James Weldon Johnson: “Harlem: The Culture Capital”


The 1920s witnessed a virtual explosion of African American artistic expression of all kinds, which centered in Harlem on New York’s Upper West Side. More popularly known as the Harlem Renaissance, this cultural movement attracted many of the most accomplished black writers, artists, actors, and musicians of the early twentieth century. James Weldon Johnson was one of the movement’s most respected contributors and, in the eyes of many, its godfather and most illustrious statesman. Like thousands of other black Americans who moved to Harlem from the South during the three decades prior to the Great Depression, Johnson was optimistic that “Black Manhattan” would offer economic, cultural, and racial liberation for himself and others. Indeed, Johnson viewed Harlem as a model for black advancement that could be achieved with unprecedented speed and with a minimum of racial tension. His essay “Harlem: The Culture Capital” was included in Professor Alain Locke’s famous 1925...

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Harlem River in the first decade of the twentieth century (Library of Congress)

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