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Home Sweet Harlem: A Renowned Renaissance

A Review of Cary D. Wintz’s Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance

Cary D. Wintz is an academic historian and author who specializes in African American history, especially the Harlem Renaissance. Wintz is the author and editor of many books which pertain to the topic of the Harlem renaissance and African American history. Wintz received his B.A. degree in history at Rice University and later on moved to Kansas to continue on with graduate work.

Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance is Cary D. Wintz’s interpretation of the Harlem Renaissance. The author shows an analysis on all the different parts of the Renaissance, and divides them into separate sections within the book; making sure to place special emphasis on the literary and intellectual aspects of the Renaissance. Each contributing factor of the Harlem Renaissance is carefully examined by the author and, is given an explanation on why it was significant during the Renaissance and, how each contributed. Wintz looks at the Renaissance as an intellectual and literary movement within Harlem. Many contributing ideals and people are what ultimately caused the push for the Harlem Renaissance to occur and to produce all the various types of art it had to offer.

The book begins with acknowledgement of the harsh conditions which blacks had to suffer every day up in the south during the early 20th century. It is mentioned in the book that blacks during the time had lost political and civil rights due to an upsurge in violence and terrorism. The poor conditions of blacks were also due to the dominant theory of “Racist Ideology which, depicted blacks as an immoral and inferior race compared to whites and would never reach equality with them.”1Because Many whites did not look upon blacks as friendly, blacks tried to fight in wars and to do extremely well so that whites would see that blacks were not too bad and fought valiantly for their country. This attempt however, did not work. Due to the harsh conditions blacks had to face day after day, many decided to move to the rural industrious north to avoid harsh conditions however, many found that the whites in the north were hardly more tolerant than people in the south. When traveling north many of the traveling blacks had decided to settle in the city of Harlem. The high rate of black migration into Harlem caused the city to rise as a “Black Metropolis and cultural center of the U.S.”2 With high immigration rates toward the north, there was the rise of the New Negro that followed World War I. The New Negro was a term coined to describe “a new class of black people who obtained power, money, and education.”3 These blacks were raised with attitudes of self-help and racial pride. The New Negro also sought equality through economic and moral growth; their fights were targeted toward theological beliefs which justified discrimination. During this time many blacks had sought leadership, such leadership was offered by men like Booker T. Washington. Often time however, men who gained too much power became dictators in their own ways. When this happened to Washington, many turned to W.E.B. Du Bois; Du Bois was an alternative to the leadership style of Booker T. Washington and, was able to gain support from opposition of Du Bois.

When blacks fled from the rural south toward the north, black works from writers and intellectuals began to form what would be the basis of the Harlem Renaissance. The literary stirrings produced by black writers and their patrons would foreshadow the coming of the Harlem Renaissance. During this time, Harlem had transformed into a Black Bohemia which, “housed a literary movement and offered adventure to whites who were daring enough to venture.”4 By the mid 1920’s Harlem contained a thriving colony with black writers and artists who worked, socialized, and played in association with one another. During this time, there was the rise of the Black Intelligentsia, “a diverse group of men and women scattered throughout the country, and were associated with college, newspapers, church, and black rights organizations.”5 Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson were two of many Intelligentsia who were a significant aspects during the Renaissance who helped boost black unity. Johnson helped black writers to get published and encouraged all of his fellow brothers and sisters to unit and assume the power that should be given to them. Locke however, protected artist freedom to eschew literary propaganda. Within the Intelligentsia the critics were another element within Intelligentsia which helped boost the Harlem Renaissance. William Stanley Braithwraite and Benjamin Brawley were two prominent critics during the 1920’s. Braithwraite and Brawley generally supported black endeavors and also encouraged and assisted a number or young writers during the time. Also during this time, the leadership of Du Bois began to be under question. While Du Bois greeted early Renaissance stirrings with enthusiastic and open arms, he had later become an increasingly outspoken critic. Along with Braithwraite and Brawley, Marcus Garvey was another significant critic who was able to support the Renaissance during the time. Garvey’s main tool in supporting the Renaissance was his fame and publicity at the time which encouraged many to get involved in the Renaissance when he promoted it. Garvey and his followers were also active in supporting literary activities that followed the years of the Renaissance.

The Renaissance had many significant and indispensable links to the white literary community. Many of the great feats that had been produced from the Harlem Renaissance would not have been possible if support from the white community was not there. While there had been many different types of whites that were supporting the Renaissance throughout its years, Wintz argues that the publishers were undeniably the most important supporters to black writers during the Renaissance years. During the Renaissance, the doors to publishing houses had been open to the black community due to the growing public interest of the blackness reflected in the Harlem Vogue. Most of the time however, blacks were not able to enter these doors to publishing houses by themselves, this was due to the fact that blacks still held low positions in the social pyramid during the time. Many blacks needed a connection that was able to get them into the white publishing houses. The publishing houses during the time “Provided a new level of opportunity for blacks to get their works published and to promote black literature.”6 In addition to the publishing houses during the time, critics of small literary magazines also devoted their time and efforts to help promote black literature during the Renaissance. Many times the publishing houses and magazine writers would serve as advisors and critics to the aspiring black writers.

Near the end of the Renaissance, literary blacks addressed many of the political issues that bothered them through politics and protest writings and, a number of individuals who were associated with the Renaissance assumed that black literature could have been a significant tool in the struggle in human rights. Many new ideals that either had a great effect or no effect on the Renaissance had risen during the late 1920’s. The Bolshevik Revolution during the time excited blacks who were thrilled at the idea of a revolutionary Regime. The communist party at the time had tried to get involvement of blacks in their party but, did not succeed.  Also during this time the feminist movement was able to achieve its goal of women suffrage, and was able to gain a few male supporters as well. Although women had made many different contributions to the Renaissance, the movement still remained male dominant. Despite all of the difficulties that women faced they were not only able to make major contributions to the Renaissance but, they were also able to introduce themes into many books that had explored the roles of black women in Black America.

It was around the 1930’s when the Harlem renaissance began to truly fade away. The Renaissance was an abstract concept that was based on personal commitments and loyalties rather than a single person institution. Although the Renaissance ended in the 1930’s, black literature still continued to exist and, many people continued to write even though many careers had been ended when the Renaissance was over. The ultimate cause for the end of the Harlem Renaissance was the coming of the Great Depression. Due to the financial crisis during the Great Depression, many black writers found it difficult to support themselves because, many of the patrons they once had, no longer had money to support them in their efforts. Besides the coming of the Great Depression, a critical blow toward the renaissance’s end was the realization that the movement was dying from within. With the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Great Depression, many blacks were successfully reached by the literature during the Renaissance and, the doors of future careers were open to many future black writers and intellectuals.

Cary Wintz sees the Harlem Renaissance as a literary and intellectual state of being amongst black people. In Wintz’s book, he focuses mainly on the black literature and intelligence during the period. He does not take the other forms of art such as theatre, dancing, singing, or painting into consideration when he writes about the Renaissance and what influenced it during the time. The author puts almost all of his emphasis on how the Renaissance was a type of intellectual and literary state of mind amongst black people over a concrete movement that was known to all. The book ends with the author saying that the Renaissance was ultimately ended by the Great Depression because, it caused blacks to lose their sponsors due to the financial problems.

Cary D. Wintz is an academic historian who specializes in African American history, especially the Harlem renaissance. His subject area of teaching made him a perfect candidate in the subject of his book.  Wintz’s interest in the subject area of the African American History pushed him to publish such a book along with others. The period of time when Wintz published the book had no influence on the reason why he published the book. Wintz’s subject area of history is the possible reason why he would write and publish a book on the Harlem Renaissance.

Keith E Byerman talks about how Wintz’s analysis on the Renaissance is more as a literary and intellectual movement rather than a concrete event which occurred. As stated by Byerman “Wintz begins by defining the Renaissance as a state of mind rather than a concrete movement or even a creative community.”7 Also stated however, he says that Wintz was not able to link the connection between black literature and black culture at the time. Byerman however, says that Wintz adds detailed information discussions of the economic, political, and intellectual environment in which the Renaissance occurred. In Huggins review he states that the Harlem Renaissance is a topic that has already been covered by many historians and that Wintz hardly adds anything new and just covers the same grounds as all other books.  Huggins almost looks down on Wintz for writing the book. Huggins says that “Wintz adds nothing new in fact or interpretation.”8

Wintz views the Harlem Renaissance as an event which was solely focused around the literary and intellectual aspects during the time. In Wintz’s book he does not take into consideration any of the other elements which helped to make the Renaissance what it is and how each of the elements affected it. Wintz does not include aspects of art, theatre, dance, or music. It is almost foolish for Wintz to think that the Renaissance was only a movement based on the intellectual and literary aspects during the 1920’s. Wintz also fails in the fact that he was not able to link the literary and intellectual components of the time to the culture or black society during the time. Overall Wintz gives a detailed analysis on what he believes to have been the Harlem Renaissance, but he fails to include many important aspects that affected the Renaissance and the way it turned out.

The art described as the Harlem Renaissance in Wintz’s book reflects American values of literature during the time. Wintz puts major insight and emphasis on how the literature during the time had a great impact on the Renaissance during the time. The Harlem Renaissance had a major effect on the black world during the time. The Renaissance helped many aspiring black authors, artists, and intellectuals to become discovered during the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was able to raise the status of black people overall in the United States. The indefinite hard work and labor put into such a movement certainly paid off itself in the end. Blacks had a haven where they could run to for protection from the harsh brutality from white folks at the time. When whites had seen what black people were capable of doing and how well they did it, blacks were able to raise their status in society. Whites had now some respect toward black people and their accomplishments. The Renaissance accepted all types of art and literature that was produced during this time and, was able to show to the rest of the world the beauty that the Renaissance produced.

In conclusion, Wintz talks about the Renaissance as a huge literary movement during the 1920’s. Rather than a concrete movement, he addresses the Harlem Renaissance as a state of new state of mind conformed by black intellectuals and writers at the time. The author emphasizes that the Renaissance would not have been possible without publishing houses and patrons who supported black writers and intellectuals during the time of the Renaissance. Wintz concludes the book by talking about how the Renaissance was ultimately ended by the Great Depression. Wintz says the Great Depression made it so people were not able support themselves at the time of the Depression due to the financial meltdown caused by the Great Depression.

1: Wintz, Cary D. “Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance.” Houston, TX: Rice UP, 1988. Print.9.
2: Wintz, Cary. 13.
3: Wintz, Cary. 30.
4: Wintz, Cary. 87.
5: Wintz, Cary. 102.
6: Wintz Cary. 155.
7: Byerman, Keith. “Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction,” 2005
8: Huggins, Nathan “Harlem Renaissance,” 1973