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"God and nature first made
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African American Art Calendars
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Black Culture & the Harlem Renaissance
Black Culture &
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Harlem Stomp!
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A Cultural History
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Portable Harlem Renaissance
The Portable
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Against the Odds: The Artists of the Harlem Renaissance VHS
Against the Odds: The Artists
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Rhapsodies in Black
Rhapsodies in Black:
Music & Words
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Harlem Renaissance Black History Posters
for the social studies & history classroom, home schoolers, theme decor.

social studies > black history > HARLEM RENAISSANCE POSTERS | writers list | musicians < music posters < art education resource links

Harlem Poets Poster Set
Harlem Poets Poster Set

Harlem, a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, has a long history as a African-American residential, cultural, and business center. The name Harlem is from the Dutch settlers who farmed the area from 1637. The Great Migration (1916-1930) of African-Americans out of the South brought a critical mass of creative and talented people together for a flourishing of musicians, artists, actors and writers known as the Harlem Renaissance.

“Stars of the Harlem Renaissance” educational posters series and composite posters celebrate the prominent authors, poets and musicians of the Harlem cultural movements of the early 20th century:

Eubie Blake
Countee Cullen
Aaron Douglas
Duke Ellington

Langston Hughes
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Augusta Savage

Jean Toomer
James Vanderzee
Ethel Waters

Eubie Blake, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Eubie Blake,
Stars of the
Harlem Renaissance,

Eubie Blake
b. 2-7-1883; Baltimore, MD
d. 2-13-1983

Emily Johnson, a former slave, took her 4-year-old son James Hubert Blake shopping one day. When little James saw a $75 pipe organ in a store, he climbed up and started to play it as if he had been playing all his life. His mother, astounded at her son's gifts, bought him the organ. That was the beginning of “Eubie” Blake's musical career.

Eubie Blake had already made a name for himself as a songwriter and dancer by 1915, when he partnered with songwriter Noble Sissle. Within a week, the famous singer Sophie Tucker had performed their first song, “It's All Your Fault.” Blake and Sissle wrote many classic songs together including the songs of Shuffle Along, the first all-black musical on Broadway. Some historians say that Shuffle Along was the start of the Harlem Renaissance, because it sparked the curiosity of many white theathergoers who then wanted to see Harlem for themselves.

Even after he parted ways with Sissle, Blake continued to work for decades as a songwriter and entertainer. In all, he published more than 350 songs! He continued performing onstage and on television well into his 90s. Eubie Blacke died in 1983 at age 100.

FYI ~ Future star Josephine Baker was a member of the chorus line of Shuffle Along.

Among Blake's compositions were the hits “Bandana Days”, “Charleston Rag”, “Love Will Find A Way”, “Memories of You”, and “I'm Just Wild About Harry”.

Countee Cullen, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance Poster
Countee Cullen,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance

Countee Cullen
b. 3-30-1903; New York or Baltimore
d. 1-9-1946

“Yet do I marvel at this curious thing: To make a poet black, and bid him sing!”

Countee Cullen was a celebrated writer who wrote some of the most beautiful and beloved poems of the Harlem Renaissance. Little is known about his early life. Born Countee Porter, he was raised in New York City by a woman who was probably his grandmother. She died when he was 15 years old, and he was adopted into the home of Reverend Frederick Ashbury Cullen, the pastor of one of Harlem's biggest churches. Countee took the last name of his new family. While he was attending DeWitt Clinton High School he became well known for his poetry. One of only a handful of African American students at Clinton, Cullen won honors in five different subjects.

Cullen went on to study at New York University where his poetry won him both awards and friendships in Harlem's writing community. Before he graduated college with honors in 1925, he had signed a contract to publish his first book of poems, Color. Cullen wrote his poems in very traditional forms such as the sonnet and the lyric ballad, but his themes were far from traditional. He wrote about injustice and prejudice as well as more “classical” topics, and his reputation grew with every new book. Cullen was close with most of the important figures of the Harlem Renaissance, and he was even briefly married to W.E.B. Du Bois' daughter, Nina Yolande.

Cullen wrote several books of poetry, a novel, a popular play, and two children's books. He also taught junior high school. (One of his students, James Baldwin, would grow up to be a famous writer himself.) Countee Cullen died suddenly in 1946, but his legacy lives on: One of the oldest branches of the New York City Public Library is named for him.

Poetry Forms posters
Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets in the Twenties, editor Countee Cullen

Aaron Douglas, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Aaron Douglas,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

Aaron Douglas
b. 5-26-1899; Topeka, KS
d. 2-22-1979

Aaron Douglas was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1899. Inspired by the great black American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner, Douglas became interested in art at an early age. His parents encouraged him by hanging his painting all over the house. Douglas graduated from the Universtiy of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1922 with a degree in fine arts. He was teaching art at Lincoln High School in Topeka when his friends in New York convinced him that New York was the place for a young black artist to be. He moved there in 1926, and he became one of the top artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

Aaron Douglas took many different influences, from ancient Egyptian art and African sculpture to European cubism, and mixed them all thogether to create his own style. He is best known today for his murals, or large painting on walls. Douglas painted his murals in hotels, clubs, and libraries from Harlem to Chicago and Nashville. He was also a popular magazine and book ilustrator, he designed the covers for many of the most important books of the Harlem Renaissance and created bold work for magazines such as Vanity Fair; Fire!; and The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP.

In 1941, Aaron Douglas founded the art department at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. At Fisk, he helped countless young artists learn their craft. He retired from active teaching in 1966 and died in 1979.

• more Artists Posters
Aaron Douglas: Art. Race, and the Harlem Renaissance

Duke Ellington Art Print
Duke Ellington
Art Print

(image from series no longer available.)

Duke Ellington
b. 4-29-1899; Washington, DC
d. 5-24-1974

Edward Kennedy Ellington is one of the most sophisticated and important composers and pianists the United States has ever produced. The son of a White House butler, he earned the nickname “Duke” as a boy because he always carried himself like a gentleman.

Ellington organized his first dance band, “The Duke's Serenaders,” in 1917, when he was only 18 years old. In 1923, Ellington moved to New York with a group of friends. They played with a band called The Washingtonians. Ellington took over the band and eventually it became known as The Duke Ellington Orchestra. Long term engagements at famous Harlem night spots such as the Cotton Club and the Kentucky Club cemented Ellington's reputation as a great bandleader and an amazing composer. His beautiful melodies and ambitious arrangements helped expand the range of jazz music itself. All of Harlem hummed tunes like “Black and Tan Fantasy” and “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” – and, thanks to the new wireless radio, so did the rest of America.

The Duke Ellington Orchestra (which over the years included many of America's greatest jazzmen) charmed audiences all over the world for more than 50 years. Songs he wrote, including “Mood Indigo,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't got That Swing),” became jazz standards. Ellington was a talented and generous man who profoundly influenced all kinds of music, from jazz to classical and rock and roll. He died in 1974.

• more Duke Ellington curriculum enrichment resources
• more Black Entertainers posters
• more music posters

Stars of the Harlem Renaissance - Langston Hughes Poster
Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes
b. 2-1-1902; Joplin, MO
d. 5-22-1967, Harlem, NYC

Langston Hughes was the biggest literary star of the Harlem Renaissance. He produced a truly astonishing amount of writing in his lifetime: sixteen books of poetry, twenty plays, seven collections of short fiction, many magazine and newspaper articles, three autobiographies, and two novels, as well as opera librettos, movie scripts, essays, and children's books.

James Mercer Lnagston Hughes was born on February 1, 1902, in Joplin, Missouri. His parents split up soon after, and Hughes grew up all over the Midwest. He enrolled at Columbia University in New York City, but he dropped out after a year. After that, he worked as a sailor and traveled the world, and he wrote poems and stories.

Hughes' poem “The Weary Blues,” which was written after a visit to a Harlem nightclub, was the first poem to use blues music form. It won first prize in an Opportunity magazine contest. When his first book of poetry, also called The Weary Blues, was published in 1926, the 24-year-old was suddenly a celebrity.

Hughes soon moved to Harlem; eventually, he adopted the neighborhood as his permanent home. He used street slang and jazz rhythms in blues-based poems like “Theme for English B” and the stories in The Ways of White Folks. Langston Hughes had come to be known as “The Poet Laureate of Harlem” by the time he died on May 22, 1967. [poster text]

• more Langston Hughes posters
• more literature posters

Bill Robinson, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Bill “Bogangles” Robinson,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson
b. 5-25-1878; Richmond, VA
d. 11-25-1949; NYC

Bill Robinson was dancing for pennies on the streets of his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, when he was 6 years old. He went on tour as a featured dancer when he was 10. He always claimed that tap dancing just came naturally to him, but his talent was also shaped by hard work and careful study of the styles of other dancers.

No one is quite sure how the nickname “Bojangles” came about – Bill Robinson himself claimed not to know. But that is how he was known in both black and white vaudeville shows all over the country. He eventually settled in Harlem, and he made his Broadway debut at the age of 50 in Blackbirds of 1928, whcih ran for 512 performances. The show was successful largely because white audiences wanted to see Robinson, who was known as the greatest tap dancer in the world. Eventually, his appearances in movies with actress Lena Horne and child star Shirley Temple made “Bojangles” a household name.

Harlem is Heaven, 1932, Poster
Harlem is Heaven,
1932, Poster

Robinson's innovative tapping, larger-than-life personality, and great generosity made him a legend: He was known in his community as “The Honorary Mayor Harlem.” When he died in 1949 at the age of 71, his funeral procession stretched from Harlem all the way down to Brooklyn. One and a half million mourners came to say goodbye to one of the world's greatest entertainers.

Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson

Augusta Savage, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Augusta Savage,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

Augusta Savage, née Fells
b. 2-29-1892; Green Cove Springs, FL
d. 3-26-1962; NY

While Augusta Savage is mostly known as a sculptor, she was also a wonderful art teacher and a tireless supporter of the rights of all artists, expecially black artists. But she was lucky that she was able to pursue her art at all. She grew up in Florida with thirteen brothers and sisters. Her father was a strict Methodist minister who believed that the Bible forbade creating “graven images.” He punished Augusta whevever he found any of the small clay figurines she made as a child. But she did not let that get in her way. As she got older, she won awards for her work – and she also won her father's approval. She headed north to Harlem in 1921.

Savage's talent won her scholarships and friends among Harlem's elite. She was hired to sculpt the likenesses of some of the major black political figures of the time, including W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. Then, in 1923, she applied for a special summer arts program in France. When the selection committee found out Savage was black, however, her application was rejected. The controversy became front-page news in New York, as many scholars and community leaders rallied to her cause. But it wasn't until six years later that she was finally able to study in France.

In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage
In Her Hands:
The Story of Sculptor
Augusta Savage

In her later years, Savage spent more of her time teaching than sculpting. She founded a school that became the Harlem Community Art Center, the largest art center in the United States. One of her students, Jacob Lawrence, went on to become perhaps the most successful African American painter of all time. The art world lost a major figure when Augusta Savage died in 1962.

• more Artist/Art History posters
• more women artists posters

Jean Toomer, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Jean Toomer,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

Jean Toomer
b. 12-26-1894; Washington, DC
d. 3-30-1967, Doylestown, PA
“O people, if you but used
Your other eyes
You would see beings.”

Jean Toomer is one of the most interesting and puzzling figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nathan Eugene Toomer was born into a prominent mixed-race family and raised in white neighborhoods by his mother after his father left. When Toomer was just 11 years old, his mother died and he went to live in a black neighborhood in Washington, D.C. with his grandfather P.B.S. Pinchback, who had served as governor of Louisiana. It was the first time Toomer had actually lived around other African Americans.

This experience and his time as the principal of a school in Georgia provided Toomer with ideas for stories and poems. Toomer, who now called himself “Jean,” sent his writings to several important Harlem-based magazines, which published them and asked for more. In 1923 his work was collected and published as the book Cane, and Harlem, in the words of one writer, “went quietly mad.” Cane, a mix of poetry and short stories, is regarded as the first great literary work of the Harlem Renaissance.

Jean Toomer Reader
Jean Toomer Reader

Everyone hailed Jean Toomer as the next great black literary hero – everyone except Jean Toomer himself. He was angry with his publisher for calling him a “Negro” writer. He said he was “neither white nor black, but simply an American.” Toomer devoted the rest of his life to studying and teaching philosophy, and although he wrote many books after Cane, none of them was ever published for the general public. He was largely forgotten when in died in 1967, but when Cane was reprinted two years later, its reputation as a classic was quickly restored. (Text based on out of stock poster.)

Toomer was married twice: his first wife was author and activist Marjery Latimer who died in childbirth; his second wife was photographer Marjorie Content.

In the 1920s Toomer began following Gurdjieff; he joined the Quakers in 1940 and afterwards devoted most of his time to serving on Quaker committees and working with high school students.

Jean Toomer Bio

James VanDerZee, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
James VanDerZee,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

James VanDerZee
b. 6-19-1886; Lenox, MA
d. 6-1983, Washington, DC

The photographs of James VanDerZee captured nearly every side of Harlem life. His subjects were famous and nameless, black and white, rich and poor and middle class. The photos he took help us to understand the amazing time that was the Harlem Renaissance.

Jame VanDerZee was boorn in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1886. He received his first camera at age 13 as a prize for selling twenty packets of ladies' sachet powder. When VanDerZee moved to Harlem in 1908, he tried to support himself as a musician – he played violin, piano and many other instruments. But a brand-new invention, the phonograph, put many musicians out of work, and VanDerZee had to fall back on his old hobby, photography. He was so good at it that he opened his own studio at 1917.

Rhapsodies in Black
James VanDerZee

Soon, VanDerZee became the most fashionable photographer in Harlem. Dozens of famous Harlem Renaissance figures posed for him, including the political leader Marcus Garvey; Florence Mills, a singer and actress; and the poet Countee Cullen. VanDerZee also specialized in wedding and birth portraits, advertising pictures, and street scene photos. His career outlasted the Harlem Renaissance itself. He was still active well into his 90s, when he took pictures of Muhammad Ali, Bill Cosby, and pianist Eubie Blake. James VanDerZee died in 1983.

• “Happiness is perfume, you can't pour it on somebody else without getting a few drops on yourself.”

• more Artist/Art History posters
The James VanDerZee Studio

Ethel Waters, Stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Poster
Ethel Waters,
Stars of the Harlem Renaissance,

Ethel Waters
b. 10-31-1896; Chester, PA
d. 9-1-1977, CA

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, into unhappy circumstances. Her mother was just 12 years old, and Waters was raised in poverty in Philadelphia by her grandmother. Still in her teens, Ethel was already divorced and working as a chambermaid for $4.75 a week when her friends convinced her to sing at an amateur night competition at a local club. She won first prize and a steady job, and soon she was performing on the black vaudeville circuit. She was billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean” because she was tall and skinny.

Waters began to record blues songs at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance in 1919, and by 1921 she was a huge star. Her single “Down Home Blues” sold more than 500,000 copies in six months, and she drew rave reviews for her Broadway appearances in two important black revues, Africana and Blackbirds of 1928. But she never lived in luxury. In fact, she gave away most of her money to Harlem's poor. “There's an old saying that charity begins at home,” she said, “and all Harlem is home to me.”

Ethel Waters career lasted much longer than the Harlem Renaissance itself. She remained a popular stage, screen, and radio actress for many years. In the early 1950s, she played the title role on the television show Beulah – the first national TV show that featured an African American as its main character. Waters also received two Academy Award nominations for her work in the movies Pinky (1938) and A Member of the Wedding (1953), and she wrote two autobiographies. She died in 1977.

• more Black Entertainers posters
• more women in music posters

Harlem Renaissance Culture Guide Map Poster
Harlem Renaissance
Culture Guide
Map & Poster

Harlem Renaissance Culture Guide Poster Map - One Hundred Years of History, Art, and Culture

Poster map guide shows the homes, nightclubs, and churches linked with Harlem’s writers, artists, musicians, thinkers, and political leaders of the 1920s.

Alvin AileyCharles AlstonMarian Anderson • The Apollo Theater • James BaldwinRomare Bearden • The Cotton Club • W.E.B. DuBoisKatherine DunhamDuke EllingtonRalph EllisonMarcus GarveyAlthea Gibson Dizzy GillespieW.C. HandyBillie HolidayLangston HughesZora Neale HurstonJacob LawrenceJoe LouisThurgood MarshallMalcolm X • Minton's Playhouse, • Adam Clayton Powell Jr.Paul RobesonA. Philip RandolphAugusta Savage • The Savoy • The Schomburg Center • James Van Der ZeeMadam C. J. WalkerMary Lou Williams

• more Culture Maps
• more maps

Harlem Poets Poster Set
Harlem Poets Poster Set

Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay

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