised from the American dream. 1895 would be Plessy versus Ferguson and the legalization of segregation in this country. By 1900, we have literally hundreds of lynchings of black people around this country. And so by the time we get to 1920, get what I'm saying now, there had been a 50-year history that had for a moment been bright, but for the most part had been dark and dismal. And so this Harlem Renaissance, which takes place right on the heels of World War I, was an attempt, get this beloved,

it was an attempt to redefine who black people were, because by this time, they not only were disenfranchised, They were devalued. They were mistreated. They were abused. And it was difficult for them to raise their heads with pride. And so the Harlem Renaissance was a movement that said to black people in this country, you have value, you have work, you ought not be the targets of abuse and segregation and oppression. And what grows out of this mentality,

watch this beloved, what grows out of this attitude is a whole new approach to who and what we were. And it wasn't confined to just a specific area. As I have listed here on the screen, it touched scholarship, academia, the field of entertainment, the field of literature, sports, and for our purposes today, even religion. And so I'm going to talk about how the Harlem Renaissance impacted, watch this, the practice

of Christianity by black people in this country. So, to talk about the Harlem Renaissance, we begin with the area of academia or the area of scholarship. Why? Because one of the trademark characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance was the changing – watch this, beloved – was the changing of how we refer to ourselves. It was Alan Locke who would introduce the term, the new Negro, as a preferred term for black people.

Up until this time, black people were politely referred to as colored or colored people, and unpolitely, the N word. So that whenever we were referred to, we were referred to as the N-word or a derivative of the N-word. Negros was a term that was very, very popular during this time. And it was this academician and this writer who you see pictured here on the screen, Alan Locke, who said to black people, the term that best represents who you are is Negro.

And he introduces the term, the new Negro. And there was a campaign and an effort to no longer refer to ourselves as Negroes or colored, but to refer to our, or even the N-word, but to refer to ourselves as Negro. In Spanish, the word Negro means Black. It has a long etymological history, but it was a radical move at the time. Now, I know we have long since abandoned the use of Negro, especially in the 1960s and

the 1970s, but what I'm trying to get you to see, beloved, and understand is that well before we started calling ourselves Black and African-American or Afro-American, the The most radical term that could be used to describe who we were was the term Negro. In 1920 and 1921, it was as a radical approach to describing ourselves as Afro-American and African-American would be in the 1970s and the 1980s. That was introduced to us by Alan Locke. And so it was the field of scholarship, watch this, and the influence of the Harlem Renaissance

on scholarship that gave us a new term to use in referring to ourselves. Now, since I've begun with academia and scholarship as it relates to the Harlem Renaissance. Let me kind of stay in that category for just a moment. Joining Locke in the field of education was W.E.B. Du Bois, who was the first man of color to earn a PhD from Harvard University in the year 1895. And so, actually, 20 years prior to the blossoming and the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, we

have this intellectual giant by the name of William Edward Burkhardt Du Bois, who actually earns a PhD. This is not an honorary degree. This was not something that was given to him. This is something that he worked for. He would go on to write, and please put this down, he would go on to write this seminal book, The Souls of Black Folk.

I forgot to put the word folk here, but The Souls of Black Folk. And perhaps even more importantly, serve as the editor of The Crisis Magazine. The Crisis Magazine was a publication, monthly publication, that was produced by the NAACP. Now, in the field of literature and periodicals, in the 1920s, the major, watch this,

the major Black periodicals were produced by civil rights organizations. So NAACP produced the Crisis, you had the Urban League, you had the other civil rights organizations. All of them produced a periodical that benefited the now big role community. It's not like later with Ebony and Jet that were private enterprises. These were enterprises that were sponsored by nonprofit organizations dedicated to the proposition of freedom of now the new Negro here in America. And so when it comes to black intellectualism, there is no better representative of black

intellectualism during the Harlem Renaissance than William Edward Burkhardt Du Bois and Locke make up, and there were certainly many other scholars and academicians during this period of time. I could talk about Hugh Franklin Frazier. I could talk about Zora Neale Hurston, other lettered individuals who made contributions during this time. But for the purpose of this presentation, the person that I really want you to know is Alan Locke because of the introduction of the term, the new Negro. And then, of course, W.E.B.

Du Bois, who's writing and helping to lead the fight for civil rights. He is an architect and a founder of the Niagara Movement that had started as early as 1919. And of course, later that Niagara movement would evolve into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP. So that kind of makes up the academic contribution to the Harlem Renaissance. contribution to the Harlem Renaissance.
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