Even after African-Americans were granted their freedom with the 13th Amendment, horrible racial tensions prevailed through most of the country for a century afterwards, and beyond. This isolation of African-Americans forced them into small groups. often huddled together for protection.
This type of close-quarters living, with a tight-knit social foundation culminated into a social niche created to rebel against the conformity of the stereotypes they were cast in, music that was full of emotions, and an environment that fostered the artistic growth of poet Langston Hughes.
Jazz music, when it first was being played in African-American dance clubs, was characterized by a less rigid and more free-flowing type of music, often with songs running into each other. Typical Jazz instruments included horns, the piano, and unconventional string instruments.
Jazz was used by both youths, both white and black, as a way to rebel against the institution in which they were being raised. Jazz music facilitated the change from a traditional society to a more liberal attitude. In fact, in many ways, for a short period of time anyway, the Jazz Age helped to ease racial tensions in America in many ways.
Although eventually African American artists were discriminated against in favor of their white counterparts, Jazz music itself was born out of African-American culture. It slowly started to become less taboo for a white youth to be seen at a black jazz club. Interaction between the two races was, at the time, at an all time high.
In many ways this also helped to break some racial bridges, as well. With the liberalism seen in the economic boom of the 1920’s saw a white counter-culture emerging as well. This culture was much more accepting towards African American Jazz music, and in many ways this also was detrimental to black Americans. They were seen as destroying the moral fiber of the “good white kids” (PBS, 2013).
There is no doubt the Jazz Movement was based out of major cities such as New York and Chicago, but to be the most specific it was codependent with the Harlem Renaissance occurring simultaneously. Many famous black Jazz artists, as well as artists of other kinds emerged out of the Harlem scene, including famous African-American poet Langston Hughes.
He rose quickly within the Harlem scene itself, primarily due to his always apparent fearlessness. While many African-Americans were being lynched in the South, Hughes was very open about the economic, social, and political injustices faced by black Americans. He is most famous for his poem “I Too, Sing America”, implicitly stating that the color of his skin has nothing to do with his equal status as an American (Hughes, 2013).
Hughes, like the Renaissance as a whole, was just as codependent on the Jazz Age for African-Americans. Eventually gaining international acclaim, Hughes also faced many prejudices in his life, outlined in many of his writings.
The Jazz Age as a whole, incorporating the Harlem Renaissance, allowed African Americans a voice in America like never before, even if only for a short while. It is certainly an easy argument to make that without the influence of Jazz musicians, and writers such as Hughes, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s in America may never have taken a true hold. That is the real significance.
“Langston Hughes Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.biography.com/people/langston-hughes-9346313>.
PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/monkeytrial/peopleevents/e_jazzage.html>.