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University Libraries Highlight the Harlem Renaissance

By Diane Osman, Lauren Markert ’22

In 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed February as a national celebration of Black history, stating, “We can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” 

This national observance is an outgrowth of Negro History Week, originated by Carter G. Woodson in 1926. Woodson was the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, an organization dedicated to researching and promoting achievements by Black Americans and other peoples of African descent. Held in the second week of February, this event encouraged nationwide celebrations planned by local schools, governments and communities. Set by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the theme of Black History Month for 2021 is “The Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.”

Feb. 5-21: PATH-eligible Program on the Harlem Renaissance

This month, the University Libraries are highlighting the cultural impact of the Harlem Renaissance period with a PATH-eligible asynchronous program created by Diane Osman, Shari Neilson, Amanda Black and members of the University Libraries Diversity and Inclusion Team. The program, “The Impact of the Harlem Renaissance,” runs Feb. 5-21 and is free and available to all.

The Harlem Renaissance, which emerged in the 1920s out of New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, is often seen as a golden age for African American artists, writers and musicians who challenged a history of oppression. Through their works, these artists brought to light the Black experience — particularly the Black urban experience in America — transforming how the Black experience was represented in American culture and setting the stage for the civil rights movement. Participants will learn how this period’s influence on the arts and its impact on modern Black culture make it one of America's most important cultural movements. 

The University Libraries have a wide range of resources that highlight African American history and achievements.

Fiction from the Harlem Renaissance

  • The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman: Emma Lou Morgan, 18, lives in a world of scorn and shame, not because her skin is black, but because it’s too black. No one among her family, teachers, and friends has a word of consolation or hope for the despised and rejected girl. With nothing to lose, Emma Lou leaves her home in Idaho on a journey that leads her to the legendary community of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • Home to Harlem by Claude McKay: This novel traces the parallel paths of two young men struggling to find their way through the suspicion and prejudice of American society. It also touches on the central themes of the Harlem Renaissance, including the urgent need for Black unity and identity.
  • Not Without Laughter by Langston Hughes: This work portrays African American life in Kansas in the 1910s, focusing on the effects of class and religion on the community. The main storyline focuses on the main character’s awakening to the sad and the beautiful realities of Black life in a small Kansas town.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Written in 1937, this book tells an epic tale of Janie Crawford, whose quest for identity takes her on a journey during which she learns what love is, experiences life’s joys and sorrows and comes home to herself in peace.

Nonfiction: African American History

  • Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Period by Lean’tin L. Bracks and Jessie Carney Smith: From 1914 into the 1940s, the Harlem Renaissance brought about expression and periods of intellectual creation. This book highlights the expression of Black women during this time period and how they contributed to many roles within this movement.
  • Why Black History is Important to You” by Lerone Bennett Jr.: Ever wonder why Black history should be something you invest in? This 1982 article in Ebony magazine lays out the importance of studying the history of African Americans. Topics include making Black history concrete and establishing personal responsibility for the movement.
  • The Untold Story of NASA's Trailblazers” by Caitlin M. Casey: This review of the acclaimed 2016 film Hidden Figures offers perspective on how Black women influenced the U.S. space race. In it, Casey elaborates the lives and accomplishments of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson.
  • The 50 Most Important Figures in Black American History” by Lerone Bennett Jr.: This 1989 piece from Ebony is a visual representation of 50 significant figures who made indispensable contributions to Black American history, including Louis Armstrong, Jack Johnson and Howard Thurman.  
  • Two Dollars and a Dream by Stanely Nelson: This film tells the story of Madame C.J. Walker and how she became America's first self-made millionairess.
  • W.E.B. Du Bois by David Levering Lewis: This monumental biography — eight years in the research and writing — addresses the early and middle phases of a 50-year career, revealing the ways Du Bois changed forever the way Americans think about themselves. 
  • African Voices in the African American Heritage by Betty M. Kuyk: Drawing on oral history, interviews, historical documentation, folklore, song lyrics and the works of two major African American folk artists — Sam Doyle and Bill Traylor — this volume reveals African influences on African American life and shows how the African impulse fed American culture into the 20th century.
  • A Black Women's History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross: This volume amplifies the voices of the many Black women who shaped the foundation of the United States. Through these women’s stories, the authors explore a compilation of perspectives that highlight the spirit of Black women in the United States.

Films on Kanopy

Kanopy, a subscription-based media streaming service accessible through the Libraries website with UD login and authentication, provides access to thousands of films on myriad topics.

  • Ethnic Notions: African American Sterotypes and Prejudices: Marlon Riggs’ Emmy-winning documentary takes viewers on a disturbing voyage through American history, tracing the deep-rooted stereotypes that have fueled anti-Black prejudice.
  • Birth of a Movement: In 1915, Boston-based newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly The Birth of a Nation that still rages today about race relations, media representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood.
  • At The River I Stand: Memphis, Tennessee, in the spring of 1968 marked the dramatic climax of the civil rights movement. This film skillfully reconstructs the two eventful months that transformed a strike by a Memphis sanitation worker into a national conflagration and disentangles the complex historical forces that came together with the inevitability of tragedy at the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

— Diane Osman works in the dean’s office of the University Libraries and is a member of the University Libraries Diversity and Inclusion Team. Lauren Markert is an international business management major and a student assistant in the University Libraries dean’s office.

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