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The Harlem Renaissance: A Cultural Awakening

The likes of Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, and Florence Mills brought talent to the stages of theaters in Harlem and beyond. Publishing houses, particularly Alfred A. Knopf, Harcourt Brace, and Boni & Liveright, opened their doors to Black authors. The African American experience was being documented, sparking the birth of new literary traditions.

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Three Harlem women, The Gay Northeasterners photo by James Van Der Zee, c. 1930. Courtesy Donna Van Der Zee.
Three Harlem women, The Gay Northeasterners photo by James Van Der Zee, c. 1930. Courtesy Donna Van Der Zee.

By Tamara Shiloh

The 1920s was a decade of general liberation. Change was taking place throughout pockets of Black America, and New York City’s Harlem was at the helm.

It was there that Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong flooded nightclubs with the sounds of jazz. Literary talents including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, and Willis Richardson penned poetry and prose and stage plays reflecting the Black experience. Augusta Savage created sculptures and opened doors for other Black artists. She would later establish the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts and become one of Harlem’s most influential teachers.

The likes of Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, and Florence Mills brought talent to the stages of theaters in Harlem and beyond. Publishing houses, particularly Alfred A. Knopf, Harcourt Brace, and Boni & Liveright, opened their doors to Black authors. The African American experience was being documented, sparking the birth of new literary traditions.

Harlem’s streets bustled around the clock as its population swelled. A movement was on the rise. A cohort of talented African Americans was finally being noticed. The Harlem Renaissance, described by some historians as “the golden age in African American culture,” was in full swing.

Meanwhile, significant cultural activity was brewing in Washington DC, Chicago, and Boston.

While the renaissance was not confined to Harlem, it was a magnet for intellect and talent and served as the symbolic capital of this cultural awakening. During the 1880s, Harlem had been a neighborhood for upper-class Whites. By the early 1900s, overdevelopment led to empty buildings. Owners were losing money and had to fill them. This meant renting to Blacks.

A few middle-class Black families from the Black Bohemia neighborhood moved to Harlem. Others quickly followed. From unskilled laborers to the educated middle-class, Harlem at that time boasted the largest concentration of Blacks in the world. All along, angry White residents fought back but failed, eventually deserting the area. This population shift would lead to a Black Pride movement.

The Harlem Renaissance was a phase of a larger New Negro movement that emerged in the early 20th century. The New Negro Movement of the 1920s promoted a renewed sense of racial pride, cultural self-expression, economic independence, and progressive politics. But this pride in and control over how the Black experience was represented began to fizzle out with the stock market crash of 1929 and The Great Depression.

In 1933, when Prohibition ended, White patrons no longer sought out the illegal alcohol in Harlem’s clubs. This forced many entrepreneurs and other residents to look for work as the population continued to increase. The Harlem Race Riot of 1935 broke out following rumors of the arrest and beating of a young shoplifter. This was the death of the golden age.

The Harlem Renaissance changed how America and the world viewed African American culture. It was a time of optimism and revitalization, and its impact remains alive today.

To learn more about the golden age in African American culture, read Nathan Irvin Huggins’ “Harlem Renaissance.”

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Art

Jean-Michel Basquiat, A Troubled Soul

Basquiat often said that he “felt friendless and misunderstood.” After his parents separated, Gerard moved with his children to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. When he was 7, Basquiat’s mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and was eventually institutionalized. This part of his life troubled him greatly.

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Untitled, 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wikipedia photo.
Untitled, 1981 by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Wikipedia photo.

By Tamara Shiloh

It was the early summer of 1980. More than 100 artists converged on an abandoned four-story building at Seventh Avenue and 41st Street in New York City that had once served as a massage parlor. Among those in the group was Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988). His work on exhibit was believed to have been his first painting on canvas.

Although the exhibition, dubbed “The Times Square Show,” drew critical attention, it boosted 18-year-old Basquiat’s career as a painter. His contribution, a mural painted on a patch of wall, was described by Art in America as “a knockout combination of de Kooning and subway paint scribbles.”

The path to that shuttered massage parlor and his rise to success during the 1980s as part of the Neo-expressionism movement were not without difficulty.

Basquiat was born into a middle-class family in Brooklyn. His father, Gerard, a Haitian immigrant, was an accountant. His mother, Mathilde, was a homemaker. Despite her frequent hospital stays for depression, Mathilde spent countless hours in the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum with Jean-Michel, encouraging his interest in painting.

Gerard, physically abusive, wasn’t involved in his son’s career. Biographies and films have chronicled the strained relationship between the two, according to DNA Info.

Basquiat often said that he “felt friendless and misunderstood.” After his parents separated, Gerard moved with his children to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood. When he was 7, Basquiat’s mother was diagnosed as mentally ill and was eventually institutionalized. This part of his life troubled him greatly.

By age 17, Basquiat dropped out of high school. Gerard then threw him out of the house. He stayed with friends, slept in Washington Square Park, and lived-in run-down hotels.

It was then that he partnered with other graffiti artists and created the persona, SAMO, meaning “same old sh––.” For money, he panhandled and sold sweatshirts and postcards marked with his drawings. He got by on “cheap red wine and 15¢ bags of Cheetos.”

With no formal training, Basquiat created work that mixed graffiti and signs with the gestural and intuitive approach of Abstract Expressionist painting.

He expressed his personal angst in highly stylized self-portraits. In the early ’80s, race entered his work for the first time as a reflection of a “growing consciousness of his own position within the New York art world.”

His painting, “The Death of Michael Stewart” commemorates the killing of the young Black artist by New York City Transit Police. “Black people are never really portrayed realistically…. I mean, not even portrayed in modern art enough,” Basquiat had said.

Basquiat died of a drug overdose in 1988. Toward the end of his life, his works were selling around $25,000 to the Whitney Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

Earlier though, both museums had rejected his work.

Be inspired by Basquiat’s paintings, read “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Sarah Jane Boyers.

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Arts and Culture

Deputy Library Director Bestowed National Honor

A respected national publication called Library Journal took notice and awarded Deputy MCFL Director Raemona Little Taylor in its 2022 Movers & Shakers class of community builders for her outstanding leadership and impact to the library industry as a change agent. Only 41 people were in the 2022 class, and just over 1,000 librarians nationwide have earned such status since the awards were first given in 2002.

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Deputy MCFL Director Raemona Little Taylor did not let the pandemic get in the way of her equity work to benefit library patrons. (Photo: Library Journal)
Deputy MCFL Director Raemona Little Taylor did not let the pandemic get in the way of her equity work to benefit library patrons. (Photo: Library Journal)

Raemona Little Taylor earns accolade as advocate and literacy partner

Courtesy of Marin County

Advancing equity, from talk to action, is a trademark for Raemona Little Taylor, Deputy Director of the Marin County Free Library (MCFL). And there’s no way the COVID-19 pandemic was going to get in her way.

A respected national publication called Library Journal took notice and awarded Little Taylor in its 2022 Movers & Shakers class of community builders for her outstanding leadership and impact to the library industry as a change agent. Only 41 people were in the 2022 class, and just over 1,000 librarians nationwide have earned such status since the awards were first given in 2002.

Library Journal has provided features and news reporting about American libraries since 1876 and is the top trade publication in that industry. Movers & Shakers profiles up-and-coming, innovative, creative individuals from around the world — both great leaders and behind-the-scenes contributors — who are providing inspiration and model programs for others, including programs developed this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Little Taylor is just the second MCFL employee to receive the national recognition; Diana Lopez, manager of the Marin City MCFL branch, was selected in 2016.

The publication noted that Little Taylor “worked tirelessly” to develop successful initiatives that are considered widely inclusive, stepping up to serve people in need and in marginalized populations. Her signature projects have included offering services to incarcerated youth, developing school partnerships, providing direct tutoring services, and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Learning Bus, a “green” vehicle that brings literary and education outreach services to children and their families living in rural areas of West Marin. She also piloted a Reading Buddies program and implemented blueprints for safety around children working with adult volunteers.

Undeterred by the pandemic, Little Taylor moved the Reading Buddies program online, teamed with partners to create 500 new wireless hotspots for school-age children who were rushed into online learning for the first time, and led efforts to create a licensed day care center for children of health care and essential workers at an MCFL branch.

“The entire Marin County Free Library team stands with Raemona in our commitment to racial equity in Marin County,” said MCFL Director Lana Adlawan. “Raemona works tirelessly to ensure that community and staff voices are heard and that library programs are inclusive for all. She isn’t afraid to dream big and work hard to make new things happen. I am excited to see what she dreams up next!”

Little Taylor’s passion lies in offering services around literacy and education that are appropriate to the realities of disproportionately affected communities. The first step is acknowledging what she described as a long history of libraries as segregated spaces.

“Until libraries and librarians grapple with their history as gatekeepers for white-dominant culture, they will struggle to create welcoming and inclusive workplaces where diverse workers feel like they truly belong,” Little Taylor told the Library Journal. “It can be a real challenge to work within institutions as the one and only Black, Indigenous and people of color [BIPOC] staff member. We need to move beyond being tolerated to being celebrated.”

Little Taylor, an MCFL employee since 2017, is the public services administrator of the 10 MCFL branches and two mobile vehicles serving patrons in the field. Previously she was a teen and adult services librarian at the Fairfax branch and then senior librarian and education initiatives coordinator for four branches in West Marin. After earning her master’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she began her professional career as a public records researcher and in several roles with the Nashville Public Library prior to joining MCFL.

Nominations for annual awards were vetted by the editors of Library Journal, giving weight to factors such as innovation, the impact of the person’s work, and the potential for programs to serve as models and inspiration for others in the field.

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Art

Marin Fair Competitive Exhibits Open for Entry

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

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Marin County Fair “So Happy Together!” returns June 30-July 4

Courtesy of Marin County

2022 Marin County Fair Poster depicting a variety of farm animals with the Marin County Civic Center and Marin Fairgrounds property in the background. San Rafael, California — With Marin County Fair’s June 30 opening day just around the corner, the Competitive Exhibits categories for the 2022 Fair are now available on the Fair’s website MarinFair.org.

The competitive exhibit program, which usually takes place indoors, will remain online for one more year and will include competitions such as fine art and photography, decorated cakes and cookies, wine and beer label design, clothing and textiles, cartoon art, exceptional art, poetry and creative writing, hobbies and crafts, and more. The Plein Air painting competition on the first day of the Fair will take place outdoors. The agriculture competitions will remain outdoors and will include poultry, rabbits, sheep dog trials, pocket pets, dog care and training, and small animal round robin showmanship, to name a few.

“We are thrilled to provide an array of online competitions for our community during our outdoor only 2022 Fair,” said Director of Cultural Services Gabriella Calicchio. “The Competitive Exhibits program is the heart and soul of the Fair and we’re excited to bring our talented community together again to participate.”

The full list of categories and entry guidelines is available online at MarinFair.org. Submissions will be accepted from May 6 to May 31 and winners will be announced online during Fair time.

The 2022 fair will also focus on outdoor entertainment including the headline concerts, performers roaming the grounds such as jugglers, unicyclists, and stilt walkers, and interactive art experiences for fans of all ages. Returning fair favorites will include traditional carnival rides, the Global Marketplace, the Barnyard, food and drinks, and fireworks every night over the Civic Center’s Lagoon Park.

Early bird tickets sold out within one day of release. Discounted Fair tickets are still available for adults and teens through June 29. The Fair is a one-price gate featuring 28 carnival rides, exciting exhibits, spectacular firework displays, first-rate concerts and exciting attractions are FREE with gate admission. Tickets are available online only at MarinFair.org.

Headline concerts will soon be announced, and reserved gold circle tickets will go on sale May 16. Reserved concert seating in a special section is $60 per person and includes Fair admission.

Special Admission Days:
Kids Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Children 12 and under are FREE on Thursday, June 30.
Senior Day at the Fair – Thursday, June 30
Seniors 65+ are admitted FREE

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