Gather Out of Star-Dust: The Harlem Renaissance and The Beinecke Library

The Harlem Renaissance: A Chronology

A timeline of African American culture from 1910-1940, while far from comprehensive, offers a sense of the abundance, variety, and texture of documentation for this period available in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. The chronological arrangement gives rise to interesting juxtapositions, such as the appearance in the same year—1917—of Ridgley Torrence’s “Negro plays” on Broadway and the N.A.A.C.P.’s Negro Silent Protest Parade, or the emergence of Jean Toomer with Cane in the same year—1923—as the Charleston. Well-known events are placed in relation to lesser-known ones: ten days after appearing as an usher at Countée Cullen’s wedding to Yolande Du Bois, Langston Hughes escorted Gwendolyn Bennett to prom at Lincoln University.

Scholars have debated the beginning and ending events or dates of the Harlem Renaissance, though most agree that momentum for African American culture began sometime in the 1910s or early 20s, and had evolved into something quite different by 1939. This timeline suggests a variety of beginnings and endings, as well as a middle with numerous identifiable events of momentum: the 1924 Civic Club Dinner hosted by Charles S. Johnson, the publication of a special Negro issue of Survey Graphic in 1925, the rise of Josephine Baker that same year, and the publication of The Weary Blues in 1926. By the time Langston Hughes published his first memoir, The Big Sea, in 1940, he could make a decidedly retrospective assessment of what was by then called “the Negro Renaissance.”

*A few items from the original exhibit have been substituted for the digital version. For a full list of the original items, see the checklist here