dijous, 16 de juliol de 2009

THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE



In New York in 1905, after a successful real estate market had declined, landlords and developers attempted to entice African-American realtors and tenants. After and during World War I, thousands of blacks migrated from the South and other areas to look for jobs and, by 1923, the number of blacks in New York was estimated to be 183,428, nearly three times that reported in 1910. Two thirds of these people settled in Harlem which, at that time, was distinctively black (Lewis, "Harlem's First Shining" 57). In 1917, an intellectual movement, known as the Harlem Renaissance, began in Harlem and lasted until 1935.

W.E.B. Du Bois described the leaders of the movement as the Talented Tenth, a few privileged professionals who were nearly all second generation college graduates. These intellectuals "perceived that, although the roads to the ballot box, the union hall . . . and the office were blocked" off, there were two paths that were not barred: arts and letters (Lewis, "Harlem's First Shining"). The Talented Tenth created a new ideology of racial assertiveness that was to be embraced by influential African-Americans, which included educated doctors, lawyers and businessmen. These people, as Du Bois theorized, would comprise ten percent of the total African-American population in 1920. However, statistics show that there were by no means as many educated African-American leaders in 1920 as Du Bois had hoped.

In the fall of 1917, the rediscovered African-American was publicly announced with Emily Hapgood's production of three one-act plays: The Rider of Dreams, Simon the Cyrenian, and Granny Maumee, all written by her husband, Ridgely Torrence. This production, presented at the Old Garden Street Theater near Broadway, was a significant event because the cast was all-black and the parts were dignified. The plays and the actors were both given high reviews, which helped propel African-Americans into the spotlight (Lewis, Introduction xx). Thus, African-Americans were beginning to assert themselves and to be recognized in the literary and artistic realms, which white Americans dominated at the time. Two years later, the Hapgood production was preceeded by the presentation of O'Neill's Emperor Jones and several other plays which featured black actors. The Harlem Renaissance, which would develop a new African-American consciousness, had officially begun and would continue until 1935.

Acccording to David Levering Lewis, the literary movement was broken up into three phases: the Bohemian Renaissance, the era of the Talented Tenth, and the Negro Renaissance (Introducation xvii). Each phase had distinctly different influences and produced different writings.

Phase one, the Bohemian Renaissance, spanning from 1917-1923, was dominated by white authors writing about black people. These authors, the Bohemians and Revolutionaries, were fascinated with the life of black people. Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones was an example of a play, written by a white author, which featured a black man as a main character who was, in turn, played by a black actor, Charles Gilpin. Ironically, the play was not accepted by the Harlem community. However, the play was a huge success outside Harlem for many decades. In fact, Gilpin's superb acting and O'Neill's theatrical affects (gathered from "superficial contacts with black life") combined to produce a play that helped shaped the course of American Drama of the time.

The second phase, from 1924-1926, was presided over by the Civil Rights establishments of the National Urban League (NUL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). It was a "period of interracial collaboration between Zora Neal Hurston's 'Negrotarian' whites and the African American Talented Tenth".

The dominant ideology of the third phase was the advancement of African-American civil rights through the creation of an artistic and literary movement. According to W.E.B. Du Bois, white people, who suggested that blacks quit complaining about not having recognition and start showing what they could do, helped create the second period of the Harlem Renaissance. Black writers, afraid to fight and allured by money and publicity, agreed and decided to show what they deserved and let the reward come to them.

And it is right here that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People comes upon the field, comes with its great call to a new battle, a new fight and new things to fight before the old things are wholly won; and to say that the beauty of truth and freedom which shall some day be our heritage and the heritage of all civilized men is not in our hands yet and that we ourselves must not fail to realize.

The NUL and NAACP, which propaganda had influenced, were the driving force in this phase of the Harlem Renaissance and dictated what should be written.

The third and final phase, beginning before the second phase was complete, was called the Negro Renaissance. African-Americans themselves dominated the third phase of the Harlem Renaissance, which began in 1926 and ended with the Harlem riot of 1935 and was the longest-running of the three phases. It was marked by a rebellion of writers and artists against many of the Civil Rights establishments. "Among some of the poets and writers there was simmering ingratitude and, finally, even open revolt against the high-toned artistic standards of the NAACP's and Urban League's distinguished directors". Writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurmon openly expressed their feelings and their identities without fear or shame. No longer looking for approval from whites, they only considered whether their works pleased African-Americans. The black writers were reacting against the stereotypes of African-Americans and were attempting to maintain an art that was unique while also maintaining their self- and racial-identities.

As short as the literary period of the Harlem Renaissance was, a legacy was left that African-Americans today can be proud of. Although the uneducated workingman of Harlem knew little about the success of the black writers, studies estimate that, between 1919 and 1930, more black writers were published than in any other decade in American history prior to the 1960s. The Harlem Renaissance created a new consciousness in both white and black Americans, and its importance lies more in the legacy it left behind of a new type of black fiction than in the actual socio-economic changes it incurred.