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The Literary Heritage of the Harlem Renaissance


The early 20th century was a great period for African American culture, especially in the industry of creative arts. Moreover, this was the most definitive phase when it came to Black people’s art history in America. The juncture, explicitly known as the age of renaissance, was marked by the movement of Black people from various areas of the United States. Some of the regions these individuals came from including Tennessee, Boston, Chicago, and Texas (Honey 9). Since these people came from different areas of the United States, each of them had a different culture. These individuals mingled, and despite their differences, they were united by art and poetry that reminded them of their rich past.

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How Intellectuals, Musicians, Artists, and Poets Helped In Transforming the Views of African American Culture

During the early 20th century, what divided African Americans was the belief that lighter members of the community had a higher chance to better their lives compared to individuals with darker skin. Despite this, there emerged different artists, musicians, intellectuals, and poets who united different classes of African Americans in such areas as bars (Honey 10). They used their talents to remind African Americans of their shared culture. By doing so, African Americans began to change their perception concerning being referred to as Negros. The term Negro was now a reminder of their shared culture and experiences.

Why the “New Negro” Term was utilized to Describe Cultural Experience

To propel African Americans to embrace their culture, this phase was comprised of various lobbies. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), headed by W.E.B. DuBois, was one of the organizations tasked with encouraging African Americans to create and write their own art. The reason African American intellectuals and writers referred to their cultural experiences as the New Negro was because more artists began to write content associated with the culture of the African American. As a result, new pieces of art primarily connected to the African American culture, such as jazz, began to sprout. In addition, the term New Negro was more assertive and demonstrated a sense of self-confidence, and further cultivated literary experimentation, racial pride, and personal self-expression.

Some of the Important African American Poets and Writers

Langston Hughes was one of these individuals who were essentially known for their discerning depiction of the lives of Black people in America. Hughes wrote poetry, plays, short stories, and novels and was further associated with being involved in jazz and the influence it had on some of his pieces of work (Harper 62). Another prominent personality in the 20th century is Claude McKay. He was known for writing verses that honored Jamaican peasant life to rhymes that disapproved of economic and racial inequalities. McKay’s pieces of work included the portrayal of Black lives in America and Jamaica and the basic similarities that both had in how they survived in a racist community.

The Significance of the Jesse B. Semple Character as utilized by Langston Hughes

The Jesse B. Semple character was initially introduced in 1943 by Langston Hughes in several stories that describe the African American man. At a time when racial prejudice was at its peak, Hughes uses Semple’s character to describe the level of discrimination among whites. In the series “Semple Prays a Prayer,” he highlights that the white man would discriminate against Jesus if he returned at that moment (Carey 158). What he meant, in this case, was that at the time, the level of racism among white people was too high that they would not associate with anyone, including Christ Himself. Thus, the character of Jesse B. Semple was an icon that related to the way of life of African Americans and was utilized to teach people how to cope with the many inequalities within society.

How Afro-Caribbean Writers Displayed Continuity in their Works

Afro-Caribbean writers believe that the African culture has not been altered in any way; however, it has continued to prosper. For instance, James states that in the United States, Caribbean women are primarily considered the heads of the family. This is not unique in the African culture since fathers have been known to be missing in the child’s development. Traditionally, men have been polygamous, and in the African culture, each woman and her children slept in separate houses within the same homestead (James). They took turns in performing different activities for their husband, who, in most cases, was not around, and this can be seen in the Caribbean women’s way of life in today’s society.


The early 1920s was a great period for African American culture. During this time, several Black communities managed to come together in search of a better life. These individuals had various cultural characteristics depending on which part of America they came from. Through famous writers and intellectuals such as Langston Hughes and Claude McKay, the communities were reminded of their culture. As a result, most poets and artists referred to this era as the New Negro. The stage was associated with African Americans being proud of their art, their way of life, and their history. They embraced their culture and corrected some of the misrepresentations of African Americans during that time.

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Works Cited

Carey, Julian C. “Jesse B. Semple Revisited and Revised.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 32, no. 2, 1971, pp. 158.

Honey, Maureen. “The Harlem Renaissance and the New Negro.” A Companion to American Literature, vol.3, 2020, pp. 157-172.

James, Louis. “The Caribbean Artists Movement.Manchesteropenhive, 2018. Web.

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