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The Art of African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance

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Francine Marquis

on 21 November 2013

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Transcript of The Art of African Americans During the Harlem Renaissance

Theme: How African Americans positively expressed them selves celebrating black culture through art, music, and literature.
Across the cultural spectrum (literature, drama, music, visual art, dance) and also in the realm of social thought, artists and intellectuals found new ways to explore the historical experiences of American America and the contemporary experiences of black life in the urban North. Challenging white paternalism and racism, African-American artists and intellectuals rejected Europeans styles and whites and instead celebrated black pride and creativity.
Asserting their freedom to express themselves on their own terms, they explored their identities as black Americans, celebrating the black culture that had emerged out of slavery, as well as cultural ties to Africa. In closing, African Americans positively expressed themselves by celebrating their black American culture through art,music ,and literature during the black renaissance.
Certain poets and authors influenced the Harlem Renaissance and wrote poetry as well as books and songs to uplift and express themselves as well as celebrated their Black culture. Literature created a new awareness for African American writers which modern African American writers still emulate in their works.
The celebration of Black culture during the Harlem Renaissance Era
Francine Marquis, Britni Sapp, Jael Williams, Durrell Miller, Malik Simmons, Donald Miller
The song Hallelujah by Chick Webb which was released around 1937 is a rejoicing song for blacks. It was an encouraging song that told the listener to not give up no matter what comes your way, there will be brighter days.
It was this song that lured me to Etta James "At last." This songs makes you felt like you are in "in heaven" just like she says. "Nobody Loves you", "Its me Only" ,"Willow weep" are other songs by this singer but she was always able to turn pain into to power which really influence African Americans in that era.
Etta James
Ella Fitzgerald
Blues skies Dream a little Dream of me,
These songs are an example of how simple things in life are beautiful. These types of music were very either sad or uplifting but Ella had a message for the people in always being positive
The figures in this painting shown enjoying a Saturday night all have very dramatic poses. This gives the painting a very emotional feel and represents a proud black characteristic, our very expressive nature. By depicting this characteristic in his art, Motley is expressing his pride in this aspect of black culture.
Archibald J Motley Jr. Saturday Night 1935, oil on canvas.
In this painting all of the figures are densely packed together, which represents the strong sense of community and closeness that is one of the defining attributes of what it is to be black. As this is a huge part of the black identity, it shows Motley’s pride that he chose to paint it into this piece
Archibald J Motley Jr. Blues 1929, oil on canvas.
There is great detail in this piece when inspected more closely. Though the figures in the back seem to look like a jumbled mess from afar, they are all clearly outlined and defined. This feature of the piece shows Motley’s pride in his people because it symbolizes how from afar it may seem that we all blend in together with the same ideals and mindset, but in actuality we are each detailed individuals.
Archibald J Motley Jr. Nightlife 1943, oil on canvas.
Archibald J Motley Jr. The Picnic 1936 oil on canvas.
This piece is done with very bright and light colors and characters in more relaxed poses, which give the painting a sort of care free quality. By choosing to paint this serene scene Motley is demonstrating his affinity and pride in black people’s ability to be cool and mellow, regardless of the circumstances.
This is a powerful painting even in its simplicity. Though all of the objects, except for the irons, are basically flat, the three ladies’ block like appearance gives them a sense of strength and stability, an attribute commonly associated with black women. By painting the female laborers in this fashion his is proudly highlighting the inherent strength found in all black women.
Jacob Lawrence. The Ironers 1943, Gouache on paper.
In this piece the artist was able to portray an important theme amongst the black community, unity. By painting the characters in traditional prison garb, it may signify that all black people are in bondage, but within that bondage there is unity as it is difficult to tell in the painting where one figure stops and the other begins. Johnson is displaying his pride for this aspect of black culture by merely choosing this subject matter.
William Johnson. Chain Gang, 1939, oil on plywood.
Pride is exemplified in this sculpture as it portrays a very powerful black figure, standing tall and proud. His stance, though on narrow piece of wood is sturdy and unwavering, which is representative of the fundamental spirit of the black man to never back down.
Richmond Barthe. Stevedore, 1937, bronze sculpture.
The piece was inspired by the song Lift Every Voice and Sing by James Walden Johnson. The song was said to be the “national anthem” of blacks. Savage made many other sculptures based off other inspirational written pieces.
The Harp was made by Augusta Savage
Press Play
Louis Armstrong

“What a Wonderful World “
(1967) Influential song, which helped, represents the people looking for the positives during the time period. He represents a good morale in that they were going through tough times. This song is very uplifting and acts as a guide for black people at that time to look beyond their lowly state and see the hidden beauty in the world that we live in.

The Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater, started in 1934 was located in the heart of Harlem and was said to have been where black stars are created. It was there that blacks would join together to have a good time with each other. It was like a home for many different entertainers of the renaissance such as dancers, singers, comedians and all types of entertainers.
Duke Ellington
Ellington was most important musician of this era. He was the headliner at the Cotton Club from December 4, 1927 into the 1930. He made songs like
"It don't mean a thing" and " Take that train"
to create a positive mood in the environment. His music made people dance as well as happy in the clubs.
Zora Neal Hurston
Their Eyes Were Watching God
is a 1937 novel and the best known work by African-American writer Zora Neale Hurston. This book inspired African Americans by the portrayal of one teenage girl who beat many odds that she faced as black women. This was a racially uplifting book that many white people looked down upon.
Zora takes us on a journey to the south with this book based on many Africans Americans lives in the south. She mentions real life scenarios about blacks’ lives. This was able to bring the black community together and relate through literature.
A Portrait in Georgia
Hair-braided chestnut,
coiled like a lyncher's rope,
Lips-old scars, or the first red blisters,
Breath-the last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
of black flesh after flame.

Toomer was one of the first African Americans during this time period to come up with descriptive short poems like the one above. He introduced the idea that poems did not have to be long and drawn out to get a point across.
The Sanctified Church is a collection of Hurston's essays on Afro-American folklore, legend, popular mythology, and, in particular, the unique spiritual character of the Southern Black Christian Church
A Certain Man
A certain man wishes to be a prince
Of this earth; he also wants to be
A saint and master of the being-world.
Conscience cannot exist in the first:
The second cannot exist without conscience.
Therefore he, who has enough conscience
To be disturbed but not enough to be
Compelled, can neither reject the one
Nor follow the other...

This poem was written in hopes to inspire African Americans to want to succeed. It explains that the conscience of a person plays a big role in their lives. He was introducing reason to many black people who loved and praised his inspirational poems such as this one. This poem describes how men should be in society, but with certain restrictions and I found that interesting.
“Harlem Shadows” (1922)

In this poem McKay describes the life in Harlem before the Renaissance, which was very poor and very disgraceful. During this time he describes how difficult it was to keep a family together because of the outdoor distractions. McKay uses little girls throughout the poem to portray all the cruel things that have been happening in the world. McKay expresses his thoughts and reveals his truth how felt about the everyday life in the Harlem Renaissance time period.

To those fixed on white,
White is white,
To those fixed on black,
It is the same,
And red is red,
Yellow, yellow-
Surely there are such sights
In the many colored world,
Or in the mind.
The strange thing is that
These people never see themselves
Or you, or me.

Above is one of Toomer’s more famous poems, as he addresses the state of people. This was an inspiration to many blacks as he most likely was addressing the black community and calling for them to mentally wake up. This was one of the many poems that tested the minds of African Americans, as it went into depth of the mind.
As you finish looking through our exhibit you can see that literature, music, and art uplifted the African Americans as well as allowed them to celebrate and express their culture in the Harlem Renaissance era.
For further information visit...
Claude Mckay
Jean Toomer
is one of Toomer’s more famous poems, as he addresses the state of people. This was an inspiration to many blacks as he most likely was addressing the black community and calling for them to mentally wake up. This was one of the many poems that tested the minds of African Americans, as it went into depth of the mind.
“If I Must Die”
(1919) In this poem McKay talks about the conflict between blacks and whites during that time period. Throughout the poem he uses the title repeatedly because he does not want to be killed horribly. The poem offers inspiration and courage to continue the journey to equality.

“White house”
(1922) In this poem McKay talks about the discrimination in the American life and how there is a disadvantage in this country for minorities. McKay also portrays Jim Crow laws throughout his poem.

“Open Letter in the South”
(1937) Hughes talks about how blacks and whites should come together and forget about what color their skin is. He believes that racism should go away and people should see as equals instead of having hatred towards each other. Being as though he had an influence on society people sought his idea through which lead to many civil movements and protests.

Langston Hughes
“Let America be America”
(1935) Hughes is frustrated with the state of America because he is questioning how a country that was supposedly founded on equality. In this poem he suggests that America should return to what America was designed to be. He often wrote poems that spoke out on these issues which cause people to believe one way.

The music that came out of the movement like Harlem blues and shake had a major influence on freestyle rap.
"Archibald J. Motley Jr - Blues." Archibald J. Motley Jr - Blues. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Black Artist News: MEMPHIS: Richmond Barthé: Harlem Renaissance Sculptor / October 3, 2010 - January 2, 2011." Black Artist News: MEMPHIS: Richmond Barthé: Harlem Renaissance Sculptor / October 3, 2010 - January 2, 2011. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Harlem Renaissance: EMBW." : Chain Gang. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Harlem Renaissance." Harlem Renaissance. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Harluuuummm Renuhhhhhssance." : Painting by Archibald J. Motley Jr. : "Saturday Night" (1935). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"“The Ironers” Jacob Lawrence | Hrartsocialstudiesfcs." Hrartsocialstudiesfcs. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"JACOB LAWRENCE IRONERS 1943." As It Ought to Be. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Search Collections." Chain Gang by William H. Johnson / American Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
"Apollo History." The Apollo Theater - Harlem, USA. Apollo Theater Foundation Inc., 2010. Web. 01 June 2011. <http://www.apollotheater.org/about/history>.
This quote represents the relationship of art and the black culture. African Americans did not want to stay in the era of despair and sorrow but join together and rejoice and come together as a whole. Social dance both reflected and was a reflection of the culture of the Harlem Renaissance. It was a way for people to celebrate, to escape, and to express their identity.
"...Our problem is to conceive, develop, establish an art era. Not white art painting black...let's bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, through sorrow, through hope, through disappointment, into the very depths of the souls of our people and drag forth material crude, rough, neglected. Then let's sing it, dance it, write it, paint it." - Author Aaron Douglas
Josephine Baker
Josephine Baker was a singer and black activist during the renaissance. She would only perform in segregated theaters because she believed that blacks had the rights to also perform in high class theaters. Many of the entertainers of the time were just like Baker; they just wanted the world to see the great works that blacks in America can do.
The Charleston Dance

The Charleston originated as early as 1903 in the African American community of a small island off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The dance became popular during the Harlem Renaissance however. The dance combined already popular European and African steps to jazz music. This dance expressed the unity and positive

Savoy Club and the creation of Lindy Hop
Towards the end of the 1920s when you would enter a night club, most likely you would see someone doing the Lindy Hop. The dance was said to have been created at the Savoy Club. The Savoy Club was a nightclub that people of all races joined together and celebrated black entertainment.The Lindy Hop invited individuals to make basic steps to reflect their personalities, preferences, and cultures.
Artist used paintings and sculptures as a way to influence, encourage, challenge, and inspire one another creative and intellectual pursuits.The art produced ranged from the depiction of magnificent urban lifestyles to mundane rural landscapes; from the tedious daily motions of individuals to the all-encompassing and weighty themes of slavery and cultural origins in Africa.
Want to learn how to do the Charleston Dance
"Click Below"
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