While the Harlem Renaissance may seem far removed from or lives in the 21st century, I would argue it really isn’t. Many of the themes we have discussed this semester are still relevant. Today, people of all races, still struggle with the “who am I” question, and even famous people of mixed ethnicity address the idea of being treated differently in different situations. (Example: Mariah Carey’s song On the Outside.) Similarly, poems about feeling different or missing your home still express the same sentiments today, even if you don’t know the background of McKay or Cullen. Much like the story of the girl from an immigrant family, who read Hughes’ “Minstrel Man” and applied it to her own personal experience. While the point of this course was not to relate the early 20th century African Americans experience to our own lives, I think it’s important to point out many of these themes are universal to the human condition, and in that way have stood the test of time.
What’s more, studying the Harlem Renaissance allows us to evaluate the amazing achievements of a group historically economically, politically, and racial oppressed. While publicity for some African American artists during the Renaissance did not change legal and de-facto segregation, or stop lynching in the south, or even change the economic conditions of many of it’s contributors, it did set in motion a chain of continued progress and advancement. White Americans were now exposed to Jazz, Ragtime, Countee Cullen, and numerous black actors who would rise to an unprecedented level of prominence in the coming decades. African Americans were now written back into history, if not in the text books, in articles and poems written by other African Americans, so that both children and adults could view a documented history that was more than a drawing of an ugly, or worst, blissfully happy slave in a history book. The Advancement of the race through education was stressed, and the next generation realized that they had not just the opportunity, but the obligation to accomplish as much as they could.
The study of events or periods in history requires an understanding of cause and effect relationships. With out the accomplishments of artist, authors, and musicians in the 1920s, the next generation would have lacked a documented history, and perhaps even the sense of identity encouraged by musically art forms and poetry. Certainly without the influence of the Harlem Renaissance, the push to better the next generation and the encouragement of African American doctors, teachers, and social workers would not have had the impacted it did, perhaps occurring much later or not at all. Similarly, without prominent black artists to look up to, the next generation might have well believed that there were only certain jobs for ‘colored children.’
\In this way, the Harlem Renaissance was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement and even the successes of many people today. Thus, in order to really understand today, we have to reflect on yesterday.