"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
By the end of World War I, New York City's Harlem had become the largest black urban community in the country. Beginning in the early twentieth century, thousands of Southern blacks began migrating to Northern cities. Blacks had more economic opportunities there and living conditions less harsh. New York also attracted many foreign born blacks. British West Indians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Haitians contributed colorful elements; Harlem's crowded streets were alive with a variety of accents and languages. Its music ranged from jazz to rumbas, hymns to parlor ragtime, spirituals to chamber quartets.
The excitement and energy of Harlem drew black intellectuals and artists from all over the world. For many it felt like coming home. In 1921, a young Langston Hughes first arrived there after living in a number of states and countries. He later recalled, 'I can never put on paper the thrill of the underground ride to Harlem. I went up the steps and out into the bright September sunlight. Harlem! I stood there, dropped my bags, took a deep breath and felt happy again.'
the 1920s, there was a celebration of black literature, art, music and
theater. The cosmopolitan atmosphere of cities stimulated this upsurge
of creativity. There was also a new determination to resist oppression.
Finally, changes in American society brought an interest in things new.
A vogue for black artists developed among white New Yorkers and spread
across the country. White Americans became more aware of black writers
and artists. The 1920s were, in a way, a Black Renaissance. And since
most of this activity occurred in New York this movement has often been
called the Harlem Renaissance.