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How did the Harlem Renaissance encouraged Black

Nationalism in the 1920s?

The Harlem Renaissance occurred during the 1910s through the mid 1930s in the Harlem

neighborhood of New York City. It was a time period when African American culture flourished

socially and artistically. African Americans were making breakthroughs in literature, music,

stage performance, and art. Artists such as Louis Armstrong, Josephine Baker, and Langston

Hughes were becoming popular worldwide because of their artistic abilities. Places in Harlem,

such as the Cotton Club, also grew in popularity because everyone wanted to be the next “big

thing” and they figured the only strategy was to move to New York City and publish their art and

music there just like the other big stars that came before them. Following the Harlem

Renaissance was a Back to Africa Campaign lead by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. Garvey, an

immigrant from Jamaica, lead black nationalism and pan-africanism movements during this time

period. He desired for all African diaspora worldwide to unite and separate from the other races

in order to make their own country and believed that this was the only way any person with

african descent in the world could succeed. Certain events such as the Great Migration, the

confidence boost due to the popularity of African American culture, and the frustration of

African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance encouraged the Black Nationalist movement

in the 1920s.

From the 1900s to the 1920s, a numerous amount of African Americans travelled from

the north to the south in order to find a better life, this later came to be known as the Great

Migration. Immigration from other countries started to decrease after World War I, which
resulted in a lot of jobs opening up in the northern part of the United States. From 1915-1916,

natural disasters had put a lot of southern African Americans out of work. In order to be

employed and seek a better life, many African Americans moved north along with their families.

By 1920, approximately 300,000 African Americans had moved north in the Great Migration.

One of the most popular destinations for these African American immigrants was Harlem,

because it had a high number of empty buildings due to overdevelopment. The Great Migration

allowed African Americans to be more centered and united in one location. It would have been a

lot more difficult to start a black nationalist movement if the African American population had

been dispersed throughout the country like previously before. With a large amount of black

people in Harlem, it was very easy for ideas about society to be spread because there was a larger

density of people. Garvey and his idea of separating the races in order to better the lives of all

people with african ancestry was easily able to spread and become very influential because of

large density of African Americans in the north that occurred as a result of the Great Migration

during the Harlem Renaissance.

Not only did the population of African Americans in Harlem increase during the Harlem

Renaissance, but the confidence of African Americans increased as well. In the years

surrounding and during this time period, black people in America were mistreated very badly.

Jim Crow laws and being terrorized by white people usually kept the confidence and self esteem

of African Americans low when trying to gain equality in the United States. The Harlem

Renaissance gave black people hope because they were finally able to make a change and be

recognized by society in a positive manner. Instead of being called derogatory terms and being

the victims of violent crimes, African Americans were being known for their art such as music
and literature. The positive attention that they were receiving during the Harlem Renaissance

gave African Americans confidence that they could demand for better living conditions in

America. This newly found confidence and hope motivated the Black Nationalist movement in

the 1920s. They could now believe, similar to the beliefs of Marcus Garvey, that they could

function and build a society completely independently of everyone else and still succeed.

Although African Americans had gained confidence and positive attention, they were still

very frustrated about not getting the treatment that they thought they deserved. After contributing

economically, through sharecropping and harsh laborious jobs in agriculture, and culturally,

through the Harlem Renaissance, to society they still were not given equal treatment and rights.

Public places were still segregated, Jim Crow laws still existed, and some jazz clubs and art

during the Harlem Renaissance was only available to white people. After many years, built up

frustration and anger amongst black people caused them to be very open to the idea of being

separated from white people completely. During this time period, African Americans were

desperate to see any type of change in the way they were being treated.

The Harlem Renaissance influenced the black nationalist movement in the 1920s

severely. The newly found confidence, frustration and anger built over time, and the Great

Migration that occurred during the Harlem Renaissance encouraged the Black Nationalism

movement. The Harlem Renaissance was able to display African Americans with a completely

new perspective compared to before, and black people took full advantage of their new public

appearance to society. The newly found confidence and unity of African Americans during this

time period resulted in the start of the black nationalist movement.


Works Cited
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Remembered and Reclaimed.” St. Clair, Stephanie (1886–1969) | The Black Past:
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Hughes, Langston. “Mother to Son by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry
Foundation, ​www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47559/mother-to-son​.
“Langston Hughes.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 18 Jan. 2018,
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“Marcus Garvey.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 19 Jan. 2018,
www.biography.com/people/marcus-garvey-9307319​.
Urofsky, Melvin I. “Jim Crow Law.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,
19 July 2017, www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law.
Vechten, Van, and Carl. “[Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston].” Apple Computers: This Month in
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Jan. 1970, ​www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004663047/​.
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www.biography.com/people/zora-neale-hurston-9347659.