Saturday, December 04, 2010

DC Black Arts Movement: Harlem Connection

Are you aware of the significant contribution that Washington, D.C. made to the Black Arts Movement (Harlem Renaissance) of the 1920's? It was 1923 and the wounds of slavery were still infected. A movement to showcase the resilience and creativity of a people was just the thing to help in the healing process. Two Washingtonians come to mind when I think of Washington, D.C. during the Renaissance and they were composer, Jazz pianist, and bandleader, Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington and writer, Jean Toomer. I am especially proud of Duke Ellington because he formed a group in 1923 called the Washingtonians that stormed Harlem that year. The name of the group was not especially creative, but it certainly showed that the Duke's heart was still in Washington. Duke and his band eventually landed a gig in the famous Cotton Club on December 4, 1927. Their popularity soared afterwards and secured them a place in Jazz history.

In 1923, Jean Toomer impressed the literary world that year with his publication, Cane. This mixture of poetry and prose based on his experiences in Georgia and Washington, D.C. had instant success. There was also a young lady at that time by the name of Gwendolyn B. Bennett (1902-1981). She had also spent a significant time in Washington before moving to Harlem. Her poem, Heritage was published Crisis magazineI came across her name after doing a search on "little known writers of the Harlem Renaissance."
I found her poetry to be heart felt and very lyrical. This is my favorite:

To A Dark Girl
by: Gwendolyn B. Bennett

I love you for your brownness,
And the rounded darkness of your breast,
I love you for the breaking sadness in your voice
And shadows where your wayward eyelids rest.
Something of old forgotten queens
Lurks in the lithe abandon of your walk
And something of the shackled slave
Sobs in the rhythm of your talk.
Oh, little brown girl, born for sorrow's mate,
Keep all you have of queenliness,
Forgetting that you once were slave,
And let your full lips laugh at Fate!

Photo:  Heritage Trail poster on U Street by S. Bess

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