The Harlem Renaissance refers to a cultural, social, and artistic explosion in 1920s that took place in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. This period is also known as the “New Negro Movement” because of the Great Migration of African Americans to the North in search of jobs and a better way of life. It was a time marked by representations of African Americans in a relatable and unprejudiced manner. Notable African Americans included authors, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston; artists, Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage and Jacob Lawrence; and musicians, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.
During this time, African-American books and periodicals for children began to emerge. Scholar and activist W.E.B. Dubois published The Brownies’ Book (1920-1921), the first magazine devoted to African-American children. The monthly publication featured columns, illustrations and photographs designed to educate children and showcase the achievements of people of color. Though it lasted only two years, it laid the foundation for future African- American children’s literature. Of all the writers of the African-American experience, Langston Hughes stands out as one of the most important authors. His work from the 1920s through the 1960s consisted of a highly perceptive and introspective reflection on African-American culture. Hughes’ writings are featured in many children’s picture books, including several in the current exhibition.