Harlem Renaissance And Its Effects On Society

This essay will show the effects of Harlem Renaissance and the United States on society through the use of different modes such as music. Music would bridge social gaps, religion would institutionalize and poetry could be used as a tool for political and economical advancement.

In the 1920s, black Americans were able to express themselves in a variety of ways. A large part of this creativity was found in New York City and Harlem. A surge of African American publications was witnessed in the second half decade. The term “Renaissance”, which marks a revival in art and literature, was coined here. While the Harlem Renaissance term is convenient, you should remember that NYC saw a rare cultural enlightenment. Because Harlem was imagined to be “a district…distinctly devoted the mansions of the wealthy, at the homes of the well-to-do, and the places of business of the trades that minister to their wants”. It was in this district that the notion that blacks could succeed, find their true identity and develop new ideas began to grow. Black Americans’ creativity was expressed in a variety of ways. They were all motivated by the same urge: to create high-quality, bold art that reflected their social situation.

The United States’ history should be viewed in relation to the trends that are sweeping across the country. Between 1890 to 1910, the black community in New York City almost doubled. Blacks who were born after Emancipation Proclamation began to flee the south and seek a better and different way of living. After WWI, blacks began to feel a sense of community and a connection between events in the country. Many of these ideas were formed by new technologies, like mass transportation and the media, and new thoughts shaped by influential figures such as Langston Hughes and Alain Locke. Ideas that were accelerated and viewed from the perspective of 350,000 African Americans in WWI. Harlem became a place where the idea of black people being able to flourish and succeed with a different way of thinking began to form.

Theological ideas were attractive to black intellectuals and writers because they believed that art could transcend political divides. Despite the optimism and opportunities that dominated their outlook, some were still convinced that race consciousness was necessary to class consciousness. Hubert Henry Harrison argued in 1920 that the Negroes from the Western World must be familiarized with the events in the world’s millions in motion before they can take part in any meaningful way. Alain Locke wrote that the Negro is becoming international as the Jew was.

In the past, when discussing Afro American Literature and Culture, the term “modernism” was used to refer to the work by British, Irish, or Anglo American authors and artists in the early 20th Century. The Harlem Renaissance is closely linked to the modernist movement, which reflects the way in which racial identity, consciousness, and African American literature are conceptualized. In this way, the poetry of Harlem Renaissance seeks to represent the African American perspective in the context and language of the modern age.

Harlem Renaissance authors, like those of their Anglo American counterparts from the British Isles and America in the early twentieth-century, wrote poems that exhibited modernist traits such as fragmentation. Harlem poetry also used modernist themes and techniques to communicate the African American experiences in America. The poets incorporated elements of the African American heritage, such as the black vernacular and blues/jazz rhythms.

Harlem Renaissance Poetry is a diverse collection of perspectives, aesthetics and lifestyles. The complex interconnection of social, political and cultural forces that created the Harlem Revolution left behind a legacy of poems that continue to influence African-American writers of today. Harlem Renaissance modernism relationship is complex. It represents the struggle of African American writers, intellectuals, and musicians to present a black cultural perspective. Harlem Renaissance represents the collective voice African Americans in modernity through literature and poetry.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis asserts that the Renaissance took place in the Black Church and was institutionalized through the Social Gospel Movement, a form of social Christianity which began in 1880 among white Protestants in the North, and then spread to the Black Church.

She claims that Harlem Renaissance and black church were not connected because of the religious faith of Renaissance Artists and Intellectuals. Langston Hughes’ denial of Christianity or Claude McKay’s “paganism” are not relevant. Artists sometimes performed or attended black churches. However, it is important to note that these black churches were a part of the Renaissance. They created a social norm.

Under the leadership of Rev. Under the pastorate of Rev. Its financial gains and substantial Harlem property only increased the church’s capacity. New Negroes, who were the majority of members at this church, were better able to access financial and education resources.

Harlem Renaissance’s literary roots have been overlooked, and jazz musicians and concert singers are seen as mere sideshows. Music’s role in the Harlem Revolution was more fundamental. The Harlem Renaissance used music to create change. The comments of prominent figures during this period about jazz and music suggest that music was a major influence on Renaissance philosophy and practices. Renaissance leaders, as well as some rank-and-file members, accepted the idea that America’s contribution to American musical culture and worldwide was black music. Renaissance leaders were primarily interested in literature. Music, however, was an important physical element that included nightlife, cocktails, and day-to-day interactions. The music played in black theaters, cabarets or speakeasies as well as the blues ragtime music and spirituals created a calming atmosphere.

Also, pre-Renaissance black music had created a climate in which the movements could grow and be sustained. Renaissance leaders wanted to create “New Negros” that would attend operas and concerts in the hope of creating a more economically and socially integrated society. Blues and Jazz were at first considered “lower-class” black music. Jazz and performers were perceived by whites as symbols primitive indulgence. This stereotyping was used to try and create a homogenous music that would be able to penetrate America’s social barriers.

The New Negro used music to create a new culture. Music provided the New Negro with color, energy, and spirit. It was the basis for the intellectual style and mood of the day. Hughes acknowledges this in his writings when he calls jazz “the tomtom of revolution”. He believes that music is an integral part of black culture, yet it’s often overlooked by other intellectuals. In some cases there were divisions between African American academics and jazz musicians. They were sometimes called the “Talented tenth”. Black jazzmen played a role in the Harlem Renaissance, and sometimes made it worse. Duke Ellington’s dicty set and Henderson’s “Dicty’s Glide” were used to mock those of the Talented Tenth. George Redd says that more educated jazz players were responsible for bringing the two philosophical sides together. He claims that Ellington and Henderson presented a jazz image that was accepted by intellectuals. Ellington portrayed this image with a dignified bearing in company and an aristocratic style. These traits exemplified New Negros in the jazz and non-jazz worlds. Langston Hughes said:

Let the music of Negro bands and Bessie’s Blues be heard by the near-intellectuals of color until they open their ears to listen. We are happy when white people express their happiness. We are still happy if the colored people feel good. It doesn’t really matter if they don’t. We stand on the top of mountains and build strong temples to be used tomorrow.

Hughes makes a plea for the black community to remember that they all fight the same battle. Locke’s opinion is that jazz has a fundamental significance. It wasn’t superficial. Locke declared that jazz would be the catalyst for “The Afro-American Epoch”, a new era in music.

The 1920s were a decade that saw significant progress in black concert and recitals music. The National Association of Negro Musicians, a newly formed organization, was responsible for a large part of the progress. This group, founded in 1919, had a similar purpose to the New Negro leadership. Its goal was to promote “progress” and “discover and foster talent”, to shape taste, encourage fellowship, and to support racial freedom. It was music’s example that helped to give the Renaissance its artistic philosophy.

Harlem Renaissance – a series of cultural, worldly, and historical events led to a black community’s expression. The early twentieth century was shaped by the conflict between blacks versus whites, intellectuals vs jazz, as well the relationship between the church and culture. Harlem Renaissance is a story that tells the history of African American community despite all the differences. Staying true to themselves, they shared stories from the past which would be etched forever in history.


Modernism & the Harlem Renaissance. The University of Chicago Press published a work in 1987 in Chicago.

Bone, Robert A. The Background of Negro Renaissance Grove City: Doubleday and Company. 1968.

Donald, James. Some of This Day: Black Stars Jazz Aesthetics Modernist Culture. New York University Press, 2015.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. Genders, races, and religious cultures in modern American poetry, 1908-1934. Cambridge University Press. 2001. Accessed 17 October 2019. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=E4LhwkYFX60C&oi=fnd&pg=PR11& dq=harlem+renaissance+religion&ots=MsbWg0OT4l&sig=NkKjQ5gA3e8CRIFYuutcu xDy9cs#v=onepage&q&f=false.

Samuel A. Floyd Black Music In The Harlem Renaissance. A Collection Of Essays. Knoxville’s University of Tennessee Press published the work in 1993.

Gates, Smith, Andrews, Benson, Edwards, Foster, McDowell, O’Meally, Spillers, Wall. “The Norton Anthology of African American Literary Works.” W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. published a book in New York in 1997.

Jones, Sharon Lynette. 2007. The Cambridge Companion to Modernist Poetry 2, 2007: 195-207.

Jongh, James De’s work. Vicious Modernism. Black Harlem in Literature and Culture. Cambridge University Press 1990.

David Levering Lewis is the author. When Harlem became fashionable. Alfred A. Knopf published a book in New York in 1981.

Locke, Alain. The Negro’s Music Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1936.

George Nathaniel Redd was a notable figure. 1981. Interview with Betty Leonard. Betty Leonard was interviewed about her life experiences. She discussed her journey, sharing her insights and reflections on the events that shaped her. Audio tape, Fisk University.

Southern, Eileen. The Sounds of African Americans. Toronto: George J. McLeod Limited.


  • zakhart

    Zak Hart is an educational blogger and professor who has been writing about education for over 10 years. He has written for various publications, including The Huffington Post and Edutopia, and has been a guest lecturer at various universities. Zak is the founder and director of the Edutopia Academy, an online education program that provides teachers with resources and lessons to help them improve their teaching skills.

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