The Harlem Renaissance

Contributor: Sarah Lerdal. Lesson ID: 11207

You may know the Harlem Globetrotters, but do you know the Harlem Renaissance? Not a ball team, but a movement that affects American art, literature, and music today. Listen to the people who made it!


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Imagine your parent gets a new job and must move.

  • Where would be your ideal place to move?
  • Besides for a career, for what reasons might people choose to move their families long distances?

Starting in the early 1900s, millions of African Americans decided to relocate from the rural south to the urban north.

This was known as the Great Migration. This huge migration was a result of a dream for a better future. They hoped that future would include more equality, as well as better economic and social opportunities. The reality of the Jim Crow south meant that African Americans faced legal discrimination in schools, in jobs, and in public. Jim Crow laws included all legislation enacted after the Civil War to maintain segregation in the south. Most schools were still segregated, African Americans were often relegated to low-paying jobs, and certain laws made it more difficult for them to vote.

Take a look at The Geography of the Great Migration map provided by syndax vuzz based on data from to identify some of the popular cities that African Americans migrated to. Discuss your observations with your teacher or parent.

Harlem, in New York City, became a hotspot for thousands of intellectuals.

At this time, jazz musicians, novelists, poets, and artists living in Harlem began to celebrate African American culture. This time period became known as the Harlem Renaissance. The word "renaissance" means rebirth or revival.

While you are investigating these resources, take notes so you can consider how this question could be answered:

  • "In what ways did the contributions of the writers and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance impact Americans living during that era, and how to do they continue to impact Americans living today?"

Watch Reading Through History's History Brief: The Harlem Renaissance (below):  

Read over the Academy of American Poets summary A Brief Guide to the Harlem Renaissance.

Many famous African American artists and intellectuals emerged during the Harlem Renaissance, included jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

Let's watch Duke Ellington singing and playing his composition- Duke Ellington- It don't mean a thing (1943) (below):

Here is a picture of Louis Armstrong, famous for songs like "What a Wonderful World":

Louis Armstrong 1955

Image by Herbert Behrens / Anefo, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Blues singer Bessie Smith became the highest-paid African American entertainer of the 1920s. Here is a picture of her:

Bessie Smith 1936

Image by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons, is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote about what if felt like to be African American. In this audio clip, Hughes reads his own poem, "I, Too":

Zora Neale Hurston was another powerful writer, well-known today for her collection of folk tales and her novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God." She is pictured below:

Zora Neale Hurston circa 1940

Image author unknown, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain because the Library of Congress has granted the right to use this work to anyone for any purpose, without any conditions.

Discuss with your teacher or parent what stands out most to you about what you have learned about the Harlem Renaissance, then continue on to the Got It? section to review what you have learned so far.

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