Women of the Harlem Renaissance

From About.com:

HarlemIt was the early twentieth century, and the world had already changed tremendously compared to the world of their parents and grandparents. Slavery had ended in America more than half a century earlier. While African Americans still faced tremendous economic and social obstacles in both the northern and southern states, there were more opportunities than there had been. After the Civil War (and beginning slightly before, especially in the North), education for black Americans — and black and white women — had become more common. Many were not able to attend or complete school, but a substantial few were able not only to attend and complete elementary or secondary school, but college. Professional education opened up to blacks and women. Some black men became professionals: physicians, lawyers, teachers, businessmen. Some black women also found professional careers as teachers, librarians. These families in turn saw to the education of their daughters. Some saw the returning black soldiers from World War I as an opening of opportunity for African Americans. Black men had contributed to the victory, too. Surely America would now welcome these black men into full citizenship. Black Americans were moving out of the rural South, and into the cities and towns of the industrial North. They brought “black culture” with them: music with African roots and story-telling. The general culture began adopting as its own elements of that black culture: this was the Jazz Age! Hope was rising — though discrimination, prejudice and closed doors on account of race and sex were by no means eliminated. But there were new opportunities. It seemed more worthwhile to challenge those injustices: perhaps the injustices could be eliminated, or at least made less. In this environment, a flowering of music, fiction, poetry and art in African American intellectual circles came to be called the Harlem Renaissance. A Renaissance, like the European Renaissance, in which moving forward while going back to roots generated tremendous creativity and action. Harlem, because one of the centers was the neighborhood of New York City called Harlem, by this time predominantly peopled by African Americans, more of whom were daily arriving from the South. Below are women who played key roles in the Harlem Renaissance — some are well-known, and some have been neglected or forgotten.

More here. (Note: In honor of African American History Month, we have been linking to at least one related post throughout February. The 2012 theme is Black Women in American Culture and History).