Harlem Renaissance and Langston Hughes

Harlem Renaissance much like the name suggests, was in a way a rebirth movement which aimed at providing a space for Black voices to articulate themselves. While the movement does not have a clear cut starting and ending date, it can be considered active from 1919 to that of mid 1930s. One of the major events that sparked its beginning was the publication of the magazine named, Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life. It started to die down after the stock market crash of 1929. The movement initially was known as the New Negro Movement. It was later renamed the Harlem Renaissance because Harlem, an Afro-American neighbourhood in the New York City was the epicentre of the movement.

Harlem, the place had majority Afro-American people who settled down in the place after having migrated from the American South. This was a safe haven for many in the community who had run away from the horrors of slavery in the Southern states. The ones who had little education could get jobs here without racial discrimination and the educated class made Harlem the centre of Afro-American culture and literature. The major contributing factors behind the Harlem Renaissance were the Great Migration of Afro- Americans from the South to the Northern states, the gathering of ambitious young Black minds in a place which felt safe, gave them a base to grow and share their ideas without fear and the industrial revolution, which brought in work opportunities for a large number of people. The reason why this movement died down was because of the Great Depression which rocked the American economy to its core.

Langston Hughes was one the leading thinkers and writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance. This was also because he had lived in Harlem first-hand and was writing about these experiences in his works which in turn influenced the African American community at large. He had a strong sense of racial pride and was instrumental in shaping the political and literary basis of the movement through his contributions. He argued for racial pride and artistic independence in the Manifesto-essay, named ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, published in the journal Nation. He also underlined the need for equality and condemned racial discrimination along with writing for the celebration of Afro-American culture, heritage, music, humour, and spirituality. Many of his poems espoused the same sentiments. Indeed, the first two volumes of his poetry, The Weary Blues and Fine Clothes to the Jew, very skilfully used the rhythm associated with jazz and blues music which came out from black music.

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