Harlem Renaissance

Educator Guide | Activity
ABC-CLIO Database: The African American Experience
Time Period: World War I to the Great Depression, 1917-1939
Topic: Harlem Renaissance
Skill: Describe
Process: Define and Illustrate an Idea
Inquiry Question: What was the Harlem Renaissance, and what were some of the important artistic contributions that took place during that time?

Objectives: Drawing examples from the provided sources, students will define what happened during the Harlem Renaissance and describe some of the important literary, musical, and artistic contributions that were created during that time.

What students will discover in the sources: The reference entry on literature during the Harlem Renaissance provides context for the emergence of new literary forms amid the political, historical, and social climate of the time, while providing an overview of key literary figures. In the excerpt from "Enter the New Negro," originally published in Survey Graphic in March 1925, Alain Locke explains the unprecedented transformation of black culture in America. The entry on music during the Harlem Renaissance provides an overview of the musicians who helped shape the music scene during this time, including innovations of the era like stride piano playing, cabaret singing, and early big bands. Duke Ellington performs a jazz classic, "Stomping at the Savoy," in the video source. The song references the Savoy Ball Room, a major center of entertainment during the Harlem Renaissance. The essay on art during the Harlem renaissance explains how the many significant visual artistic works by African Americans were created during this time by artists like Richmond Barthé, Augusta Savage, and May Howard Jackson; photographers Richard S. Roberts and James Van Der Zee; and black painters and illustrators such as Archibald Motley, Palmer C. Hayden, and William E. Braxton. Finally, the image of the sculpture Waterboy I, by Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1930) illustrates the themes of the struggles and triumphs of black life, common during this time in art and literature. Together, these resources will help students define how African Americans expressed themselves during the Harlem Renaissance.

From the American History Database

"Armstrong, Louis," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/884523.

Photograph of 20th-century jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

"Basin Street by Palmer Hayden," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2121841.

Image of the oil painting, Basin Street by Harlem Renaissance artist Palmer Hayden, known for his depictions of African American life in urban cities.

"Claude McKay: 'If We Must Die' (1919)," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2121754.

Written during the Red Summer Race Riots of 1919, this is Claude McKay's sonnet, "If We Must Die," considered by some critics as the spark that ignited the Harlem Renaissance.

"Cotton Club," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1188363.

Photograph of the outside of the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City, a cultural hub that featured such acts as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.

"'Harlem Rent Parties': Frank Byrd Narrative (1938)," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1899633.

In this Federal Writers' Project interview from August 23, 1938, Harlem resident Frank Byrd describes the sights and sounds of the typical Harlem rent party.

"Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston: The Mule-Bone: a Comedy of Negro Life, Acts I & II (1931)," https://americanhistory.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2121840.

The play The Mule-Bone: A Comedy of Negro Life in Three Acts (1931), written by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, based on a folktale collected by Hurston during her anthropological study of Eatonville, Florida. A note to educators that some may find the language in this entry offensive.

Professional Resources

"Harlem Renaissance," Uncovering America, National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/education/teachers/lessons-activities/uncovering-america/harlem-renaissance.html.

This set of resources for K–12 educators features the artists and works of art from the Harlem Renaissance that reflect the richness and diversity of the people, places, and cultures of the United States. Includes Overview of era with hyperlinks to significant artists and their work, along with classroom activities.

"The Twenties, 1920-1929," Teaching History, History Hub, https://historyhub.abc-clio.com/Support/TeachingHistory/?databaseId=AMHS&categoryId=245&topicId=205&subId=2020&entryId=2140782&tab=3.

Teaching tips provide an overview and context for the 1920s. A pacing guide on the Harlem Renaissance offers a curated list of primary and secondary sources on the arts and culture that defined the era.

Reference Books

Davis, Thomas J. and Brenda M. Brock. Documents of the Harlem Renaissance. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2020.

This reference text represents the voices of the era in poetry and prose, in full or excerpted from anecdotes, editorials, essays, manifestoes, orations, and reminiscences, with appearances by major figures and often overlooked contributors to the Harlem Renaissance.

Ostrom, Hans. A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002.

This book includes separate entries for each of Langton Hughes's more than 850 published poems, for his short stories and songs, and for numerous other topics related to his life and writings.

Ostrom, Hans A. and J. David Macey, eds. African American Literature: An Encyclopedia for Students. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2019.

Entries in this encyclopedia cover the most influential African American writers and key periods of African American literature, such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and the Civil Rights Era.

Nonfiction for Students (6-12)

Hill, Laban C, and Nikki Giovanni. Harlem Stomp !: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.

Illustrated and well-researched, this book explores the literary, artistic, and intellectual creativity of the Harlem Renaissance and discusses the lives and work of Louis Armstrong, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and other notable figures of the era.

Li, Stephanie. Zora Neale Hurston: A Life in American History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2020.

In this biography, chronological chapters follow Zora Neale Hurston's family, upbringing, education, influences, and her major artistic works, placing these within the context of American history.

Orr, Tamra. The Harlem Renaissance: An African American Cultural Movement. New York: Lucent Press, 2019.

A vivid account of this vibrant African American cultural movement through engaging main text, annotated quotations from historical figures and scholars, and carefully selected primary sources. Sidebars and a comprehensive timeline highlight important artists, writers, and works from the Harlem Renaissance.

Wall, Cheryl A. The Harlem Renaissance: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

By introducing key figures and texts of the era, Cheryl A. Wall identifies the characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance and defines the issues that engaged writers, musicians, and visual artists during the Harlem Renaissance.

Literature & Film for Students

Burns, Ken, Geoffrey C. Ward, and Lynn Novick. Jazz. Arlington, VA: PBS Home Video, 2004. DVD.

Filmmaker Ken Burns tells the story of jazz in this 10-part series, tracing the origins and history of jazz and focusing on the individual musicians who helped shape its development, from the streets of New Orleans to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and everywhere else in between.

Grimes, Nikki. One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomsbury USA, 2017.

Inspired by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, the author uses a unique poetic method to create original poems based on the works of poets like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, and others. An introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance and poet biographies accompany the poems.

Hurston, Zora Neal. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013.

Originally published in 1937, this edition of the classic story about black Americans in Florida that centers on the life of Janie and her three marriages has a foreword by Edwidge Danticat and an afterword by Louis Gates, Jr.

Larsen, Nella, and Charles R. Larson. The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen. New York: Anchor Books, 2001.

This volume brings together the complete fiction of one of the most gifted writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Collected here are both of her novels, Passing and Quicksand, as well as all three of her published short stories; "Freedom," "The Wrong Man", and "Sanctuary."

Literature & Film for Educators

Krasner, David. A Beautiful Pageant: African American Theatre, Drama, and Performance in the Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1927. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

Looking at events as diverse as the prizefight between Jack Johnson and Jim 'White Hope' Jeffries, the choreography of Aida Walker and Ethel Waters, the writing of Zora Neale Hurston and the musicals of the period, David Krasner explores in depth the creations of the Harlem Renaissance years.

McKay, Claude. Home to Harlem. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000.

Originally published in 1928, this novel follows the stories of two men in Harlem in the aftermath of World War I.

Locke, Alain. The New Negro. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Originally published in 1925 and edited by Alain Locke, this anthology of poetry, prose, and nonfiction essays brings together the voices of the writers and artists who shaped the Harlem Renaissance.

Stewart, Jeffrey C. The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke. London: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Based on the extant primary sources of his life and on interviews with those who knew him personally, this definitive biography chronicles the life of Alain Locke, the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Wilkerson, Isabel. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration. New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 2011.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

Websites & Mobile Apps

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond, Smithsonian American Art Museum, https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/african-american-2012.

An overview of the exhibition organized and curated by Virginia Mecklenburg, with an image gallery of painting and photographs from the exhibit.

Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/collections/zora-neale-hurston-plays/about-this-collection/.

This collection present ten plays written by Hurston (1891-1960) that reflect Hurston's life experience, travels, and research, especially her knowledge of folklore in the African-American South.

MLA Citation

"Harlem Renaissance Activity: Harlem Renaissance." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, educatorsupport.abc-clio.com/Support/ActivityOverview/2260013. Accessed 1 Oct. 2022.