Harlem became the hub of African American culture in the early 20th century. Here lies a place in New York City that radiated with new ideas, imaginations, and a newfound identity for African Americans. What is recognized as the Harlem Renaissance is a movement that was curated to establish a foundation for social activism and to voice a new spirit for Black culture.
Not only was this movement a major turning point for Black artistry, but it was a time of new beginnings for the youth as the younger generation influenced this brilliance. With so many creative influences being brought into the light through major Black publications like Opportunity, the younger generation was being exposed to these bold new ideas that hopefully sparked a new sense of identity for them. You might begin to wonder, what new ideas were being encouraged to the youth during this time and why were they so important?
One of the major issues during the Harlem Renaissance was for African Americans to gain control over the representation of Black culture. Before that, a lot of Black culture was really only represented through the white man’s point of view. With the help of Black scholars, activists, and artists there was a new voice for African Americans that began the movement towards freedom. Through artistry Harlem became this haven that fostered creativity, autonomy, and self-expression. You have all of this new poetry and art that’s encouraging the youth to show strength and be confident and essentially work towards a better tomorrow.
Countee Cullen represented one of the biggest voices of hope and life for the Black community during this time. As a young writer during his time, his words had this intriguing and romantic flare that hid so much meaning that was just waiting to be unraveled by those who read it. In his poem, To One Who Said Me Nay, Cullen writes, “This much is granted for an hour: That we are young and tender…Oh, wear my heart today; tomorrow who knows where the winds will blow it?” (143). These lines reference that African Americans are only young once and not for long. Cullen then goes on to allude to the idea that you should be open about your emotions and act on them because who know’s what’ll happen. This idea of using your voice and doing what you want seems to be a common theme in Cullen’s work. He really romanticizes the idea of choice and doing what makes you happy and what can make the biggest impact on your life. It’s refreshing and empowering to hear these words because they touch on such necessary ideologies. It seems that Cullen wants the Black American youth to go out and live life without censoring themselves, and he is encouraging them to use their hearts to guide them in the direction of their destiny.
Angelina W. Grimke was another young writer during the Harlem Renaissance who primarily focused on being an activist for African Americans and highlighting the racial injustices they faced in America. Her poetry was very popular at the time and her way with words can definitely attest to her greatness. In her poem, For the Candle Light, Grimke writes, “The sky was blue, so blue that day…Oh! I knew that no more could rains fall gray” (263). In these lines Grimke seems to stress the idea that life at the moment is beautiful. There are good days and there’s nothing that can change that or make those days bad. She could very well be referring to the Harlem Renaissance. It was indeed a period of great accomplishments for African Americans and a blossoming of ingenuity and high spirits.
Grimke also mentions, “Well, if night is night…I have in a book, for the candle light, A daisy, dead and dry” (263). In these lines it almost seems that she is accepting of bad days. Even if bad days appear, there will always be good days to look back on. This can relate to the idea that injustice and bad days will never fully go away. While African Americans have made progress in the fight to freedom and to accurately represent themselves and continue to make progress, there are always setbacks. There are always things that get in the way of progress and the world is still not fully accepting and equal. But Grimke sheds a positive light on this situation in the sense that achievements have been made and African Americans should be proud of that and look back on those achievements because they are very important. The daisy symbolizes something that will always be remembered. No matter how much time passes, it’s major impacts and accomplishments that reassure better days and solidify that change has been made. Those very achievements are what the youth look up to. And it’s the youth that are going to grow up and decide how they are going to contribute to that greatness.
For the African American youth at that time they were to become the new tomorrow. They were to be legacies for the already inspiring scholars, activists, and artists. So it was crucial that they take in all of the new ideas being introduced to them and immerse themselves in the New Negro movement. Essentially, these already experienced public African American voices were tasked with emphasizing the need to be politically active and racially conscious. Their next task was to influence the youth and not only to inform them, but to ensure that they keep these ideas/goals going in hopes of a better future for Black America. The Harlem Renaissance was a huge contribution that paved the way for that change and new ideas that have only gotten stronger with time.