Teaching Activities for the Harlem Renaissance

By Michelle Brunet, eHow Contributor

  • he Harlem Renaissance, characterized by African American art, literature, philosophy and civil rights movements, took place from 1919 to 1939. It started with a number of African Americans buying up real estate in Harlem, New York. Whites moved out, and thousands of African Americans from the southern U.S., the West Indies and Africa moved into the area. Teaching activities for the Harlem Renaissance can be taught in high school language arts, fine arts and history classes or altered for younger grades.
  • Music

  • In the 1920s, Harlem was a hot spot for jazz musicians who jammed and performed in clubs like the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club. The Harlem Renaissance gave birth to musicians like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Benny Carter and Fletcher Henderson. Organize a teaching activity where students listen to a variety of songs by musicians from this era. You can pass out handouts of the songs' lyrics with some words omitted that the students have to fill in while listening to the songs. Each student should pick a musician to research and write a short biography, pick his favorite song by that artist and discuss its lyrics. Students can create a poster board, write and act out a monologue or create a piece of art as a culminating project.
  • Literature

  • Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen were two famous poets representative of the Harlem Renaissance, but they had different styles of writing. According to John Carroll University, Hughes had a storytelling, bluesy or casual style; whereas, Cullen used a conventional style of poetry. Ask students to read two melancholic poems: "The Weary Blues" by Hughes and "The Loss of Love" by Cullen. Ask students to interpret the meanings of each poem and to compare and contrast the two styles. As a final literary activity, ask students to look at an older issue of "The Crisis Magazine" (Google Books has an online version of an issue from 1930). W.E.B. Du Bois started the publication in 1910 to promote civil rights, and many of the writers from the Harlem Renaissance contributed. The magazine still exists today. Ask students in groups to create their own mini issue of "The Crisis." They can incorporate their favorite stories, articles and poems from the Renaissance and write their own.
  • Education

  • During the Harlem Renaissance, migrants from the southern states and the West Indies moved to Harlem and other cities in the north. In Harlem, some of the schools were integrated, which allowed whites and blacks to attend the same schools. Ask students in groups to write and act out a play from the perspective of students in an integrated school with both American and West Indian students. They should describe the positives and the negatives, including the racism blacks experienced from their white teachers, principals and peers.

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