Essay: The Harlem Renaissance

Renaissance is defined as a rebirth or revival. The Harlem Renaissance started in the mid 1920’s. It marked the renewal and revival of African Americans. A time during which slavery was ushered from the minds of African Americans and one also during which their spirits were renewed culturally through poetry music and arts. Many African Americans migrated North during World War I, due to the shortage of laborers. This resulted in a very diverse mix of cultures from all over. Harlem was full of life with jazz clubs, dancing and even alcohol was secretly served. The city was filled with African Americans looking to release all the troubles from the many years of slavery and it was also enjoyed immensely by upper class white people. New music forms were born during this time. Blues was introduced and Jazz was better appreciated. All of this was the inspiration of the literature works of this time. Before Harlem Renaissance, W. E. B. Du Bois, had written The Souls of Black Folk. This literary work of art explained the double-consciousness of African Americans. Double-consciousness is the sense of always seeing one’s self through the eyes of others. This was a typical aspect of the Black Americans as many were descendants of Africans were brought to America for slavery. They weren’t directly “African” and neither were they treated as “Americans”. This dilemma was a part of their lives. The Harlem Renaissance became an outlet for the feelings Black Americans had.

Two artists were outstanding to me, the poet, Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Bennett. Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, MO and came to New York to study at the Columbia University. Successful in Harlem at novels, poems and plays, he was a young poet whose works were very powerful and spoke of the life of Black Americans through words. Langston often wrote poems that were inspired by the Jazz music he heard. Gwendolyn Bennett was born in Texas and attended college in New York. She was introduced to Langston Hughes and several other Harlem Renaissance poets in 1924. Gwendolyn had a passion for the arts. She published poems in the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine. Theodore Ward said that she was the “most promising of the poets out of the Harlem Renaissance.”

Both poets had a very important role in the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes was coined as the father of the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of African Americans. Langston’s work set the stage for African Americans to be respected. Gwendolyn Bennett became the editor of The Opportunity magazine which housed many works of poets and novelist during the Harlem Renaissance. She wrote a lot of poems focused on freedom, rights, and feelings of her fellow African Americans. Both poets were very influential in expressing a positive attitude amongst the people in Harlem and all around.

Both wrote various works that were utilized to boost the consciousness of African Americans to the outside world. Langston’s poem, “The Weary Blues”. In this poem there is evidence of double-consciousness as his language is native to the Black American language spoken by slaves. It takes the natural form of blues songs. The double consciousness comes in towards very end at the instance where he starts using standard American language contrary to the African American slang that he starts writing the Poem with. Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem “To a Dark Girl” was very enlightening. It could be that people on the outside could be looking at her brown skin and the way she walks, and thinking she is not good enough. She is not American, she is African American. The thought could be that she should be sorrowful because of her heritage, skin and body. Langston Hughes’ theme is the blues and how he is alone in this world. This I’m sure is was a common feeling among many African Americans during this time. Gwendolyn Bennett’s poem carries a similar theme. A brown girl that shows sadness in her walk and her talk. Near the end of the poem she shares some encouragement to basically let the past be the past and laugh at fate.


Sayre, H. (2011). The Humanities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Learning Solutions.

World Class Poetry. (2005-2012). Retrieved August 24, 2014, from World Class Poetry- Langston Hughes Poet Laureate:

Gwendolyn Bennetta Bennett. (2014). The website. Retrieved 07:36, Aug 25, 2014, from

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