The history of African Americans in the United States is full of many dark moments. There are periods in which the black community struggled to contend with discrimination and its effects, passage, and implementation of discriminatory policies as well as a clamor for self-identity (Frith 115). The Harlem renaissance is an important period in the history of Blacks in the United States as it marked the mass exodus of many African Americans from rural settings to urban settings (Church et al., 76). Various Harlem Renaissance texts The Weary Blues, Seventh Street, Subway Wind, and Balance and Tan recapture well the city life that emerged during this era (Wall 83). The texts manifest how the movement of African Americans to the urban spaces resulted in the development of jazz culture, the entrenchment of the black identity into the American system, the emergence of a cohort of literate blacks, rise of romanticism and expressionism in the 19320s (Jones 83).
Characterization of the City Life for African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance
In the Harlem Renaissance, cities were characterized as not only epitomes of thriving cultural innovation but also centers of multicultural interactions. The cities manifested a dramatic awakening in the history of America where the whites and blacks came face to face in an urban setting thus allowing cultural exchanges as well as interracial marriages. Though there were still elements of racial prejudice, especially against the black Americans the cities irradiated with unique black innovations that somehow debunked the traditional perceptions about the community as being a second class generation. One aspect of cultural innovation during this time was the wearing of expect and expressionist attire by the jazz artists. The Weary Blues shows that the city life was turbulent and replete with new developments, especially among the formerly discriminated blacks.
The city life is also shown a trigger of socio-economic and cultural transformation. It featured the incredibility of black literary, musical, theatrical, and visual arts as a way of developing a new concept of the unique black identity (Arora 95). It is within the cities that the blacks for once embarked on a journey of self-realization and actualization through a determined move to conceptualize the Negro beyond the mere white stereotypes which had significantly restricted the relationship that the black had not only with their heritage but also with each other as a community (Arora 127). Furthermore, the city life is depicted as having been a delinking factor between the past black oppression and the white patronage. For instance, the nightclubs in Harlem were ridden with blacks drinking and dancing without regard to the bourgeois shame in the eyes of the whites (Lenz 332).
The city life is also portrayed as a movement which established the foundation upon which subsequent literature, consciousness, and African American scholarship would be founded. For instance, life was treated casually which is a common aspect of the western culture but the innovations of jazz further increased the sense of casualty in the lives of city dwellers (Brace et al., 188). The crop of jazz singers during this time was utterly creative and invented new aspects into their music and play. One point of their innovation was the attempts to involve the audience in their performance (Jarrett787). For instance, in Hughes's poem called the Weary Blues, he invokes the song genre the blues to inspire unity between himself and the many African American audiences (Wall 81). In the music, black artists underscored their shared sense of African identity and tried to endear it to the rest of the community (Clay 1350).
The city life manifested a break of the Africans from their sense of subordination to feeling of equality. In the cities, the Africans were very active and defined their own destinies through sheer hard work and academic pursuit. Therefore, the cities epitomized men and women who belonged to minority races embrace their identities and set themselves as being equals to the white majority (Church, Jean Currie, and Karen, 136). The cities were characterized by black artists such as Hughes who in their compositions revealed the quality of "a black man's soul. Hughes, for instance, demonstrated how the blues which to him is a uniting factor for the blacks keep him alive. In making this assertion, the artist implores the rest of the blacks to rise above discrimination and preserve their black identity (Frith 117).
The Harlem renaissance city life had the African Americans posing to reflect on their past suppression and how they needed to progress amidst white domination (Hollenbach 309). In their songs, the artists tried to provide a departure from the Western music to an African-centric jazz as an impressionist way of giving sense to the African identity. Despite the tribulations of their past, the black Americans who had moved to the city demonstrated resilience and a desire to transform their challenges into power and beauty of the black tradition (Brace, Harcourt, and Christopher 187). The Africans were weary and clamored to enjoy autonomy in a white-dominated environment. The African Americans who had acquired new status in the urban spaces embarked on emphasizing the origins of the African American experience. They also openly refined and took pride in the African American creativity, forms of expression and the sense of collective weariness of the community (Church, Jean, and Karen 87).
In Harlem city life, the Blacks are portrayed as not only being curious but also innovative. They used various ways including music, performance, and culture to communicate their displeasure with the conditions to which they were subjected. Precisely, the blacks were primarily subjects of the whites and treated merely as slaves (Tolnay 227). Therefore, in the city of Harlem, the artists took the opportunity to scorn their tormentors through singing and advancing the black culture. In The Weary Blues for instance, Hughes expressed the weariness, disappointment, difficulties and stoic resilience of the African American society (Hollenbach 312). Despite the fact that music forms the subject of the people, it does little in entertaining than expressing the deep emotion in the blacks due to their devastating conditions in the United States.
The African Americans who gained the urban city life began to unravel the complex challenges and opportunities that faced them as a community. They achieved more enlightenment and strove to draw contrasts between the lifestyle that they had to live against that of the whites (Tolnay 65). The concept of social class and social stratification began to make sense to them hence strove to gain recognition and equality through forging a legitimate cultural force. The white culture and the black culture came into an apparent conflict in Harlem. In the midst of trying to give a new sense to their status in the city, there began to emerge social classification even among the blacks (Arora 143). For instance, the economy became conflicted in which those with money spent it quickly and excessively. In the new city culture of the African Americans, drinking liquor grew deeply entrenched despite the passage of prohibition laws (Lenz328).
Jazz music and culture became the centerpiece of the energetic nightlife of the city (Jones 72). Jazz was integrated into most of the popular dances of the city entertainment. The city performance clubs would be decorated with romantic and explicit pieces of artworks which attracted the elite groups as well as patrons (Hollenbach 311). The middle-class African Americans would gather in city jazz clubs where they would freely interact with their fellow black locals (Harrison-Kahan 425). During this time, the whites and blacks came face to face as the latter expressed their cultures and identity in song and dance (Anderson 137).
The African Americans who had slowly established havens in the city life had to struggle to overcome the stereotypes conveyed by the white visitors (Leonard94). Through the jazz music, the blacks also labored to nurture an authentic black voice which the elite writers could not project (Favor 73). With the support of the civil rights movement, the African Americans gained the rigor to express their identity further (Hollenbach 308). The city life attracted various literary figures among the Africans Americans including Du Bois who formed groups such as The Talented Tenth and the Lost Generation writers (Jarrett785). Through such social groups, the blacks were able to articulate their challenges as well as desires. Furthermore, the elite group focused on demystifying the unique black experience (Leonard94). Through art and writing, the African Americans believed that they would gain recognition and respectability in the U.S.
The progressive acquisition of urban status especially in Harlem and Manhattan made them attractive for African American newcomers. Harlem transformed into a melting pot of African culture (Watson 163). Not only did it form a pace for the African American elite but also members of the community within different social, political and economic strata. With the influence of the educated African Americans, many more blacks enrolled in Universities and colleges resulting in an established group of African intellectuals (Brace, Harcourt, and Christopher 189). This educated groups profoundly contributed to the development of Harlem and advancement of the African identity. The academia entered the community and eventually becoming concentrated in the city thus facilitating the emergence of socio-cultural movements which would advance the new social awareness and a reminiscence of the collective African American past.
The city life provided boundless opportunities for the African Americans through the development of jazz, black art, economic prosperity and the rise of black middle class. City life was characterized with the celebration of the Afro-American heritage and culture. The epic of Harlem renaissance ushered African Americans to the realities and opportunities of the creative world (Watson 124). For the black artists, city life enabled them to redefine and energize African music and nightlife. In the process, African Americans were able to showcase the black music, entertainment, and theater to those who had not experienced it before (Perpener 184). Through this incredible interaction with the white city dwellers, the blacks were able to inspire a unique sense of fascination among the whites (Anderson 145).Artists could develop new genres of music which resulted in significant financial success.
The city life in the Harlem Renaissance was characterized by flourishing artistic and social development. The city and its neighborhood encapsulated a productive sense of living together and creativity. Broadway shows featured talented black performers and black nightlife entertainment (Anderson 140). It marked a platform of a breakthrough for the black scholars and writers to deliver an authentic identity of the Africans and represent the ideal life of black Americans (Hutchinson 116). Through the voice of the artists and writings of the American scholars, the genuine black identity was manifested as resilient, exquisite and able to use their abilities to define their future (Stairs 41). Led by the black middle class, the blacks never shied away from debunking the concept of African Americans as second class citizens and people without any sense of identity.
Jazz music and culture redefined the self-identity of the blacks in the cities. It was more than just a form of entertainment but traversed the very roots of an African solidarity. Africans who p...
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