Many people were involved in how The Harlem Renaissance changed the world, but some of the most noteworthy are…
Hubert Harrison. In 1900, he moved to New York as an orphan and a seventeen year old. Also known as the “father of Harlem radicalism,” he believed self-reliance and self-respect were essential for African Americans to face white preeminence and true freedom. He founded the Liberty League (like the NAACP, but with more radical ideas) and the newspaper The Voice. A big promoter of the arts, Harrison often aided African American writers and artist.He was a popular and admired speaker, educator, and journalist. He died in 1927.
Countee Cullen. Though historians can’t place exactly where he was born, they do know he was born in 1903. Cullen once stated that he was born in New York, but being a poet, this could be figurative for how his literary fame all started in that state. While still in high school, Cullen won a poetry contest that was city wide with “I Have a Rendezvous with Life.” He also edited his school newspaper. He got his masters degree in English and French from Harvard in 1927. Cullen achieved the most literary prizes in the 1920’s than any other African American author.
Yolande Du Bois, the only child of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Cullen wed in 1928. Though the marriage didn’t last long, the wedding symbolized “…the union of the grand black intellectual patriarch and the new breed of younger Negroes who were responsible for much of the excitement of the Renaissance.” In 1934, Cullen published One Way to Heaven. This satire is one of the most important works of the Harlem Renaissance. Countee Cullen died in 1946.
William H. Johnson. Born in 1901 and Florence, South Carolina, Johnson suffered from poverty and lack of education. Even at an early age, he had a knack for art. Johnson left to New York to become an artist when he was still a teenager. He had to work for many years before he could afford to go to school at the National Academy of Design. Despite being a rigorous training school for artist, Johnson managed to be an exceptional student.His painting style of bright, contrasting colors with 2 dimensional figures focused on religious themes that projected peace. He laid the foundation for many more African American artists to come. In 1947, Johnson became hospitalized from a mental illness that prevented him from painting. His work didn’t become widely recognized until after his death in 1970.
Duke Ellington. He was born in 1899 in WashingtonD.C. While growing up he showed more than just musical talent. He was offered an art scholarship to a school in Brooklyn but turned it down to dedicate his time to music. In 1923, he moved to New York and established himself as a bandleader. He performed at the Cotton Club in Harlem for many years. His masterful piano playing and orchestra brought sophistication to the jazz genre that no one ever witnessed or heard before. He composed and arranged many pieces of music that redefined the level of style in the jazz field. Ellington died in 1974.
[By Julia Torres]
“Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Early 20th Century Harlem Radicalism | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.” The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. 8 October 2010.
“Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois.” About Countee Cullen's Life and Career. 8 October 2010.
Botsch, Carol Sears. “William H. Johnson.” 8 October 2010.