When I was young, my grandfather gifted me a book entitled “Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America” by Mary Schmidt Campbell. The colorful book jacket and the artwork and history within quickly became a cherished item. The book was a formal invitation to learn about the Harlem Renaissance a time described as “The Golden Age of African American Culture.” This era spanning roughly the 1910s through the mid-1930s, which could only be snuffed out via the Great Depression, would later re-emerge as the 1965-1975 Black Arts Movement, the brainchild of poet/writer Mr. Imamu Amiri Baraka. Though short-lived, this movement served as a platform for politically motivated poets, dramatists, musicians, and writers to embrace their black power. The message remains.
Thinking of this year’s Black History Month theme “African Americans and the Arts,” takes me back to my granddad’s house in southwest Philadelphia. Sifting through books by Zora Neale Hurston (you’re welcome), Nikki Giovanni (again you’re welcome), and James Baldwin (this man will elevate your IQ); being blown away by Eartha Kitt’s force on the screen; witnessing the magic of an Alvin Ailey performance; and the beautiful chaos of Basquiat’s artistry was the result impressed by a colorful book.
This theme is further embraced by my hometown New Orleans, Louisiana. What I appreciate most is how the past and present exist simultaneously. This remnant intertwining is known as a palimpsest, and I don’t need to travel far to be enveloped within it. City-dedicated events such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival “Jazzfest” every April through May “promote, preserve, perpetuate, and encourage the music, culture, and heritage of communities in Louisiana through festivals, programs, and other cultural, education, civic, and economic activities.” This festival celebrates the music, food, spoken word, and artistic expression of African Americans and the indigenous tribes/people of the area.
If you wish to further explore the Harlem Renaissance and Black Arts Movement, please see the links below.
Ms. Melissa Kimble, the creator of #blkcreatives, understood this year’s theme best with her billboard manifesto, “This world does not move without Black creativity.”