The African American Experience

Thesis: While the 1920's and 1950's were marked with success in terms of new technology, a booming economy, and the evolution of music, African Americans did not enjoy the same kind of success. Segregation was still a huge issue, especially with lynching still being very prevalent in the south and the KKK again rising to power. This brought up the divisive issue of black rights in both the the 1920's and 1950's. However, while this issue was divisive for the nation as a whole, it helped to bring African Americans together through unifying events such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

The 1920's got off to a roaring start for African Americans where in the face of discrimination and adversity the Harlem Renaissance began
The 1920's got off to a roaring start for African Americans where in the face of discrimination and adversity the Harlem Renaissance began

The Culture: The Harlem Renaissance

Harlem: The Black Mecca
  • Housing executives started building large neighborhoods in Harlem to attract middle-class white citizens who could commute to the city
  • Housing developed faster than transportation could allow workers to commute
  • As a result, white landlords started selling to black real estate agents and renting to black tenants
  • Meanwhile, the re-development of mid-town pushed many African Americans away from the city and to Harlem
  • Soon, Harlem became home to many blacks and earned the nicknames "The Black Mecca" and "The Capital of Black America"

Hub of Culture:
  • With the large black population present in Harlem, it provided for great artistic minds to collaborate
  • There was an explosion of black culture in Harlem for artists, poets, authors, musicians, and the like

Immediate Effects:
  • Lacking the power to fight a political power for equal rights, blacks focused on developing their culture and let their art speak for themselves
  • Black art, music, and literature was introduced to society on a grand level for the first time and opened eyes as to the ability and tale nts of African Americans, helping to make their case for equality and questioning the idea that blacks were inferior to whites
  • At the same time, the Harlem Renaissance also gave African Americans a better sense of their own culture and promoted black nationalism and a strong cultural identity


Long Lasting Effects:
  • The roots of black nationalism can be traced back to the Harlem Renaissance and the development there greatly influenced the black power movements of the modern civil rights movement as well as organizations such as the Black Panther Party
  • The music developed by African american Artists has paved the way for further evolutions of different genres of music popularized by African Americans today such as rhythm and blues, hip hop, and rap.

The People:

Key Figure
Goals & Tactics
Langston HughesAAE5.jpg
  • Hughes was a famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance
  • He was influenced by Walt Whitman and Carl Sandberg
  • His more famous poems include "I Dream a World", "I, Too", and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
  • Hughes used his poetry to convey the huge racial issues he viewed in America
  • His autobiography, “The Big Sea”, also catalogues much of the Harlem Renaissance and has provided us with much information about the movement
Zora Neale HurstonAAE4.jpg
  • Hurston was a successful, talented author noted for her intellect and sense of humor that emerged from the Harlem Renaissance
  • Her works include four novels, two books of folklore, an autobiography,
    numerous short stories, and several essays, articles and plays.
  • Her most famous work was Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Hurston befriended Hughes during the renaissance
  • She always used her apartment as an “open house” to other artists of the Harlem Renaissance
  • Later in her life, Hurston sought to establish "a cemetery for the illustrious Negro dead" on 100 acres of land in Florida.
Marcus GarveyAAE6.jpg
  • Garvey was a Jamaican immigrant who brought his unique ideas for the fight for racial equality to Harlem
  • Founded United Negro Improvement Association(UNIA)
  • Advocated individualism ,black nationalism, and racial pride
  • Garvey supported black separatism and a back-to-Africa movement
W.E.B. DuBoisAAE7.jpg
  • DuBois was an African American leader
  • His debates over the proper way to fight racial inequality with Booker T Washington are well-known
  • DuBois was a distinguished scholar and writer
  • DuBois advocated immediate social and political rights as opposed to economic independence first as suggested by Washington
  • DuBois believed that the intellectuals and leaders of the African Americans(“The Talented Tenth”) could lead blacks to equality
Duke EllingtonAAE3.jpg
  • Ellington was more than just a musician, he was a gifted piano player, composer, and arranger
  • Ellington helped spur the Jazz age and was a musical force unlike many had seen or heard before
  • Ellington was a central character in the Harlem Renaissance, helping to develop a cultural identity for African Americans

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

-Langston Hughes

The Obstacles: While the Harlem Renaissance did mark a huge turning point in the struggle for black rights, there were still numerable injustices and obstacles in the faces of African Americans

Ku Klux Klan:
  • In the 1920's the KKK resurfaced, and stronger than ever
  • This time the KKK had branches in the mid-west and north that were as strong as those in the south
  • The KKK would terrorize many blacks through tactics such as lynching, tar and feathering, whipping, burning down homes, and vigilante justice

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Lynching & Jim Crow Laws:
  • While the KKK resurfaced, lynching and Jim Crow Laws never really left
  • Jim Crow laws continued segregation throughout the south
  • Lynching, while it had decreased since the highs of the 1890's, was still a large factor with almost 500 blacks a year being lynched in the 1920's
  • The NAACP fought for much of the 1920's and beyond to get an anti-lynching bill passed, but every tme their best efforts were met with government resistance

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While the 1950's earned the nickname "the happy days" for its percieved prosperity, the decade was anything but happy for African Americans
While the 1950's earned the nickname "the happy days" for its percieved prosperity, the decade was anything but happy for African Americans

Overview: The still-existing racial discrimination and injustice in America was finally starting to be brought to the forefront of America in the 1950's. As African Americans started to more actively demand equal rights, black rights suddenly became a pressing issue in society and the modern civil rights movement was on the verge of erupting.

May 17, 1954external image P3GnLY6fYNhSp8sbLgRayX4Ynw3HfRN5QmuwaUg4PnbI54UGIzSYKPEzM1DxO0EWVEKjU7wQaSC7pWhlfRII0bPOKjeFoogszCMmpdmIq3TSt8J9Kw
Brown vs Board of Education
  • The SC overturns the ruling of Plessy Vs. Ferguson and the idea of “separate but equal”
  • The SC calls for the integration of schools
August 1955
Emmett Till’s is brutally murdered by two white men who are later acquitted by an all-white jury
December 1, 1955external image HJG1sJQxq0kBXkgfYJIRR65EaDPeK-ri4Ioi8X6awKXWCjjmQ9n4ySMAFGaYwevu6EjfRc-YWhfzrYiffblERj-RbqZAjMM2CeEmG10j1_PNQnyGvw
Rosa Parks refuses to give her seat up on a bus and the Montgomery Bus Boycott is born
September 1957
The “Little Rock Nine” begins there first day at school where Eisenhower must eventually call in the national guard to forcibly integrate the school

The People:
Key Figure
Rosa Parksexternal image kPjw0BDpGqaLBDPr0wbrHfiqkx1vkUDOka4QIgUAlmBlNirrl5AbMJtayKIlDGDK2ZbPbTRL3swTglUOcKqhy_O8s-j3XrrbXfLrl3e9oXekzjzDxQ
  • Parks is best known for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery Bus
  • Rosa Parks continued her efforts in the Montgomery Boycott along side MLK
  • Parks used non-violence and the practice of civil disobedience to fight for equality
Martin Luther King Jr.external image XCV4zzR13mZ3xpmuqSQP6job5_Q7nLujglPUUkD-OgiUmq4Kr8bErcrtOUlzYwoDYGdhdEgc7uhoRzW592srrkW2PY_t-Ryp9aTlmhAiBSzCOFzH9w
  • Got involved in the Civil Rights Movement by leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott
  • Founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference(SCLC)
  • Also advocated non-violent measures and the practice of civil disobedience
  • His organization, the SCLC helped to organize many sit-ins at segregated libraries, restaurants, pools, etc.
Minnijean Brown
  • One of the Little Rock Nine
  • Is well-known for dumping her chili on the head of a white boy who was bullying her at Little Rock Central High
  • Minnijean displayed bravery in her attending of LRCH and was one of the first black students to help desegregate a school