In the decades following the aftermath of the Civil War, African Americans began moving in large numbers from the South to the more industrialized North, in search for more work and to escape the discrimination caused by Jim Crow Laws. In many large Northern cities, blacks joined together to establish their own cultural communities. In neighborhoods like Harlem and Manhattan, “innovative, young African American writers, painters, and musicians began gathering and working together”(5) to develop new ideas. Harlem became the center for musical, theatrical, and literary work; blacks and whites were both drawn to the neighborhood’s night life scene.  This time period became known as the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in Harlem between during the 1920’s. The Harlem Renaissance gave blacks the opportunity to openly express themselves and their culture through their works of art. During this time period, blacks were finally being recognized as legitimate artists; white critics finally began to appreciate and support their artistic achievements. One of the main goals of the black artists during the Harlem Renaissance was, “to show the Negro as a capable individual”(6). By providing a positive self-image of the Negro, black artists depicted, “the Negro as an individual who was capable of making great achievement if given the opportunity”(6). Some of the most prominent people during this time period were poets, authors, musicians, and painters. Among those artists, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston achieved recognition through their poems and novels.  Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Smith changed American music by introducing jazz elements into the American mainstream. Aaron Douglas used his paintings to show that blacks deserved an opportunity to forge a place in the New York art world. Although Harlem Renaissance served as an opportunity for blacks to finally express themselves artistically, it had, “little impact on breaking down the rigid barriers of Jim Crow that separated the races”(7). The movement was more about reinforcing racial pride among African Americans and rejecting established discriminatory stereotypes that were already set up by society.

Overview of the Harlem Renaissance. Video retrieved from