Celebrating Black History Month: Spotlight on the Harlem Renaissance
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Title: Zora Neale Hurston
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February 2012 marks the 36th anniversary of Black History Month, a time set aside to honor the historical and cultural contributions made by African Americans to the United States. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), established in 1915, is tasked with selecting a theme for the annual celebration. This year's theme, "Black Women in American Culture and History," is dedicated "to exploring African American women's roles in and contributions to the making of America." Notably, the Harlem Renaissance illustrates the ways in which various African American women have enriched the black community and beyond. The black cultural milieu that coalesced in Harlem through the 1920s and early 1930s showcased the work of African American female authors, playwrights, visual artists, stage performers, and musicians to the nation and the rest of the world.

As part of the cultural achievements associated with the Harlem Renaissance, such black female authors as Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, and Jessie Redmon Fauset added to the prolific literary output of the period. Through works of both fiction and non-fiction, these writers contributed to various journals, such as The Crisis, Opportunity, and the short-lived Fire!!, as well as publications in their own right. Hurston, along with Marita Bonner, wrote various plays and became active figures in the development of black theater. In particular, Hurston used much of her anthropological research in the South on black dialect and folklore in her various works of both fiction and drama. Moreover, visual artists like Augusta Savage, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, and Loïs Mailou Jones were part of the burgeoning creativity occurring in African American art. The cultural contributions of the women of the Harlem Renaissance were not limited only to literature and the visual arts but were also prevalent in entertainment and music. Josephine Baker, Ethel Waters, and Nina Mae McKinney graced the stage as performers to large crowds. In addition, female musicians of the period, such as Mamie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Florence Mills, Ma Rainey, Billie Holiday, Ethel Waters, and Ella Fitzgerald, contributed immensely to innovations in jazz and blues and the further popularization of black music as a mainstream genre through performances and recorded works.

As such, the Harlem Renaissance served not only to highlight the cultural vibrancy of the entire black community, but also to display and exalt the talent of black women during an era when both sexism and racism severely limited their opportunities.



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