By Claude McKay, 1922
I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night let's fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
To bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!
Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.
Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.
The way he describes the life before the Harlem renaissance was very poor and very disgraceful. In this poem, he talks about how blacks especially during that time period lived in poverty and it was hard for people to keep their family under their a house and maintain money. He talks about how he sees little girls walking about in the streets making money by using their bodies for sex, or being prostitutes. From dawn to midnight doing nothing but walking back and forth to these places where there are people expecting them to do what they please just for some money that the little girl needs. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44693
"Rising rents in segregated areas, plus a resurgence of KKK activity after 1915, worsened black and white relations across the country. The summer of 1919 began the greatest period of interracial strife in U.S. history, including a disturbing wave of race riots. The most serious took place in Chicago in July 1919; it lasted 13 days and left 38 people dead, 537 injured and 1,000 black families without homes."
Train Station, 1936. Walter Ellison.Oil on canvas. This painting shows a train station in Ellison’s hometown Georgia. White passengers are boarding southbound trains for vacations, and Black passengers board northbound trains for work in industrial cities. This painting was made in 1936, during the Jim Crow period. Jim Crow laws required public spaces such as railway stations to give one waiting room to Blacks and another to whites. Chicago was an appealing place for Blacks moving North. Although discrimination existed in chicago, it offered better schools, voting rights, leisure activities, and the chance to live everyday feeling more free than Southern towns did. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/citi/resources/Rsrc_001492.pdf
Aaron Douglas, Into Bondage, 1936. It was Douglas’ intention to create and present fresh, modern images depicting the contributions of African Americans to the state’s history and achievements. This painting portrays slavery, as Douglas believed that understanding the past was essential to moving forward in the future. http://www.iniva.org/harlem/aaron.html
Midsummer Night in Harlem, 1938, Oil on canvas. Midsummer Night in Harlem was meant to embody the community in Harlem. Palmer Hayden portrayed a high-energy community sitting outside of their houses to cool off on a hot summer night. This painting shows the energy and positive attitude through vibrant colors and the expressions of the people. They all have smiles and nice “Sunday church” outfits on. It is fair to assume that the people had just come from church because Palmer Hayden has people still lingering out of the church in the background. https://art257virtualexhibitionyb.wordpress.com/palmer-hayden/
Police remove the body of a black man killed during the 1919 race riots.The five days of violence were sparked when a black teenager crossed an invisible boundary between the waters of the 29th Street beach, known to be reserved for whites, and the 25th Street beach, known to be reserved for blacks. Twenty-three blacks and 15 whites were killed. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/chicago-race-riot-of-1919
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
By Langston Hughes , 1920
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
The poem celebrates the voice and the soul of the black community in a time of great racial intolerance, injustice, and inequality in America. Hughes helped to inspire and unite the black community when their voice was not appreciated by a predominantly white society, and as a result, he became the unofficial poet laureate of the Harlem Renaissance. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44428
1929, Augusta Savage, painted plaster. Here, the casually attired, street-wise boy about twelve years old is Augusta Savage’s nephew, Ellis Ford, who lived in Harlem. Although Gamin represents a specific individual, the subject convincingly fits the profile of hundreds of preadolescent urban ghetto youths during rebellious and frequently uncomfortable stages in their lives. Girl-shy and uncertain of the rites of passage into young manhood, this young resident of Harlem, nevertheless, appears ready and willing to face the future. http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artwork/?id=21658
“School's Out”, Allan Rohan Crite, 1936. Which shows dozens of children leaving the annex of Everett elementary school in Boston's South End at a time when boys and girls were taught separately. Although Crite acknowledged that School's Out may reflect a romanticized view, it also presents a universal statement about community, stability, and the bonds of family life. https://theartstack.com/artist/allan-rohan-crite/school-s-out-1936
William H. Johnson, Marian Anderson #1, 1939, tempera, pencil, and metallic gold paint on paper. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) denied Marian Anderson, a world renowned opera singer, the opportunity to perform at their concert hall in Washington, D.C., because of the color of her skin. The story of the DAR's refusal appeared in local, national, and international newspapers, causing debate and outrage. Washington civil rights activists, including lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, organized a formal protest. Ultimately, they convinced members of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration to help arrange a free public concert featuring Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial, a site chosen because it would recall slavery, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln's support for black freedom. On April 9th of that year, around the anniversary of Lincoln's Good Friday assassination, she performed before seventy-five thousand people assembled on the National Mall, and the radio broadcast reached millions.http://africanamericanart.si.edu/items/show/65
If We Must Die
By Claude McKay, 1919
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
"If We Must Die" introduced a dramatic political aspect to the African culture and urban experience. Although this poem never alluded to race, it had a tone of defiance against racism, riots, and lynching that were taking place. http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/interactives/harlem/mplayer.html#/?audio=if_we_must_die
Cab Calloway 1932 The song tells the sad story of a "red hot hoochie coocher" girl called Minnie. The hoochie coochie was a style of belly dancing with non-respectable gypsy origins, and was considered lecherous at the time. The licentious Minnie gets involved with a "kokie" conveniently called Smokey, a "kokie" being someone who takes cocaine. Kokie takes her down to Chinatown where he introduces her to opium, which is what Calloway meant when using the jive expression "to kick the gong around" in the lyrics. The rest of the song describes her opium-induced wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the king of Sweden gives her many gifts, including "a diamond car, with the puh-latinum wheels." Calloway doesn't tell us how this story ends, but he does wail "Poor Min! Poor Min" Poo-oor Min" at the end, which may be an indication that Minnie's a goner. http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/interactives/harlem/mplayer.html#/?audio=minnie_the_moocher
Palmer Hayden, Jeunesse, Watercolor on paper, 1927. One of the interchanges was between black and white musicians, some of them Jewish. The whites came to the blues and jazz clubs in Harlem, on Chicago’s South Side, and on Central Avenue in Los Angeles to listen and learn, taking many of the sounds they heard and turning them into numbers that big crowds of young whites danced to in the ballrooms and clubs across town. There was flattery in this theft and much more. The white jazz bands paved the way for mainstream white audiences to begin to appreciate new forms of music and the black artists who produced it. By the 1930s some African American bandleaders would be working the big ballrooms and appearing on the popular radio shows. http://www.mshogue.com/English_11/Harlem/main.htm
James VanDerZee, Evening Attire, 1922, gelatin silver print. VanDerZee's photographs not only present his sitters as urban and self-possessed, but also as part of a thoroughly idealized and beautiful world, moving them far beyond the racial labels and degradations that often shaped everyday life beyond his studio. The woman's identity is unknown, but her confident bearing, sophisticated attire, and carefully curated surroundings signify the economic and social aspirations of many African Americans in the 1920s. Proponents of the New Negro movement believed that establishing a thriving middle class was necessary before significant civil rights progress could be made. To help foster an ideal of success, many African Americans created stylized images of themselves, a ritual with history in American and European portraiture. http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/online/highlights/artworks.cfm?id=AA&StartRow=56
James VanDerZee, 1932, Couple in raccoon coats,gelatin silver print. When James VanDerZee photos were rediscovered in 1969, the history, excitement, and glamour of the Harlem of the 1920s dazzled the American public. His images of Harlemites gave faces to the "New Negroes" of the growing black urban middle class. Couple in Raccoon Coats has become the quintessential image of Jazz Age Harlem. The fur-shrouded black couple in front of a shiny Cadillac are the embodiments of style, prosperity, and class. The faces and places that populate VanDerZee body of work constitute a virtual lexicon of New Negro identity as it developed during the Harlem Renaissance. http://www.artnet.com/artists/james-van-der-zee/couple-harlem-couple-in-raccoon-coats-jxb1S8EPbbtJueO7DtbaLQ2
Palmer Hayden, 1930, The Card Game. This painting gives an insight from the black culture inside of a jazz club during Harlem renaissance to give an idea in this energetic black lifestyle. https://bjws.blogspot.com/2012/10/1930s-americas-great-depression-palmer.html
Robert McNeill , Make a Wish, 1938, gelatin silver print. As McNeill's subtitle indicates, these people are at the so-called Bronx Slave Market, a place where African Americans would wait for white people to choose workers for day-long jobs. Many felt this process was particularly demeaning, largely because it evoked the slave auctions of the past. Nonetheless, because many African Americans had an especially hard time finding work during the Great Depression, they endured this indignity, hoping to eke out an income. https://artlibrarydeco.space/tag/art/page/2/
The Janitor Who Paints, 1930, Palmer Hayden. Palmer said this was a sort of protest painting" of his own economic and social standing as well as that of his fellow African Americans.He said his friend Cloyd Boykin had supported himself as a janitor, inspired this piece. He states "I painted it because no one called Boykin the artist. They called him the janitor." Details within the cramped apartment like the the duster and the trashcan, for example, point to the janitor's profession; the figure's dapper clothes and beret, much like those Hayden himself wore, point to his artistic pursuits. https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Janitor-Who-Paints
Jacob Lawrence, 1940, acrylic-like casein tempera paint. Tension rose as businesses that served blacks refused to hire them, the community became overpopulated, and over 50% of Harlem's African American citizens were unemployed. In March of 1935, the streets of Harlem broke out into into a major riot. Over 100 people were shot, stabbed, clubbed, or stoned. More than 500 policemen were called in to quiet to riot. http://www.artbook.com/9780870709647.html