The Harlem Renaissance was a vital time for both American and International culture. With a profound impact on the entire world the works of Hughes, Cullen and Hurston are particularly poignant of the period. This essay will examine the period known as the Harlem Renaissance and the impact that all three of these artists had on the fabric of American culture.
The Harlem Renaissance was a widespread movement that sought to include the whole of the African-American cultural heritage (Ogbar 250). Centered in Harlem, New York this phenomenon spanned continents and oceans to bring enlightenment to the cause of African-American society. Commonly credited with flourishing during the nineteen twenties through the thirties, this concept served to fuel the creative elements for generations (Ogbar 250). Spanning a pivotal time in American history including the stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, the Harlem Renaissance has become a cornerstone of American Heritage.
The work of Langston Hughes was deeply reflective of the period during the Harlem Renaissance (Oglar 12). His crusade to prove an equal platform for racial justice was crucial to the long term success of the period. Hughes’s plays, novels, essays, children’s books and poetry served to instill a sense of culture and society in the Harlem world that continued to spread around the globe (americaslibrary.gov 1). It was his efforts to create a “real Negro theater”, in conjunction with others such as Hurston to introduce a form of reversal for the acknowledged stereotype of the time (Oglar 13). Each of Hughes works of poetry exemplified and struggled to build acknowledgment for the African American race. His works at Van Vechten’s ‘Nigger Heaven’ as well as his effort to create and the Unite League formed the foundation for an era of progress and change (Olga 25).
The works of Zora Hurston were credited with ‘elevating’ the African American race (Singh 27). It was her creative writing skills that allowed her to communicate the experience of the modern African-American. She actively utilized her wit, irreverence and intelligence to bring the experience of the black community to the larger world (Historymatters.gmu.edu 1). Hurston was recognized as exploring the reality of the world around her through her novels (Singh 27). Her study of a new form of black worm in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) paved the way for entire generation to view the African American woman as an equal. As an artist Hurston was driven to create pride within the black community that she felt that they had lost (Historymatters.gmu.edu 1).
Many of the studies focusing on the Harlem Renaissance credit Countee Cullen as having the most dramatic influence of the day (Poetryfoundation.org 1). The very real schism between his modest upbringing and his heavily white centred education provided for a fertile and creative imagination that drew heavily on the African American experience of the generation. During his period of writing letters from Harvard and publishing his fame in both in the white and black communities continued to expand (poetryfoundation.org 2). His capacity to both understand and communicate within both spheres of influence proved to provide him with the means to embody the movement of the Harlem Renaissance. His works including “Heritage” and “Atlantic City Water” are founded on the drive to reclaim the lost African American heritage, which in turn spawned the creation of the term “Negritude” (Poetryfoundation.org 3). His work centred on the concept that art could transcend the black and white divide and builds a bridge to a better form of understanding.
Cullens work in pieces such as the 1925 poem “Color” demonstrate his avid dislike of the racial injustice of the period, providing a voice for the masses (Poetryfoundaiton.org 3). Themes of racial bias and the need to learn from those mistakes became a hallmark of the poetry that served to exemplify the offering of the Harlem Renaissance.
The period known as the Harlem Renaissance was a critical time of progress and revelation for the American society as well as the world as a whole. Initially resulting from the need of the African American community to express themselves and their heritage, the very nature of the movement inspired hope and learning throughout the civilized world.
It was through the ground breaking works of artists such as Hughes, Cullen and Hurston that the African American community was able to find a voice to tell their tale. Hughes served to highlight the racial injustice of the period through the written word, while Cullen used her spark and natural talent to illustrate the disparity between the cultures. Hurston used her art to promote the very real culture that the African American community has every right to be extraordinarily proud of. Each of these artists and more provided the impetus, the fuel that continued to drive these ideas across the continent, over the oceans and throughout the world.
The Harlem Renaissance embodies a time of change and growth that is immortalized in the works of talented artists. Yet, in end, the true test of the capacity to learn from this period will be in the ability to set aside the racial barriers and transcend the traditional to create the world these artists dream of.
"Langston Hughes." Americaslibrary.gov, 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://www.americaslibrary.gov/aa/hughes/aa_hughes_subj.html>.
"The Harlem Renaissance: Zora Neale Hurston's First Story." Historymatters.gmu.edu, 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5131/>.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Poker!. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2001. Print.
Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbonna Green. The Harlem Renaissance revisited. Baltimore [Md.]: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Print.
"Countee Cullen : The Poetry Foundation." Poetryfoundation.org, 2013. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/countee-cullen>.
Singh, Amritjit. The novels of the Harlem renaissance. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Print.