Peter Stuyvesant set up the Harlem village in 1658. The man who was a governor in the Dutch republic named the new establishment after a popular Dutch city known as Nieuw Harlem. The new village took almost 6 miles of Manhattan 96th Street.
In the first two centuries following its establishment, famous New York residents who had big tracts of land in the area took residence in the establishment. Towards the middle of the 19th century, the wealthy farmers abandoned the farms since they had lost their productivity. This opened the door for downtown New Yorkers to reside in the land.
This had been made easier by the newly laid railroad network. Within a short period, Harlem was transformed in to one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the whole of New York. There were many religious, learning and artistic establishments, which gave the area a rich cultural background. (Angelfire)
By the turn of the 19th century, people were so optimistic about an upgrade of the existing transportation network in the area. This gave rise to heightened speculation in the real estate industry something that led to exaggerated market rates and the subsequent disintegration of the sector at the beginning of the 20th century. Taking full credit of the collapse, an American by the name of Philip Payton entered into contracts that saw him acquiring property owned by whites for renewable leases of five years.
In turn, Philip and his friends rented the property to Black Americans who considered Harlem a better place to reside. Within a short period, Harlem had been transformed in to an establishment for blacks only. This was heightened by the animosity that existed between whites and Negroes in the period that preceded World War 1. (Poets. Org)
By the time the war had ended, blacks from every part of America were moving to Harlem. Among those who were moving to the establishment included black poets, critics, literary anthologists, painters, illustrators, musicians, composers and actors.
Within a short time, Harlem became a sort of an urban artistic center for black Americans. However, the increasing population and high demand soon gave way to skyrocketing rental prices. This left culture as the only prospering thing within Harlem. A few years after World War 1 ended, Harlem became to black artists what Mecca is to Muslims.
The activities that they engaged in are what came to be termed as the Harlem Renaissance. What influenced most of the participants was the style that Europeans and white Americans were using in their literature and music. To most of the artists within the renaissance, the only topic they addressed was the experiences of blacks within an American society that was predominantly white. (Hill 20)
The music and writing style within the Harlem Renaissance carried the same theme of black experience in light of a white society. Within the Harlem, all the club experience carried the same colored theme. This made African Americans to create a self-awareness attitude something that brought a greater rift between blacks and whites.
As a young man, Langston Hughes had settled in Harlem while pursuing his college education. From his early days, Langston had a flair for poetry and he read a wide collection of poems from various authors. By the time he settled in Harlem, he was on his way towards becoming an established poet.
Although Langston’s poems, spoke of the experiences of black Americans in light of a white culture, he took a different route from the rest of his counterparts in the Harlem renaissance. Where his counterparts would focus on only one genre of writing, Langston decided to mix two or more genres in a single work.
A good example is his first book of poetry known as The Weary Blues. In the book, Langston mixed jazz, blues and a light touch of traditional verses. This was a complete new level of writing that other poets in Harlem were not used to. This became a great influence for future works produced within the Harlem Renaissance. (Poets. Org)
Another thing that made Langston Hughes to be of great influence to the Harlem renaissance was the success he acquired as a poet within the movement. This especially came in 1930 after he published his first work of fiction known as Not Without Laughter.
This was achieved with the help of a rich white woman known as Charlotte Mason. The novel was such as success that Langston bought his first car. Considering that he was only 28 years at the time, this was a great inspiration to other writers in the Harlem to work hard.
During this time, most artists in the Harlem Renaissance were not doing very well and Langston’s success must have been a big morale booster. Besides poetry, Langston also wrote novels, short stories, newspaper articles, and drama. This ability to write in almost all genres made him acceptable across the cultural divide. (Solloway, Bacon, & Muscanell)
In his writings, Langston used simple plain language laced with jokes, insight, and intellect to express his thoughts. Instead of complaining about the plight of back Americans in his works, Langston praises the two important aspects of the African culture namely their dark skin and their rich music. Instead of seeking to become equal to whites as most of his black artists sought, Langston appreciated and praised being African.
This can be seen in some of his most famous poems like I, Too, Sing America. This acceptance of his being a black American received criticism from his fellow artists who claimed that he paid attention on living as a low-class black in America. Despite the widespread criticism, Langston Hughes influence was so immense such that upon his death in 1967 the street leading to his house that was formerly known as 127th Street was renamed Langston Hughes Place in his honor. (World Class Poetry)
After experiencing many upheavals in its history, Harlem has evolved in to a region of Manhattan where Black Americans live in an isolated manner. Although the standards of living were pathetic at the beginning of the 20th century, a bunch of artists managed to give Harlem a different outlook.
Their literary works defined Harlem way of life and the general black experience in the context of white tradition. It is widely believed that Langston Hughes gave genuine and loud voice to the black society. Although this is still an opinion that is open to criticism, one thing that is undisputed is that very few artists if any within Harlem could articulate the adversity of and lowliness of black Americans as succinctly and fittingly as Langston did.
Despite their somewhat direct manner, it is important to consciously analyze every single word in his poems since the words he uses are highly effective and often carry a hidden meaning. It is also true that Langston Hughes is a respected icon in Black American literature. It is therefore without doubt that he helped in ushering the Harlem Renaissance and gave the African-American voice a much-needed respect and acceptance.
Angelfire. Kari’s Thoughts on Poets of the Harlem Renaissance, n.d. Web. Oct 24. 2010.
Hill, Christine. Langston Hughes: Poet of the Harlem Renaissance. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc, 1997. 16-21. Print.
Poets. Org. Langston Hughes, 2010. Web. Oct 26. 2010.
Solloway, J, Bacon, A, & Muscanell, M. James Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance, n.d. Web. Oct 26. 2010.
World Class Poetry. Langston Hughes. The Black Poet Laureate, 2008. Web. Oct 27. 2010.