Celebrating the Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes once wrote that “in all my life I have never been free. I have never been able to do anything with freedom, except in the field of my writing.”
Hughes, the celebrated literary icon and activist, reflected in those words what was perhaps the central theme connecting black artists of so many genres when they joined him in the post-WWI era of artistic and cultural revival in New York City for what is now known as the Harlem Renaissance.
As part of Conn’s recognition of Black History Month, students, faculty and staff participated in a virtual poetry and musical event sponsored by student-run literary magazine Cadenza, the Office of the Dean of the College and the Office of Race and Ethnicity programs.
The event, The Heart of the Harlem Renaissance, featured original poetry recitations, readings from the work of famous Black poets of the era, and clips of legendary musicians including Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.
“This movement was birthed from Black folks migrating north to escape extreme oppression in the Jim Crow South, mainly for economic reasons, but it also provided opportunities for them to express themselves freely through the arts,” said Maurice Tiner ’17, who serves as director of Race and Ethnicity programs. “So this event is to celebrate and lift up some spoken word pieces and iconic songs from that era and to share some original student work that is inspired by the Harlem Renaissance.”
Elizabeth Vinson ’21, who is president of Cadenza, read “When I rise Up,” written by Georgia Douglas Johnson in 1922 during the early years of the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson is one of the lesser-known figures from the era because she was based in Washington, D.C., but her work represented the influence the movement had beyond Harlem to other cities in the northeastern and Midwestern U.S., and even in parts of Europe during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
For his part, Tiner chose to read a piece written by Hughes, titled “Mother to Son,” which he said has long been personally meaningful to him.
In a unique, collaborative performance, members of Reflection, Conn’s spoken word poetry club, led by the club’s president Bri Goolsby ’22, took turns reciting their poem titled “Notes on Black Beauty, Rebirth and Renaissance.”
“For this poem, each of the members picked a prominent figure or topic from the Harlem Renaissance and wrote a bit about them and their impact on both American culture and black culture,” Goolsby explained.