The place was New York City. The time was the 1920s, the Jazz Age. Nowhere did the music seem as loud or play as sweet as it did in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem. There, a flowering of African American culture created a community bursting with artistry, political energy, and racial pride. This was a time when a large amounts of artists, writers, musicians, thinkers, historians, Blacks that were deeply involved in the arts and politics, and people with various talents stepped on the scene. Harlem was the center of urban black life. If you wanted to write, you went to Harlem. If you wanted to dance, you went to Harlem. If you wanted to effect social change, you went to Harlem. If you wanted to compose music, you went to Harlem. If you wanted the best chance at changing your circumstances and you were black, you went to Harlem. It was considered the heart of the Renaissance in African American letters, hence the name The Harlem Renaissance. It was also considered the heart of African American life, hence the designation of Harlem as Home in most black literature of the time. Harlem stands, then, not only as a designation of a geographical area, but also as a symbol for the best and worst qualities of African American life during the early twentieth century. If you want to know anything about that time, then, you must first start with Harlem.
The film "Remembering Harlem" was representative of the many events that went on in Harlem. I found it to be very interesting as well as enlightening. One of the people's who's story was told in the film that really stood out to me was Arthur P. Davis. Arthur lived in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance. He talked about going to a place called the Lincoln Auditorium for dances because that was the only place that Blacks could actually go and have a good time, considering that they could not go where white patrons went. This did happen to be a good thing for Arthur because he got the opportunity to see artists such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Josephine Baker, and Florence Mills perform.
Even though this of course was fun, Harlem wasn't the greatest place for a child to grow up in. Arthur's neighborhood was one that was full of chaos, was extremely poor and basically cramped. In the film Arthur recalls how during Halloween children from his neighborhood would play wars with children from other neighborhoods using socks filled with ashes as their choice of weapons, and how he would sleep on the balconies of what he called "rust red buildings," in order to keep himself cool on the summer nights the were really hot. Arthur went on to mention that during the cold winter nights people would have to boil water and keep the stove on in order to keep warm. All of this shows however, that the people of Harlem were able to survive and maintain through both the good as well as the bad times.
The racism in Harlem was difficult as well. Long after the renaissance you would hear one of Harlem's famous sons, Malcolm X speak of it. An example of this would be a Black woman that was accused of solicitating when she was simply waiting for her husband. The officer began harassing and grabbing her, once her husband arrived, he attempted to help, and a riot started. This is only one of the many incidents of this kind that occurred.
Called then the New Negro Movement, the Harlem Renaissance was a self conscious awakening from the darkness of slavery vanquished only a few generations past. Set between the end of the Great War and the Great Depression, the Renaissance was brief, but it made a joyous noise.