The termination of the Civil War in 1865 marked a new era in the United States as black Americans gained their freedom. However, this achievement was shuttered as white supremacy was reintroduced in the late 1870s. White legislators instituted detrimental racial laws which segregated Africans as second-class citizens. The enforcement of these discriminatory statutes led to an identity crisis among African Americans. However, the Harlem Renaissance, created in the early 20th century, gave a rise to black artists who represented the community’s struggles and led to the development of a new Black America in the 1940s.
The end of the Civil War was supposed to give blacks and whites equal opportunities but instead, it gave a rise to a new set of challenges. African Americans, particularly those from the South, were in extreme poverty. According to Du Bois, the dominance of the racial laws forced black peasants into unjust labor contracts where they were mistreated by employers, received little wages, and worked under dreadful conditions (24). The promises of reconstruction made by the government remained unfulfilled, which subjected the former slaves and their children to a cycle of poverty. The abolishment of slavery was accompanied by legislation that hardened the blacks’ lives.
Aside from the unfulfilled promises, the main problem which led to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance was an identity crisis, and Du Bois expounds on the issue using three metaphors. First, he states that the color line was the main issue of the 20th century, claiming that white supremacy created physical and mental barriers (Du Bois 89). The exclusion of black people from accessing public spaces, institutions, and opportunities led to social and psychological complications.
Second, the presence of a veil in the minds of the black people structured the negative perception of themselves (Du Bois 93). The racist logic in the interactions created a feeling of inadequacy in the African American society. Finally, Du Bois mentions double consciousness, by which the black population tried to imitate the whites’ standards (93). African Americans found it hard to balance their perspective of reality and that of racism.
African Americans kept working hard despite the harsh racial conditions. Most of them moved to areas outside the South, such as New York, which was racially tolerant. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Harlem segment of Manhattan, New York, became the home of the largest group of black people in America (Du Bois 58). The group incorporated individuals from all backgrounds to create a new identity for free people. The mixture of talent and scholars gave a rise to a cultural explosion termed the Harlem Renaissance, which aimed at transforming the social downcast into race pride.
The Harlem Renaissance was characterized by swing and jazz music, poetry and prose, and sculpture and painting, which were united by the desire of the black community to express themselves. The various forms of art gave the community a platform to grow economically by monetizing their works. The success of the movement was put on hold in 1929 by The Great Depression, which damaged most of the businesses and publications owned by African Americans (Du Bois 109). Nonetheless, the impact of the Harlem Renaissance was permanent as it gave the black a new identity, life, and culture capable of challenging racism.
The abolishment of slavery marked the beginning of racial segregation. New laws were created to uphold white supremacy, and this made it difficult for black to enjoy their freedom. Black people were encountered an identity crisis, which created a subconscious comparison between them and whites. However, the establishment of the Harlem Renaissance became a tool to eliminate the double consciousness among African Americans. The movement gave a rise to a new Black America which had an independent identity, culture, and the life which could not be shaken by racism.
Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford University Press, 2008.