Pages: 1  2    3  4    5  6    7  8    9  10    11  12   13  14

This teachers' guide is intended as an outreach to many teachers of African-American culture. I begin with my own book, The Harlem Renaisancee: Hub of African-American Culture 1920-1930 (Pantheon, 1996, and still in print 14 years later).  The Harlem Renaissance is available in several digital formats but the original book is the best because it includes so many photographs, sidebars, and a good design.

There are many other important sources, and the Harlem Renaissance can be taught in many ways, through several disciplines. This website provides the means to reach out to teachers and writers, who can add to it.  The website is created so that teachers can submit their experiences, and suggest new things.  Please add your thoughts and experiences about teaching the harlem Renaissance.

The Harlem Renaissance as a movement was driven by many things:  literature, music, art, history, and African American identity.

  These subjects can be taught separately, but the Harlem Renaissance provides an ideal subject for an interdisciplinary approach. This could involve teachers of literature, African-American studies, music, history, performance, gender and queer studies, American studies. There are rich possibilities for creative team-teaching.

The poetry and novels of the Harlem Renaissance suggest a new language that is especially American, and much of it comes through musical traditions (spirituals and jazz).

Interdisciplinary possibilities:
teaching  teaching music and literature

For Watson’s The Harlem Renaissance, look at:
See pages [Harlem Renaissance defined: pp. 8 -  10]

And for literature, see:
Claude McKay: pp. 32-39, 81-84
Jean Toomer: pp. 40 – 47, 84-85
Countee Cullen:  pp. 48-49, 84-85
Langston Hughes:  pp. 49 – 61, 72 – 77
Zora Neale Hurston:  pp. 67 – 72

Read: compilations of Harlem Renaissance literature

Youtube:  Brent Edwards, Robert O’Meally (to come)

Activity: Readings of Harlem Renaissance works by students, orally

How do you define a "renaissance"?  A renaissance means a new birth. There should first be a naissance, meaning the birth. What was the birth for African-American culture?

How do you define the Harlem Renaissance? 

Why is W. E. B. Dubois so important at the turn of the century and also in introducing younger writers twenty years later?

Why is Alain Locke important as a contributor to the Harlem Renaissance?
Examine the importance of The New Negro, edited by Alain Locke, and the history and culture he places in the foreground.

Discuss the four men most associated with the early Harlem Renaissance:  Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen.  Note the difference in their backgrounds, and also their youth - they were about the same age as the students whom you are teaching.

Discuss Zora Neale Hurston, the key woman writer of the Harlem Renaissance. She grew up in a Florida town that was entirely African American, and she did not consider herself a minority. Discuss Hurston’s use of anthropology to seek the folklore of African-American culture.
Question:  If the students looked at their own background and roots, what kind of folklore would they find?

The succession from the older generation to the younger generation is unusually supportive.  Why are these social dynamics different from other examples of the avant-garde, in which the elder generation is frequently considered an enemy.

What does it mean to be African-American?  Consider this question in regard to Jean Toomer, who rejected being considered as an African American, and the other ways that the Harlem Renaissance figures expressed their racial identity.

The slang of the Harlem Renaissance is highly inventive. [from Daniel Moattar: the typed collection of slang, to come] Look at examples throughout the book.  How has this affected the American language?  What are examples of current slang for some of the same concepts (love, respectability, etc.)

History/American Studies:
The era of the Harlem Renaissance was enormously important in the history of America. It was a time of exploration, of prosperity in the Roaring Twenties, of America’s ascendance in the world. The effect of Prohibition led many white people to go Uptown, where they discovered a new life style and encountered African-American culture.  The experience was a cauldron for change in the way people looked at race, sexuality, hedonism.

Look at the geography as it changes from a few streets at the beginning of the 20th century to a chic destination by the 1920s  [see maps, page 2,  pages 132-133].
Also: consider the current Harlem renaissance, driven by real estate values and how it changes Harlem neighborhoods.

See pages: Historical Background:  pp. 11 - 15
Read: [other works]

Discuss the movement of African-American Harlem from a few streets to a center of African-American and popular culture.  How did this become the center of African-American culture?

Why did Harlem present an opportunity to find an American culture that was not directed by Europe?

Discuss the ways that the Harlem Renaissance crossed boundaries.  It was political and aesthetic. It was black and white.  It was homosexual and heterosexual.  It was high culture and low culture.

Discuss: How did Prohibition affect the social dynamics of this period, between Downtown and Uptown?

Discuss:  The importance of the Talented Tenth and the reaction by young rebels.  The talented Tenth emphasized the importance of the proper parlor, and the rebels gave voice to the vibrant streets of Harlem and the style of jazz.

Activities: A walking tour of Harlem
Hold a discussion / debate:    The image of the New Negro is a rich subject  (pp. 92-98), It would include a camp of older generation (W.E.B. DuBois, Alain Locke), and a camp of young radicals (Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent).  There were also influential white supporters (Carl Van Vechten pp. 98-103,  Charlotte Mason pp 144-150)

There are many other subjects for a discussion / debate which could be framed by the teachers of the Harlem Renaissance.

Example: A debate between the Talented Tenth and the New Negro rebels.  This can address many important issues and subjects about what the Harlem Renaissance was.

Create a period party: This could be very inventive, using words, costumes, music, dance.  Encourage students to read in depth on one person and perform that person during a staged party at A’Lelia Walker’s Dark Tower at the end of the 1920s.  (see pp. 140 – 144).  The characters could include Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Alain Locke, Wallace Thurman, Charlotte Mason, Richard Nugent, W.E. B. Dubois, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and many others.

Assignment:  Students interview an African-American older than the student. Especially valued would be interviewees that are of a much older generation.  Students should ask about the racial and cultural issues of the interviewee in a personal way, how the interviewees were personally affected in their lives.  After the interviews, students will share what they learned, and compare the indivual experiences of the people they interviewed.  The interviews can be audio-only, or video, or only written notes.  It would be good to take a photo of the subject.  It would be better to have audio or video, so the record of the interview can be used for further classes.

Look at Youtube interviews (to come) Watson filmed with elderly Harlem survivors, including a Andy 94 gambler, Mildred Johnson, the founder of the first black private school in Harlem, the first African-American woman hired by New York city.

Music and performance:
The Harlem Renaissance era was widely known for its music and its dancing.  The Uptown musical atmosphere also affected literature and lifestyle.

Look especially at these pages:
- Harlemania pp. 103 - 109
- Harlem Tour: pp. 124 -144
- Performers: pp. 110 - 123

An abundance of performers, singers, and composers can be subjects for this section. They defined a musical style that was essential in America’s definition of itself.  This involves many different people (from Bessie Smith to Louis Armstrong) and different issues, and it benefits from putting it in a broad context.  But even without larger context, the music and performance are mesmerizing.

  Vocal playlist - The songs associated with key performers are noted on pp. 110 -123.

Youtube filmed by Watson:   Christopher Brooks on music.  (to come: Robert O’Meally on music and literature)

How did music, literature and art influence one another?
What is the blues?
What is gospel?  How is it related to other religious music?
What is jazz?  When did it begin?  How did it spread to Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and other areas?
Why are the blues and gospel and jazz so important?
Discuss the blues, both musically and emotionally.
Discuss how the music and dancing in Harlem forged interest in African-American culture.
Why are the dances of the Harlem Renaissance period so important to the history of American popular dance?  What would popular dance be without the contributions of African-Americans?  [examples of dances: Trucking, Turkey Trot, Snake Hips, Black Bottom, Boogie Woogie, Shag, Ballin' the Jack]

- Playing of many songs and musical works from the era - nvite students to interpret a musical work and perform it.
- Students search the internet, etc. to find examples of the Harlem Renaissance performers, including video clips, audio, visual.  

African-American studies, gender studies, queer studies:
The Harlem Renaissance is about several kinds of identity:  African-American, homosexual and lesbian, immigrant, artist, woman. Within American culture they were outsiders.

Activity: Invite students to talk about the dimension of being an "outsider" - both in the period of the Harlem Renaissance and in current times, mixing the historical and the personal. Being an outsider has many dimensions: race, class, sexuality.

Why and how did Harlem become the capital of African-Americans?  What were other black communities like (New Orleans and Chicago, for example)

What role did "queer culture" play in the development of the Harlem Renaissance?  What importance is played by the fact that so many Harlem Renaissance figures were gay or bi-sexual:  Langson Hughes, Bessie Smith, Wallace Thurman, Alberta Hunter, Countee Cullen, Ethel Waters, Alain Locke.

What role did women play in the Harlem Renaissance (Zora Neale Hurston, Charlotte Mason, as well as so many performers from Josephine Baker to Bessie Smith)

Art provided images of the New Negro, created by such artists as Aaron Douglas, Miguel Covarrubias, Richard Bruce Nugent, Augusta Savage, and others

Aaron Douglas: pp. 89-90 Richard Bruce Nugent:  pp. 90-91

Look at Richard Powell’s book: Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance

How did artists and popular culture depict African Americans?  Compare and contrast.  There are many ways to examine racism through these images, focusing and "the Old Negro" and "the New Negro".
What were the sources of African-American art? How was t affected by modernism? How was it affected by native folk sources?

  See you tube shot by Watson:  Richard Powell (to come)

Interdisciplinary events:

Hold a discussion / debate:
A rich subject could be the image of the New Negro(pp. 92-98) It would include a camp of older generation (W.E.B. DuBois, Alaine Locke), a camp of young radicals (Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Richard Bruce Nugent), and white supporters (Carl Van Vechten pp. 98-103,  Charlotte Mason pp 144-150)

Of course, there are many other subjects for a discussion / debate which could be framed by the teachers of the Harlem Renaissance.


How are African-Americans depicted in films, both then and now.
List of films: Including Oscar Micheaux’s films, many others up to the present [to come]

Youtube filmed by Watson: about Oscar Micheaux [to come]

What does films say about the ways we imaginedAfrican-Americans in films during the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s and 1950s?
How did the image of African-Americans change during the 1960s and after?
What is the importance of African-American actors winning Oscars? From Hattie McDaniel to Sidney Poitier to Denzel Washington to Monique?  What does it say that most of them are performers, and the first film-writer to win for "Precious"?

Activity: Using digital video, make a short film about African-Americans now.