6 Black Artists that lead the Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was a pivotal moment in African American History. In the early 20th century, the neighborhood of Harlem began to emerge as the premier black metropolis and a black cultural mecca in the United States. This development was followed by the intellectual, social and artistic explosion of African American culture which erupted in the neighborhood and spread across the cities of the greater Midwest – what we today refer to as the Harlem Renaissance and was initially known as the New Negro Movement.

This fruitful time saw the blossoming of a myriad of talents by an astonishing array of African American artists, writers and musicians free from the constraints of the dominant white culture. Critic and teacher Alain Locke described it as a “spiritual coming of age” in which the African American community was able to seize upon its “first chances for group expression and self-determination.”

With racism still a major problem and with limited economic opportunities available to them, African Americans used creative expression to voice their opinions and broadcast their ability to create great works of art. Jobs were plentiful in cities in the United States in the years between World War I and the Great Depression, especially in the northern states.

The Great Migration began as disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws led many African Americans to hope for a new life up north. Almost 750,000 African Americans left the South and migrated to urban areas, like New York, to take advantage of their growing prosperity. Harlem attracted nearly 175,000 African Americans, making it one of the largest concentrations of black people in the world at the time.

#1: Jacob Lawrence

To Preserve Their Freedom, from Toussain L'Ouverture series, serigraph, 1988-1997 by Jacob Lawrence

To Preserve Their Freedom, from Toussain L'Ouverture series, serigraph, 1988-1997 by Jacob Lawrence


#2: Lois Mailou Jones

The Butte Montmartre - Lois Mailou Jones © Irina/flickr

The Butte Montmartre - Lois Mailou Jones © Irina/flickr


#3: Allan Rohan Crite

School’s Out by Allan Rohan Crite

School’s Out by Allan Rohan Crite


#4: Aaron Douglas

“Let My People Go” by Aaron Douglas

“Let My People Go” by Aaron Douglas

Not only was Aaron Douglas a leader in the Harlem Renaissance, he is also widely noted as the forefather of black art in America! Born and raised in Kansas during…his work captured a lot of the black struggle at the time.


#5: Ellis Wilson

Jac…… by Ellis Wilson

Jac…… by Ellis Wilson


#6: Archibald Motley

Nightlife (1943) by Archibald Motley © Valerie Gerrard Browne / Chicago History Museum / Bridgeman Images

Nightlife (1943) by Archibald Motley © Valerie Gerrard Browne / Chicago History Museum / Bridgeman Images

e is most famous for his colorful chronicling of the African-American experience during the 1920s and 1930s, and is considered one of the major contributors to the Harlem Renaissance,