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The Black Renaissance in Washington, DC, 1910-1937
biographies harlem renaissance books links timeline about this site

About This Site

History of the Site

The Carnegie Corporation of New York awarded $15 million to 25 public libraries across the country. These libraries were in cities that served large culturally diverse populations. The District of Columbia Public Library (DCPL) was one of the awardees, receiving $500,000. These funds were earmarked towards services that focused on children and young adults, literacy, and special collections at branch libraries.

One of the components of DCPL’s grant application focused on developing resources on the Harlem Renaissance, highlighting the activity of the Renaissance in Washington, DC. Because of the frequency with which we receive requests generated by students’ personal interest or from class assignments from their teachers, there is an easily recognized demand for information on the “Renaissance.” The large number of young adults who request information relating to this movement or on an individual from this movement provided the impetus to explore a project centered on the “Renaissance.”

Why Washington?

Key to the success of this project was to demonstrate the role that Washingtonians played in the Renaissance. “Washingtonians” were defined either as those who were born in Washington; those who lived in Washington during the 1920s and 1930s, the time period covered by the Renaissance; or those who made a cultural or intellectual impact on the Washington scene before moving to another city.

This Grant afforded the Library system an opportunity to not only recognize the greatness of Harlem as a center for the young black writers, artists, intellectuals, and performers, but to demonstrate the importance of Washington and its contributions. This project has allowed DCPL to take an opportunity to create racial and cultural pride and to stimulate an awareness of the richness in its local community. In order to broaden the awareness of our young adult customers, it was important to look at the overall Harlem Renaissance and demonstrate how this was a national movement that was spurred by an awakening of talents across the country, and the role that Washingtonians played. The literature is replete with references that definitively attest to the fact that Washington was a strong center for African American culture.

This site will be referred to as the Black Renaissance in Washington, 1920-1930s. Many citations in the literature refer to the Harlem Renaissance as a misnomer that inadequately describes a movement that occurred in cities across the country. Also, it shifts the focus from one locale to a larger modifier that is defined by the cultural and intellectual products of the time. The broad picture of the Harlem Renaissance can not be ignored in defining and highlighting the accomplishments in Washington. The site should offer enough information to satisfy any of your needs relating to this wonderfully exciting period.

The Legacy Continues

The Washington area continues to house a vibrant arts and intellectual community. As a complement to this Web site we have included artwork by three painters whose work is influenced by the legacy of the Black Renaissance: Mary Belcher, whose watercolors of historic buildings in the U Street corridor have been exhibited at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library (DCPL); Joseph Holston, a native Washingtonian who studied with James Wells; and Derrick Vaughn, a young artist whose works grace the site's front page.

Contributors to the Site

The Black Renaissance site is the work of many individuals and institutions at the Library and beyond. The project was conceived and headed by George-McKinley Martin, Chief of the Library's Art Division. The site was designed by Sara Cormeny, a native Washingtonian and resident of the Striver's Section, of paperlantern.com. Many photos appear courtesy of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York); the photo of T. Montgomery Gregory appears courtesy of his daughter, Sheila Gregory Thomas.

A special thanks to Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University for the use of their materials.

The biographies and bibliographies were compiled by the following library staff:

Karen Blackman-Mills (Marita O. Bonner)

Catherine Dixon (Florence Mills)

Eleanor Dore (Clarissa M. Scott Delany)

Colleen Gibbons (Frank Smith Horne)

Doris Greer (Sterling Allen Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington)

George-McKinley Martin (Lewis Grandison Alexander, William Waring Cuney, Jessie Redmon Fauset, Rudolph Fisher, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Alain Locke, Richard Bruce Nugent, Willis Richardson, timeline, and Core Collection)

Beth Anne Meyer (James A. Porter, Addison Scurlock, James Lesesne Wells)

Diane L. Mohr (Carrie Williams Clifford)

Paul T. Mills, Sr. (Langston Hughes, Edward Christopher Williams)

Kenneth J. Whisenton (Gwendolyn Bennett, Jean Toomer)

Judith Zvonkin (Angelina Weld Grimke)

In addition, thanks to Kyleelise Holmes (Thelma Myrtle Duncan, T. Montgomery Gregory) and Sheila Gregory Thomas (T. Montgomery Gregory) for their contributions.

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The Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C., 1920-1930s
http://www.dclibrary.org/blkren/ | last updated June 20, 2003