The Harlem renaissance


The Harlem renaissance was once known as the New Negro Movement. The movement was named after Alain Locke who was an anthology at the time. The Harlem renaissance was a cultural movement centered in Harlem in the city of New York (Sayre 2012). The Harlem renaissance was a large and influential movement that affected even the black writers who spoke French and lived in Paris. These black writers were originally from African and Caribbean colonies. The New Negro Movement which was later referred to as the Harlem renaissance was an influential intellectual and literal movement that promoted a black cultural identity in the early 1920s and 1930s.

The movement began in the early 1920s, propagated by intellectual black Americans that resided in the neighborhood of Harlem in New York City (Sayre 2012). Alain Locke described the movement as the ‘spiritual coming of age’ whereby the black community of the United States became capable of seizing opportunities of self determination and group expression. The Harlem renaissance came to be because of the rampant scarcity of economic opportunities of the black community (Sayre 2012). This was the only option that the black people had to channel their dislikes on how they were treated by the white people. The Harlem renaissance is attributed to have transformed social disillusionment to racial pride.

Author role and importance

In the poem “Harlem Shadows” by Claud McKay, he portrays the ignorance, blindness of the white American society toward the dismay and suffering of black American girls who live in shadows in society. Claud McKay brings the plight of the young black American women who have to live a life of prostitution to survive in the community (Hoagwood 2010). By using the title, “Harlem Shadows,” McKay portrays all the frustrations of the young prostitutes who do not like the life that they live and the things that they have to do in order to survive in society.

The role of the author is to show that these young girls need respect especially from the white American men who show disgust to them because they have to use prostitution to earn a living (Hoagwood 2010). The importance of the poem by Claud McKay is to present the reader with images full of heaviness, guilt and melancholy. The poem portrays the harsh realities that black people have to live with, the main one being racial prejudice and discrimination. The author gives evidence as to how white people ignored the plight of the young black American women who suffer from absolute poverty while at the same time earning disgrace and dishonor because of the lifestyle that they chose to live.

In the poem “My City” by James Weldon Johnson, he describes the love he has for the world and he feels sorry if he had to leave it. James Weldon Johnson asks in his poem “What to me then will be the keenest loss, when this bright world blurs on my fading sight?” and by this he shows the value of life and this is important because it helps the reader to appreciate life and the good things that come from it (Johnson 1991). James Weldon Johnson plays the role of a person who appreciates the beauty of nature i.e. the trees, flowers and birds. The author paints a vivid picture of Manhattan that is gifted with beautiful people, flashing streams and tall shining towers. He shows this by stating “watching the flashing streams or leisurely gazing on the patient herds.”

Double consciousness

The term double consciousness referrers to the psychological challenges that black Americans have in reconciling their African heritage with American/European education and upbringing. During the Harlem renaissance, black Americans had to reconcile their African culture with that of the white people (Sayre 2012). They were forced to embrace two conflicting ideals, two strivings and two souls without neglecting their original African heritage. This guaranteed that they would not receive mockery and spite from other black Americans (Sayre 2012).

In the poem “Harlem Shadow” by Claud McKay, double consciousness comes about when the young black American girls have to use prostitution to earn an income. The young girls face double consciousness when they have to chase the American dream of achieving societal goals. These societal goals include the monetary goals whereby people work to earn income. Due to lack of equal employment opportunities between white and black people, the black people, in this case young girls, have to use prostitution to earn an income (Hoagwood 2010). Double consciousness comes about in the poem “My City” by James Weldon Johnson when he expresses that Americans thought that New York City was a place of opportunities and freedom (Johnson 1991). The black Americans were, however, exposed to the reality of prejudice, unemployment and overcrowding.

Themes in the poem

Claud McKay describes the theme of race when he states in the fifth line of the first stanza, “Ah, little dark girls, who in slippered feet” and in the fifth line of the second stanza, “The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet” (Hoagwood 2010). These two lines describe young black American girls who stay awake at night to look for money through prostitution. McKay also presents the theme of poverty in the second line of the third stanza, “Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace.” This line explains the poverty that black American people have to live with (Hoagwood 2010). This is what leads the practice of prostitution by black American girls because they have no other avenue to earn money.

In the poem “My City” by James Weldon Johnson, he presents the theme of civilization. This happens in the tenth, eleventh and twelve line of the poem. The author states “Her crowds, her throbbing force, the thrill that comes, From being of her a part, her subtle spells, Her shining towers, her avenues, her slums (Johnson 1991).”


He wakes up early in the morning, dresses and hurriedly heads out,

He checks his pocket for loose change to use transport money,

He does not have enough for a cab so he heads to the subway to catch the morning train,

His dark skin prevents him from sitting close to the white people,

Alone he ponders and wonders when racism will come to an end,

He shakes his head in disbelief of the how the world seems to be cold.


Checking out of the train, he runs to his destination,

Checking his watch to ensure that he is not late for his interview,

He enters the office and meets a white man who looks at him in disgust,

He tries to talk but the white man orders him to keep quiet,

After a moment, the white man tells him that there is no job opportunity for him,

Leaving the office, sad and angry, he decides to resort to crime to earn a living,

Two days later, he is gunned down by the police while trying to rob a jewelry store.


Racial discrimination is one of the main factors that disrupt peace in the community. Discriminated people do not have equal employment opportunities as compared to the dominating race. This leads to enmity and suspicion between races. It is crucial for people to come up and fight against racism which is a drawback to the success of the contemporary society. People should learn to appreciate the culture of others and not discriminate a person because of the color of his skin. This will lead to peaceful living and success of society.


Hoagwood, T. (2010). Claude McKay’s HARLEM SHADOWS. The Explicator, 68(1), 51-54. Retrieved from

Johnson, J. W. (1991). The Reader’s Companion to American History. Retrieved from

Sayre, H. M. (2012). The humanities: Culture, continuity & change. Boston: Prentice Hall.