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African-American Art and the Political Dissent during the Harlem Renaissance

Val-Jean Belton

Contents of Curriculum Unit 00.04.01:

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African American Art represents a wide range of African American artists whose works reflect the Black aesthetic and the essence of African Art. It also looks at how black artists struggled for inclusion in society's marketplace of art and survived the imposition of marginal status on them, their art, and their culture.

Dating back as far as colonial times to the present, African American artists have been encouraged and recognized on a very limited basis. Curators and critiques of the art world have rarely regarded early African American themes and expressions of art as big money makers whether they relate to slavery, sharecropping, or ghetto life. Until recently, few African American artists had attained the economic security, understanding and leisure essential to the patronage of artists, while art history books still did not give them adequate recognition. But, in many art history books there are various images of Africa in Egyptian tomb paintings, on vases that are painted to represent the Greeks, in Roman mosaics and ceiling frescos, manuscripts, and Gothic sculptures. The question still remains that if African Americans were subjects in all of the cultural expressions of art, might they have also been established artists during this period?

During colonial times, there were many black artists and crafts people in the 18th century, who did not gain recognition historically. During and after slavery, black men had a gateway to the arts through apprenticeships, which provided them with the opportunity for artistic expression and development of their talents in sculpture, painting and drawing. As black men became skilled artisans and the development of the early economy forged ahead, some black men were able to save money to open up their own businesses and develop their art more steadily. In contrast black female artists were invisible; regardless of their status, they were not allowed to go beyond the boundaries of their household chores and duties. Although there were a few black female artist that did emerge in the mid 19th century, it was well into the twentieth century before their numbers increased and the female artist made a mark on the artistic world.

The first recorded African American artist was Thomas Day. The work that was done by Thomas Day reflects the influence of African art. Day was a freed slave who moved to North Carolina after being educated in Boston and Washington in 1823 and opened up his own studio and crafted furniture. Another known early African American artist was Dave the Potter. Little is known about Dave except that he was the first African American to mark the beginning of a ceramic tradition in African American arts and crafts.

Some emerging African American artists in the 18th centuries discovered that their heritage was still not being recognized in American art. In the mid-1800's Robert Duncanson an early Africa American painter studied with Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School style of painting. He painted romantic landscapes in the style of the Hudson River school, "Blue Hole Flood Waters, Little Miami River" (1851) that depicted a wilderness scene which was familiar to many fugitives from slavery. He also demonstrated his experimentation with and mastery of the Hudson River School style in this painting. Blue Hole Flood Waters, Little Miami River, is considered to be one of the artist's best works. His careful rendering of man and nature serenely joined as one in the natural environment is striking.

Another prominent landscape painter during this time was Edward Bannister. Bannister, Edmonia Lewis, and Henry 0. Tanner, of the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth century were the artists who dismissed any idea of their artistic inferiority and advanced the tradition in African American painting and sculpture. In 1876 Bannister won one of the highest art prizes at the U.S. Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. Also at the same time when Banister exhibited at this exposition, Edmonia Lewis exhibited her controversial sculpture "The Death of Cleopatra."

These artists quickly realized their need to be recognized and applauded as professional artists, and decided to start the emulation of very prominent European artists during this time period. Many of the African American artists of this time were trained by various European artists and eventually traveled to Europe and received recognition after their studies, but racism in the society kept them out of the mainstream of the art world. There were some African American artists who were able to overcome the obstacles in their art and continued to gain praise for their work. These artists include Meta Fuller and Aaron Douglas who was very prominent during the Harlem Renaissance.

The turn of the century brought little change in the approach or accomplishments in the form of African American Art. African American artists continued to use the influence they gained from the European style in their theme, and expression. And as a result of the European influence, there were two important events in art that assisted black artists in the move toward their cultural heritage, social and political awareness and visual aesthetics. The first event was the Amory Show in 1913, which included works by various cubist artists, European artists, and modernist painters. The second event was the Harlem Renaissance. These events were the major movements toward social realism and abstract formalism in art that opened up the path of interpretations and expressions in black art. From 1900 until 1920's many black artists continued to imitate European artist because they felt the interest in black art in Europe was more sincere and this is why most black artists traveled there to study. This period is also the era that promoted the Harlem Renaissance after World War I.

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As an art teacher in the New Haven Public Schools teaching at James Hillhouse High School, whose student population is approximately 93% African American, and 7% other cultures, I have noticed the lack of African American artists in my daily teaching curriculum. I have tried in the past to incorporate little information about these artists in my daily teaching routine but nothing that goes into depth. Along with being not familiar with African American artists, most of the students that I teach have no knowledge about the impact the Harlem Renaissance had on the arts in the form of writing, visual arts, and music.

Therefore, the purpose of this unit will be threefold. First, this unit is designed to introduce students who are in high school Advance Placement Studio Art courses to the art and visual culture of African American art. This unit will also teach students about the history of the Harlem Renaissance from the beginning of the 1900's to the fall of the Renaissance in the 1950's. Secondly, students will learn to analyze and critique the political statements that were represented in a visual form. They will also learn how these political statements are still prominent today in their own societies. Finally, students will focus primarily on the work of Aaron Douglas and his political statements on canvas.

The objectives for this unit will be to expose students to a range of artistic and cultural expressions produced by Aaron Douglas during the period of the Harlem Renaissance. Also, to help students develop an understanding of political and social statements in art, and compare and contrast these statements to the art that they are familiar with in their own culture. And finally, to promote the use of the Internet, and other art related web sites, books, paintings, slides, and galley visits. The Galleries that students will visit will be the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Art in New York City, the Yale Art Gallery, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut.

The strategies that I plan to use in order to teach this unit effectively include class discussions, class critiques, and comparisons of artists themes. These activities will assist my students in exploring and understanding the visual heritage, cultural and political statements made by African Americans in general.

This unit will also address the following visual arts standards that are implemented through the New Haven Board of Education Visual Arts Program.

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Visual Arts Standards

Content Standard 3.0

Evaluate. Critique and Integrate Art Concepts:

Students will choose, evaluate and critique a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas to communicate meaning.

Performance Standards 3.1

Students will develop a vocabulary of aesthetic criteria and principles, which are used to describe works of art.

Content Standard 4.0

Historical and Cultural Relationships and Influences to Art Works:

Students will understand the visual arts relation to history and cultures, identify specific works, describe their function, explain how history and culture influenced these art works and express the contribution they make to art culture in the United States.

Performance Standard 4.1

Students will understand the visual arts in relation to history and cultures and be able to identify specific works.

a. Students will study one or more artists or artistic styles and will be able to recognize another example of work and be able to incorporate its style and elements into their own work.

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The Harlem Renaissance

The term Harlem Renaissance refers to an artistic, cultural, and social beginning of writing about race and African American's place in America in the 1920's and early 1930's. It is very difficult to put an exact date on this period because what was going on during this time was long in developing. This movement was of such great magnitude that this period was renamed the New "Negro Movement" in Harlem. Harlem was the center of urban black life. If you wanted your writing to be known, you went to Harlem. If you wanted to effect the social change in the black communities you went to Harlem. If you wanted to compose music in jazz or blues, you went to Harlem. If you wanted to change your circumstances and you were black, you went to Harlem. It was considered the heart of the Renaissance in African American letters, and the heart of African American life. The Harlem Renaissance marked the first time mainstream black artists, writers and musicians were taken seriously and attracted significant attention from the art world at large.

The Harlem Renaissance at the beginning emerged as a social and intellectual uprising in the African American communities. There were many factors or concerns of African Americans that started the groundwork for this upheaval. These concerns began after The Great Migration. The Great Migration was the movement of hundreds of blacks from the economically depressed rural south to the north. African Americans moved to the North in order to take advantage of the employment opportunities created by World War I. During this time as more educated and individuals arrived in New York's Harlem, it developed into the political and social Mecca of the world. Also during this time there were black historians and sociologists like W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey who made an effort to voice racial equality for African Americans and was eventually instrumental in starting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). W.E.B. DuBois, Alain Locke, James Weldon Johnson, and others began to set the stage for literature in Harlem. One of DuBois's most notable books that describe the black American life is "The Souls of Black Folks" (1903). This particular book presaged the Harlem Renaissance, because DuBois believed that there was a distinct black aesthetic that should be cultivated.

Alain Locke, a scholar who graduated from Harvard, wrote a book titled "The New Negro. An Interpretation" (1925). This was the book that introduced America to what would be the Harlem Renaissance. Most of the writing done by James Weldon Johnson during the time of the Harlem Renaissance described the reality of black life in America and the struggle for racial identity.

There were three major events between 1924 and 1926 of African American literature that placed black writers in the mainstream and launched the Harlem Renaissance. The first event was the publication of the magazine "The Survey Graphic, " a Harlem community magazine that was produced its first issue in 1925. This particular issue focused on the writings of blacks and was edited by Alan Locke, a literary scholar. The second event was the publication of Nigger Heaven (1926), written by Carl Van Vechten a novelist writing about the black culture during the Harlem Renaissance. As a result of Vechten's book many African Americans were offended about the contents of the book, but the book also created a Negro Vogue that drew thousands to the excitement of Harlem. Finally in 1926, a group of young writers including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman, eventually took control of the literary Renaissance in Harlem.

There was no common style or literary style that was prominent during the Renaissance. But, what united these artists, as one was their commitment to focusing on the artistic expression of the African American experience. Here were many common themes that were a reoccurrence in most of the writing during the Renaissance. These themes include the experience of African Americans in Africa and the rural south. There were also the themes of strong racial pride and the desire for social and political equality.

In the aspect of performing arts, blacks in the musical theater included such accomplished writers as Bob Cole, and J Rosamond Johnson who was the brother of James Weldon Johnson who later wrote the black national anthem Lift Every Voice and Sing. Also during this time the Jazz and Blues music was a major role player in the Harlem Renaissance. This type of music or sound had migrated from the south to the north and filtered into the bars, cabarets and nightclubs of Harlem.

Diversity and experimentation also flourished in the performing arts. This diversity and experimentation was reflected in the blues singing of Bessie Smith and in other forms of music such as Jazz and Ragtime. This diversity also brought about the weaving of the rhythms of African American music into the writings of Langston Hughes. This experimentation can be seen in Hughes poems of ghetto life, called The Weary Blues (1926).

Among the visual artists who responded to Alain Locke's vision in visual culture during the Harlem Renaissance were mainly four black artists, each who, like so many others were actively engaged in the art world of Harlem and the transitional period. These artists were Meta Fuller, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson and of course Aaron Douglas who produced socially relevant art that was realistically done in the exploration of Black life and artistic themes.

Meta Fuller played an early part of this transitional period in Harlem. Her artistic perception and understanding was well ahead of other artists of this time, and gained the attention of the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance after she had spent many years working in Paris. As a sculptor in early 1902, Meta Fuller produced many African themes in her art pieces. Her influence of African themes resulted from her marriage to Dr. Solomon Fuller who was from Liberia, West Africa. Through this marriage she was able to interpret African folktales in her sculptures, and bring new insight to the portrayal of neo-African themes in American art. She was the first African American woman to become a professional artist.

@Text: Other works by Meta Fuller reflect the strong influence of Auguste Rodin, with whom she studied while at the Academie Colarossi in Paris. In 1914, Fuller created a sculpture, which anticipated the spirit and style of the Harlem Renaissance. The artwork entitled Ethiopia Awakening, symbolizes the emergence of the New Negro and idealizes the conditions of African Americans through a female figure. The sculptures composition reveals a partially wrapped mummy figure, that is bound from the waist down, but from the waist up, the hair and shoulders resemble that of a beautiful African woman. The representation of death that is used frequently by Fuller is very evident in the lower half of the figure, while the upper part of the torso is alive displaying the idea of motherhood, the rebirth of womanhood, and the emergence of nationhood the bottom half of the sculpture reveals the death of the old and the destroying of the past. Palmer Hayden arrived in Harlem from Virginia after World War I as a self-trained artist who worked as a custodian. However there are records that indicate that he was a student of Cooper Union in New York and pursued courses at Boothbay Art Colony in Maine as an independent student artist. He also studied and painted in France, where he resided from 1927 until 1932. During his time in Harlem he became the principle artist who communicated Black folklore from the south through his paintings. He also expressed the native customs of Southern Blacks in his works visually.

An important elements in the paintings of Palmer Hayden included the people of the community and the fashions and manners that they portrayed. This can be seen in the painting, "Just Back from Washington". In this painting there is a young man who is fashionably dressed holding a strolling or walking cane. The figure of the man represents a city dude or city slicker, which is the perennial presence at the nightclubs in Harlem. Hayden's paintings of the 1930's and 1940's chronicle the various manners of dress found in the Black rural South and northern urban communities. His paintings, which tell the story of the Black experience, are often without particular reference to a specific time. But one is often left wondering from what community has Hayden captured his themes of the Black urban life? The place is evident, Harlem the home of the Renaissance of Black culture.

William H. Johnson arrived in Harlem from Florence, South Carolina in 1918. Upon his arrival in Harlem Johnson became a student at the National Academy of Design and was invited to assist the painter George Lucas. But like other artists such as Palmer Hayden in the 1920's, Johnson left the United States in 1926 to study art in Europe. Through his travel in London, he came in contact with the art of Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Chaim Soutine.

The style of William H. Johnson's work was often represented as naive, primitive, and geometrically drawn. He had also at this time around the mid 1930's reduced his palette to four or five colors. He also at this time became very interested in painting Black subjects that emphasized Christian themes. The compositions such as "Descent from the Cross" (c. 1939), "Mount Calvary" (1939), and "Nativity" (1939) shows Johnson's presentation of an all-Black cast as the family as Jesus.

William Johnson also painted subject that addressed political issues in Harlem. In the painting "Moon over Harlem" (1944), a bloody scene is depicted which shows the police and community citizens in a night brawl. During this period of political dissent Johnson also included depictions of Black heroes , world leaders, and abolitionist figures in his paintings. These paintings included figures such as George Washington Carver, in his laboratory, accepting awards from various officials, and displaying his numerous inventions such as peanuts and sweet potatoes.

Other political and social statements about Harlem in Johnson's work include "Café" (1939), and "Chain Gang" (1939-1940). These and other works that centered around the theme of the Black dancer were done while he lived in Harlem. In 1944, he began recounting his life and experiences of growing up in the South and painted families going to church on Sunday, farmers tending to their crops, as well of portraits of his own family in Li'l Sis (1944), Little Sweet (1944), and Mom and Dad (1944). In the painting Mom and Dad, the artist's mother who is Black is sitting in a rocker in the front of a portrait of a white man whom is Johnson's father. In this painting the artist is making a social statement about his illegitimate birth, the father that he never knew, and the limited knowledge he had about his family roots.

Johnson's work represented and important break in traditional art. It signaled the beginning of the acceptance of Black artists and Black art as part of the Christian experience in Western art. He work hard to develop an awareness of the social plight of Black people in America. Johnson used Harlem as a place for information, and the Renaissance evolved his sensitivity to the racial problems that existed in America. His last years of painting in Harlem centered around a plan to bring peace to himself through the creation of his art work and to present his own family history and heritage to enlighten the Black community as a whole.

Like William H. Johnson, Aaron Douglas introduced Black religious subjects into his work in the 1920's. Aaron Douglas, was a woodcut printer, illustrator, muralist and was considered the leading painter during the Harlem Renaissance. He arrived in Harlem in 1924 with a certification to teach visual arts. Having been influenced by African American painter Ossawa 0. Tanner, Douglas was very active in New York during the Renaissance. Most of the images that he painted were stylized African figures that contained geometric shapes that overlapped; similar to those painted by Picasso.

Like Picasso, Aaron Douglas' work created the sense of geometric movement and rhythm. Aaron Douglas seemed to be one of many African American artists who embraced the art world at the right time. He graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1922 and later received a degree from the Teachers College of Columbia University in 1944.

Douglas also explored racial themes in his art and turned to Africa as a source of beauty and artistic inspiration. Through his study of African art he was able to combine his knowledge of classical art with African art ‘s cubist forms. As a result of his study he created his own style of painting and modernism. His work became very stylized, elongated with angular figures on the picture plane exhibiting movement. Douglas was familiar with many of the literary writers during the Harlem Renaissance era. He illustrated the works of such figures as DuBois, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and James Weldon Johnson.

Some of Aaron Douglas's most notable works include GOD'S TROMBONES, a cubist style black and white rhythmic illustration that was created for James Weldon Johnson's books of poems and sermons in verse. This particular work depicted the Black history and customs of African American people and culture during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. The original series of paintings was completed in 1927, and included illustrations JUDGMENT DAY, LET MY PEOPLE GO. GO DOWN DEATH, NOAH'S ARK, and THE CRUCIFIXION. He also had created illustrations for a book that was written by Dr. Alain Locke, THE NEW NEGRO, published in 1925. Douglas' talents also allowed him to be commissioned to complete various murals around the world. The murals that he was instrumental in painting included a mural for the opening of the Club Ebony in New York during 1920. He also traveled to Chicago to create a mural for the Sherman Hotel's College Inn Ballroom and another mural in Nashville Tennessee at Fisk University. Douglas's art appeared frequently in The Crisis and Opportunity magazines. In these magazines his work always portrayed some aspect of African American life and experience.

In reference to the many political statements Aaron Douglas made in his works, the one that stands out the most is in his illustration of THE CRUCIFIXION. In this painting Douglas sought to illustrate the agony that Jesus had suffered for all mankind as he is walking quietly in the shadow of crosses. In the traditional paintings of Christian themes, white artists have omitted Blacks completely from God's creation except as servants. For this reason Douglas was determined to portray Blacks in his paintings as a part of the Biblical scene. The central figure in THE CRUCIFIXION is a black male who carries a cross much bigger than he is. Douglas conveys in this painting that the weight of the world is standing on this male figure's shoulders. THE CRUCIFIXION breaks with the traditional iconography because of the black theme that is dominant in a Christian theme. And the message comes alive in a visual sense that strikes out at the core of American political, social racism, tragic conditions of black slavery, human deprivation, and the denial of the black man's existence. According to Aaron Douglas THE CRUCIFIXION, had become every black American in the 1920's in Harlem.

Aaron Douglas was one of the first muralists to complete murals in New York during the Renaissance. His first mural was for the New York Ebony Club in 1927. Another completed for Fisk University in 1929 followed this mural. In 1931 Douglas traveled to Paris and upon his return he completed yet another mural Aspects of Negro Life for the Countee Cullen Branch of the Free Public Library in New York. In this mural Douglas demonstrated the history of African Americans, and served as a great signature of work for the Harlem Renaissance.

When Aaron Douglas completed his mural series in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, he had already changed the use of realism in his paintings. During this time he had started responding to the art community's interest in portraiture and genre scenes. The attempts by Douglas to combine modernist aesthetics with African symbols gave him the chance to stylize his art in a manner which had not been achieved by any other Black American artist before him. Black heritage along with racial themes were the subjects he attempted to paint when became interested and aware that Black people were developing in their own history and heritage.

Although Douglas returned from time to time to portrait and landscape painting, the lasting impact that he made on America as a whole was his approach to painting themes that related to the Black experience and consciousness. His death in 1979, brought to a end a true African American artist whose artistic insight and creativity reached far beyond the Harlem Renaissance.

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The Harlem Renaissance was lauded as the period in the history of Black American culture that promoted the art of African American arts and ancestry. The four visual artists, MetaWarrick Fuller , Palmer Hayden, William Johnson, and Aaron Douglas, whose works left an lasting impression on Black artists were virtually the visual Harlem Renaissance. But their influence should not be limited to the Harlem Renaissance, but instead as defining roles in the broader context of American art. Meta Fuller's art bridged the gap between the Black presence in European art and the gradual acceptance of the Black artists as a whole. She worked hard to broaden the level of visual literacy among the Black community and directed their appreciation to the important forms of creative expression within their own culture. Aaron Douglas, Palmer Hayden, and William H. Johnson continued Fuller's legacy. Each of these artist responded to the founders and Alain Locke with a visual literacy that visually looked at themselves as artists and to the art of Africa for the inspiration needed to create a world class movement during the Harlem Renaissance. Harlem, New York, the place, provided Black Americans the necessary ingredients as writers, jazz and blues musicians, and visual artists to create a Cultural Revolution called the Harlem Renaissance.

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Lesson Plan One:

Experiencing the Harlem Renaissance Works and their political and social statements:


1. To see and appreciate a work of art and search for visual clues of political statements.

2. Learn to interpret and understand original works of art.


Various reproductions of works of art done during and before the Harlem Renaissance

(teacher made slides), pencils, drawing paper, journals.


Teacher will prepare a copy of slides reflecting the works of artists during the Renaissance. Teacher will also schedule a museum visit, schedule transportation, and call the museum to find out about exhibits. Museum docent also needs to be requested.

Reproductions Used:

-"Rebirth", Aaron Douglas c. 1925. Ink and Graphite on woven paper. 12x9 Collection of Howard University.
-"The Janitor that Paints", Palmer Hayden 1937 Oil on Canvas.
-"Untitled" (Farm Couple at Work) William Henry Johnson, c. 1941 Oil on Plywood, 34x37 in. Collection of Tuskegee University.

-"Barbecue," Archibald Motley, Jr. 1937 Oil on canvas 39x44. Collection of Howard University Gallery of Art.
-"Disciples Healing the sick", Henry 0. Tanner, c. 1930 Oil on Board, 40x52in. Collection of Clark Atlanta University Art Gallery.
-"Les Demoiselles", Pablo Picasso. 1906-07. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
-"Ethiopia Awakening", Meta Fuller, 1914. Bronze, 67x16x20. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Library.
-"Jim ", Selma Burke, 1901. Plaster, 13'. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
-"Jockey Club", Archibald Motely, 1929. Oil on canvas, 24x32. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.
Questions for Students:

1. What do you think about the paintings?
2. What exactly do you see?
3. What do you feel after observing these paintings?
4. What do you think about these paintings and the artists who created them?
5. What stories are being told in each of these paintings?
6. What are the political and social statements being made in these paintings?
7. How do you identify with these political statements and the themes that are represented in each of these paintings?
8. Who have each of these artists directed their statements in the paintings to?

1. Students will find a painting in the art gallery that reminds them of any painting that was introduced to them from the list of teacher produced reproductions.

2. Students are given time during the museum visit to express their ideas and reactions to the painting that they have found in the gallery.

3. Students will be allowed to make a schematic sketch of the composition of any African American painting in the gallery. The students will indicate the following in their own drawings:

a. Area of value-degrees of light and darks.
b. Differences in paint applications- fine, smooth, or the use of brush, palette knife, etc.
c. Colors that are used to promote a certain theme.
4. Students will use their notes and observations to design their own composition using any media that they desire.


Students will be evaluated by their knowledge and understanding that is exhibited in their own composition.

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Lesson Plan Two:

Experiencing the artwork of Meta Warrick Fuller. William H. Johnson. and Aaron Douglas


1. To visually observe and appreciate the art of Aaron Douglas.

2. To understand and interpret the political and social message in Aaron Douglas' work.



-Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, Harry Abrams, Inc. 1987.
Color plates:

-Color plate #31 Aaron Douglas. Study for God's Trombones, 1926 (Tempera on board, 21 1/2x 171/2)
-Color plate #32 Aaron Douglas. The Crucifixion, 1927 (Oil on board, 48x36)
-Color plate #35 Aaron Douglas. The Creation, 1935 (Oil on Masonite, 48x36)
-Color plate #2 Meta Warrick Fuller. Ethiopia Awakening, 1914 (Bronze, 67x16x20")
-Color plate #4 Meta Warrick Fuller. Mother and Child, 19 14-20 (Bronze, 5 1/2x4x4)
-Color plate # 3 Meta Warrick Fuller. Mary Turner (A Silent Protest Against Mob Violence) 1919 (Painted plaster, 15x5x4")
-Color plate #11 Palmer Hayden. Jeunesse, 1927 (Watercolor on paper, 14x17")
-Color plate #12 Palmer Hayden. Nous Quatre A Paris. 1930 (Watercolor on paper, 21x18")
-Color plate #13 Palmer Hayden. The Janitor Who Paints, 1939-1940 (Oil on canvas 39x3 3".)
-Color plate #46 Palmer Hayden. 56th Street, 1953 (Watercolor on paper, 23x17)
-Color plate #45 Palmer Hayden. The Subway, 1930 (Oil on canvas, 31 x26)
-Color plate #49 William H. Johnson. Mount Calvary, 1939 (Oil on canvas, 27x38)
-Color plate #52 William H. Johnson. Café, 1939-1940 (Oil on board, 36x28)
-Color plate #53 William H. Johnson. Chain Gang, 1939-1940 (Oil on board, 45x38)

1. The teacher will give a brief history of the about four prominent artists during the Harlem Renaissance and how black art history had an influence on the political and social statements being made in their art in Harlem during the 1920's through 1940's.

2. The teacher will show students the color plate slides of the illustrations of these four prominent artists from the resource Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America.

3. The teacher will allow time for the students to view the color plates individually and express their immediate reactions.

4. Students will take an inventory of the things that are visible in the illustrations and begin to formulate a written paragraph of what they believe the illustration is trying to convey.

5. Students will be asked to discuss what they are feel are the political and social statements in the illustrations.

6. Students will then be asked to compare in all of the illustrations the political and social statements that are made by Meta Fuller, Palmer Hayden, William H. Johnson and Aaron Douglas with the ones that are in existence today in their own communities.

7. Students will be asked to make a formal analysis of each illustration and record it in a written paragraph.

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Lesson Plan Three:

Connecting the Harlem Renaissance with Literature.


1. To establish a connection of literature from the Harlem Renaissance with the visual aspect of the era.

2. To introduce students to other representations of the Harlem Renaissance.



Johnson Weldon, James.' "God's Trombones "2. A Book of Poems in Verse "2.

Classroom Materials:

I 2x 18 canvas (board or stretched canvas)

Acrylic paints


Sketch books

Pencils (drawing)


1. Teacher will read various poems from James Weldon Johnson's book of poems in verse. Students will focus on the visual pictures that they create from hearing the poems.

2. Teacher will also place importance on the literary poems and stories that are represented in the book.

3. Teachers will allow students to brainstorm about the various visual pictures that are presented in the book and how they relate to the era of the Harlem Renaissance.

4. Students will produce on their canvases drawings depicting their interpretation of the Harlem Renaissance and use acrylic paints for color.

5. Students will be required to produce six canvas paintings that depict one particular concentration of the Harlem Renaissance. (Ex. Students can depict six different Harlem night scenes, or six different social themes depicted in paintings during the Harlem Renaissance era.)


Teacher will evaluate on the message that is present in each painting. Does the student demonstrate their knowledge of understanding about the Harlem Renaissance, and how do they use color to convey their message.

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Visual Slides: (Slides made by teacher from book resources)

-Rebirth, Aaron Douglas c. 1925
-The Janitor that Paints, Palmer Hayden 1937
-Untitled (Farm Couple at Work) William Johnson, c. 1941
-Barbecue, Archibald Motley, Jr. 1937
-Disciples Healing the Sick, Henry 0. Tanner, c. 1930
-The Blue Hole, Flood Waters, Little Miami River, Robert Scott Duncanson 1851
-Moon over a Harbor, Edward M Bannister 1868
-Forever Free, Edmonia Lewis 1867
-The Subway, Palmer Hayden c. 1930
-Just Back From Washington, Palmer Hayden c. 1938
-Go Down Death, Aaron Douglas 1927
-Crucifixion, Aaron Douglas. 1927
-Study for God's Trombone, Aaron Douglas. 1926
-Noah ‘s Ark, Aaron Douglas. c. 1927
-Jesus and the Three Mary's, William Johnson. 1935
-Aspects of the Negro L4fe: Song of the Towers. Aaron Douglas. 1934
-Les Demoiseiles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso. 1906
-Three Musicians. Pablo Picasso. 1921
-Three Dancers, Pablo Picasso. 1925.

-Patton, Sharon, F., African American Art. Oxford Publications 1990. (An essential guides to the visual artistic legacy of African Americans. Over 100 color, black and white productions.)
-Estelle, Kenneth, African American Portrait of a People, Visible Ink Press, 1994. (A good reference book that contains many biographical sketches of Prominent African American artists.)
-Henderson, Harry and Romare Bearden, A History of African American artists from 1972 to the present. New York. Pantheon Books, 1993. (Good reference book that explores the history of African American artists and art from colonial times to the present.)
-Fine, Elsa Honig. The Afro-American Artists: A Search for Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc, 1973. (A reference of the history of the African American artists.)
-Abrams, Harry N. Harlem Renaissance: Art of Black America. Studio Museum in Harlem Exhibition sponsored book. New York, 1987. (Explores the work of Aaron Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance. A good visual resource that includes color plates of Aaron Douglas's works used in the lessons of this unit.)
-Chambers, Veronica. The Harlem Renaissance. Chelsea House Publishers. Philadelphia. 1998. (Good resource book that gives an in-depth history of the Harlem Renaissance. This book also includes a picture essay.)
-Watson, Steve. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African American Culture. 1920-1930. New York: Pantheon, 1995. (Resource book that explains the African American culture in detail during the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Locke, Alain, Ed. The New Negro. New York: Anthem, 1992. (Explains the life of African Americans at the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Bloom, Harold, Ed. Black American Poets and Dramatists of the Harlem
-Renaissance. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1994. (A book that takes a look at the literary aspect of the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Haskins, Jim. The Harlem Renaissance. The Millbrook Press, Inc. 1996. (A book that guides its reader on a tour of the literature, music, and visual arts of the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Anderson, Jervis. This was Harlem, 1990-1950. New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1982. (An book about the account of Harlem before the end, and what caused the fall of the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Van Vechten, Carl. Nigger Heaven. New York: Harper and Row paperback, 1971(preface reviews of the book by W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, and James Weldon Johnson). (A white writer who was criticized writes this book about African Americans during the Harlem renaissance.)
-Wintz, Carry C. Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance. Houston: Rice University Press, 1988.
-Kellner, Bruce, Ed. The Harlem Renaissance: A Historical Dictionary for the Era. Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 1984. (A good dictionary that gives quick historical finds about the Harlem Renaissance.)
-McKay, Claude. Harlem: Negro Metropolis. New York: 1940. Harcourt Brace, 1968.
-Hughes, Langston and John Henrik Clarke, Eds. Harlem a Community in Transition. New York: Citadel Press, 1964. (This book gives a detail encounter about the black community as a whole before and after the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Britton, Crystal A., African American Art: The Long Struggle. Todtri Productions Limited. New York, NY. 1996. (A good resource book that introduces the reader to the beginning of African American art from the colonial period until the mid-1950's until present day.)

-Barfield, Deborah, Priceless: A look at the value of an African American artist's work to his family and the museum that possesses it. Newsday, September 1998, p. B6-B8. (A good article that examines the African American artists work and the response of the museum outsiders.)
-Seaman, Donna, Passion and Power: Books about black artists, Booklist, (Black History Month Issues, February 15, 1993. p. 1042-1043. article speaks about various black artists who were involved in the Harlem Renaissance.)
-Tate, Gregory Ironman, Harlem when it sizzled. Village Voice Literary Supplement, December 1982, pp. 11-15. Article covers Harlem and the flowering period of visual artists.)
-Lewis, David Levering. The Intellectual Luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, Spring 1995, p.68 (Journal explores the Harlem Renaissance in depth and the work of Aaron Douglas.)

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