(photo by Margo)
Harlem is a key location when speaking of American History, this is a place which has opened the minds of many to the idea of African American entertainers, which caused a small step towards race equality, actually celebrating their culture and music rather than staying far away from it. Many diverse cultures have come to Harlem through migration. After the civil war is when Harlem began to get far more diverse, adding a larger percentage of African Americans during the Great Migration. As the early twentieth century came, the population of black and puerto-rican citizens increased vastly, in hopes of leaving the racist south. This caused a huge change in American culture, being heavily influenced at the time by African-American jazz musicians and poets whose words, and rhythms resonated with the general public. This grew larger and more accepted throughout the span of the Harlem Renaissance.
The Renaissance in Harlem spread throughout the 1920’s, this took over the culture of society, art, and intellect. Throughout urban areas of New York, prominently Harlem, many outward expressions were shown to emphasize African-American culture in the area. During this time, was one of the biggest migrations seen in the United States, 6 million African-Americans coming from rural south areas to cities up north. This migration led to the world’s largest black community thus far, located in Harlem, New York. The Harlem Renaissance populated African-American art, finally giving a platform for other cultures to express their cultures, feelings, and beliefs through music, dance, art and poetry. Despite this however, the effort to transform the image of African Americans during this time was ignored by many, still opposed and ignoring their progress. Racism was still very present and strong, limiting African Americans rights. Lynchings were still taking place and the races were treated far from the same. Even though the Harlem Renaissance was a time of personal growth, there was still much more progress that needed to be made. During this period not everyone agreed with each other’s approaches towards progress. For example, some fought for more goals of equality while others wanted to highlight the positive differences and unique cultures of American Americans rather than putting in effort to make political change. Many groups were created and popularized during this time, for example the NAACP encouraged African Americans to protest violence regarding race, resulting in the inspiration to lead protests and stand up for rights, such as when WEB Du Bois led a parade of 10000 African Americans in New York fighting for this movement. Another fighting towards change, the UNIA, founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914, created a sense of encouragement to take pride in one’s race, inspiring many African Americans to change the image they had of their race as a whole, working to ultimately terminate white supremacy. Many were getting new and better educations, which opened a new variety of jobs and opportunities, although mostly ignored, “One factor in the occurrence of the Harlem Renaissance that is sometimes minimized but deserves special mention is the increase in the number of educated Blacks” (Kura Hulanda). A staple in this movement was Langston Hughes, he is now one of the famous poets in history but during this time he was also widely celebrated because of his deeply poetic verses showing the need for progress and emphasizing the struggles they face. Louis Armstrong is another face of this movement which has had great impact. Him performing in NYC was a huge step for Black Americans in music, finally being able to play on broadway, leading towards opening the people’s minds to jazz. He would be so successful because he’d preform covers of pop songs but add a taste of jazz into the mix to keep the familiarity of them which people at the time liked, while introducing them to a new genre. The Harlem Renaissance caused disunity across the country, many still against the idea of equality between races. While on the other side, great strides were made towards the idea of racial equality, giving African-Americans concrete reasons to have pride in themselves. The period exemplified different styles than in the past works of art, literature, music. Giving jazz and multicultural art the opportunity to flourish, spreading country wide, while creating exceptional growth of business in the area of Harlem. The explosion of culture and diversity which bloomed in Harlem is like no other, opening so many minds and making such progress in this world through art and entertainment.
Now in Harlem, similar themes are still active in the community while others have progressed even greater than before. The area has expanded with diversity, housing those from the mediterranean, latin countries, and well as a high population of Black Americans from around the globe. I found when going to Harlem there is huge focus on individuality, I spoke to a woman who had been living in the neighborhood for 20 plus years. She told me about her experience in the area, growing up on the latin side of the prominently latin and Black American neighborhoods. She spoke on how she believes the Latinx portion of Harlem has great significance and should be considered “essential to the community”. She feels most proud of the different culture and backgrounds which are vastly present in the area, although she believes that a lot of the space which is empty in Harlem is going to complete waste, she would rather see this waste of space as a community area or shelter for the homeless community which is undeniably large. One point she brought up which resonated with me was her fear of gentrification. Many companies are buying spaces and increasing the price of realty in the area, which could create a rippling effect of many minorities being forced to move away from the area to somewhere they’re able to afford. All the different spoken languages and cultures present make the neighborhood what it it, she believes, forming a community of different cultures bringing their individual traditions and food into the mix. Through time Harlem has been an area which has had bad lows as well as extreme highs, which has ultimately created a community like no other, of diversity and a true variety of customs and experience.