Harlem Renaissance

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The Harlem Renaissance may be defined as a cultural movement which originated in the suburb of Harlem, New York, populated by the African Americans mainly. The Harlem Renaissance is referred to as the New Negro Movement by some authors, as a result of the Alain Locke’s 1925 anthology of the same name. While the Harlem Renaissance was centered in Harlem, New York, it had a great impact on many Negro writers who lived in the major cities of Europe, such as Paris and London, which was reflected in their writings.

The Harlem Renaissance does not have an official time period but just general timelines as agreed upon by historians. Scholars agree that the Harlem Renaissance spans the period starting in 1919 and stretching to the mid 1930s. While the renaissance is deemed to have petered out in the 1930s, many of its ideas survived for a longer period. According to Johnson Weldon, the Harlem Renaissance, which he referred to as the flowering of Negro literature, reached its peak in the years 1924 (when Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life held a party for Negro authors, which was attended by many Caucasian publishers) - 1929 (when the New York Stock Exchange collapsed and the Great Depression began).

With the end of the civil war and the emancipation of the Negro slaves, the African Americans began to agitate for equality in the political, economic and cultural spheres of life. From the late 1870s the conservatives in the South regained control of the legislature which resulted into discrimination for the emancipated slaves who began to immigrate North in ever greater numbers. These immigrants settled in the major cities, and Harlem in New York was a major center for settlement. Harsh economic conditions due to lack of skills and resources for economic emancipation and discrimination led to the rise of black pride movement, which was intended to enhance the cultural practice of African Americans.

The Harmon Foundation was a cultural and philanthropic award established by William E. Harmon in order to reward people of African-American descent who had made notable contributions to Negro development in various fields, such as business, industry, literature, race relations, religious service, music and fine arts. The Harmon Foundation is credited for playing a fundamental role in fueling the Harlem Renaissance, since it was one of the very few awards targeting people of color (Bloom 93-6). It also offered great incentives for the promotion of creativity among African Americans to make achievements in various fields, including the arts.

The Harmon Foundation has received criticisms from scholars on a number of issues concering its operation and intention. The Harmon Foundation has been criticized for being a publicity venture rather than a forum for the promotion of excellence and achievement. The Harmon Foundation has been criticized for promoting substandard material for the sake of enhancing the profiles of different Negro artists (Schaefer 245-51). The Harmon Foundation has also been criticized for presenting itself as an organization that rewards several disciplines, yet it was most vibrant in the promotion of the arts.

The Harmon Foundation assisted and rewarded a lot of artists who had made a contribution to the development of their fields. In the literature and fine arts nominations the recipients included Archibald Motley, Langston Hughes, Hale Woodruff, and Claude McKay. Another notable recipient of the award was Chestnut Charles, who received a Gold award in literature. Robert Moton received an award for the promotion of racial relations in 1930, preceding the offering of the same award to Will Alexander in 1927 and Dillard James in 1928.

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