African-American Artists in the Early Years of the 20th Century

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The Harlem Renaissance is a cultural movement in the USA that was headed by outstanding Afro-American writers, artists and actors. Renaissance is the era of spiritual and cultural blossoming symbolizing transition from the middle ages to modern times. The cultural movement of the Harlem Renaissance had huge impact on culture of the USA. At that time, there was a new image of the Afro-American: an educated, talented and gifted person. This epoch paved the way for further fight of Afro-American population for their rights. All these implications make this movement one of the most symbolical periods in the American culture with its unprecedented role in modern attitude to Black culture, which is proved in this essay.

The analyzed cultural movement is named after Harlem that was one of the districts of New York where Afro-Americans lived. Moreover, this period presented to the world a great number of excellent writers, such as Langston Hughes, Claude Mckay, Zora Neil Hurston and a remarkable actor Louis Armstrong, to list a few. The Harlem Renaissance was a consequence of the changes which  happened in life of Afro-American society since the cancellation of slavery and up to mass resettlement of blacks to the north, their participations in World War I, industrialization and other welfare changes in the USA at the beginning of the XX century (Pohl, 2012). By means of art, writers, artists, and musicians wanted to get rid of racial prejudices and stereotypes, achieve social and political equality, prove to the white population that Afro-Americans are the same people who are standing on one step of development with white citizens, and they are capable to work, create and educate.

A peculiar embodiment of ideas of the Harlem Renaissance is realized in the creativity of artists and writers through various art means.  Specifically, Afro-American authors of this period developed esthetic ideological and thematic bases of improvement of the literature, formulated the purposes or their art distinguished by a thematic variety. They not only considered the problems of their period but also tried to analyze them critically. For example, Aaron Douglas served as the bightest embodiment of philosophy of “new Blacks.” He created the illustrations that were cast by the jazz and lists, in particular, two wall frescos for public library on the 125th Street. This tremendous work called “Aspects of a Negro Life” allows tracing the history of Afro-American culture: the Dark Continent, exporting slaves from there, slavery as such, the period after Civil war, and Harlem of a jazz era.

Langston Hughes and such artists as Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson, Richmond Barthé, James van der Zee, Lois Mailou Jones discredited the myth about Africa as “the promised land.” The black protagonist of often opposes himself to white community and does not want to make contact (Pohl, 2012). The short story “African Morning” (1936) is devoted to the vital tragedy of the person whose parents were of different race. In the story, the author describes one morning from the life of a 12-year boy who is the son of the black woman and the white Englishman, the president of bank in the delta of Niger. Hughes shows that irresistible loneliness of the boy is the consequence of the interracial union of his parents. This idea is revealed in the short story through the hero’s portrait, the description of his clothes, communication with people, and scenes of action, through symbolic of gold, clothes, speech. The problem of the mulatto and his place in society was urgent not only for America, but also for the writer.

Protagonists of short stories of L. Hughes and drawings of artists are people of different nationalities; places of their action are geographically distinct as well. Life of the representatives of the Harlem Renaissance was usually full of journeys, communication with eminent people, and creativity as an embodiment of globalization. Due to that the Afro-American literature was closed, this period was the new stream that erased borders, connected countries, national histories and cultures. For instance, Archibald John Motley, who was the first Afro-American artist, managed to organize his first expedition in New York and he had the same motives as the writer L. All his paintings were created at various times during his journeys around Chicago, Paris, Mexico City, and Paris., Although Motli had never lived in a ghetto, only the sketches from “dark side” of the American life of those times made him a well-known artist.

Both the writer and artists demonstrated the hopelessness of such position and blamed whites for excessive racial pride. They also rejected idea about the ability of art to solve social problems of racist America and interpreted an all-Harlem aspiration to historical roots in their own way. Through music, poetry and art, the US came to understanding of that the nation does not exist without Afro-Americans. The popularity of black music, literature and even fashion was actively used by Afro-American activists during the period of black pride. The Afro-American artists of different areas attempted to evidence that their rich independent cultural heritage had ancient roots. The significant figures of the Black Renaissance managed to confirm their unconditional equality to white population. Furthermore, it proved claims of blacks on the full-fledged civil rights and privileges. The Harlem Renaissance changed not only cultural but also socio-political position of the Afro-Americans. Mass migration to the north changed an image of the Afro-Americans from rural, illiterate people to the educated representatives of middle class. Followers of the Harlem Renaissance believed in democratic reforms, art and literature as means of changes and impact on the white population, believed in themselves and own future (Pohl, 2012). The period in question interrupted suddenly due to the Great Depression, and the Afro-Americans were simply unprepared to such sharp social and economic transformations.

In general, the phenomenon of the Harlem Renaissance appeared in the 1920s and was connected with the change of mentality of descendants of the former slaves. The development of this movement led to recognition of essential influence of Black culture on the American culture. The USA, for the first time, saw not a humiliating stereotype of a black person but a well-educated and enlightened member of decent society. The Harlem Renaissance became the first step to such an essential recognition.

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