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Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History of the Harlem Renaissance    by Laban Carrick Hill order for
Harlem Stomp!
by Laban Carrick Hill
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This coffee tabled size book gives a gorgeous visual display of the Harlem Renaissance, complete with the historical context and brief biographies of its movers and shakers, men and women whose combined artistic expression left a 'Black is Beautiful' legacy for future America.

The author explores 'What is black?' He describes the emergence of black pride from Southern poverty, and from a cultural misrepresentation in white minstrel shows, in which 'whites would put on black faces to imitate blacks imitating whites.' He shares horrific, shameful memories, in particular 2552 black lynchings between 1889 and 1918, and introduces people like Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois and the 'Black Moses' Marcus Garvey, who emerged as leaders.

Then came the 1920s Great Migration, prompted by better conditions in the North ('The North is no paradise, but the South is at best a system of caste and insult and, at worst, a hell' said Du Bois), crop disasters in the South and a void in the labor forced caused by a WW I decrease in European migration. This and the heroic role of black men in the war set the scene for renewed black pride and the emergence of the 'black metropolis' of Harlem as a vibrant cultural center.

Hill presents to us poets and authors, sculptors and painters, photographers, actors, musicians and songwriters, who have enriched all our lives. He describes the powerful influences of Harlem churches, explains the reasons for 'rent parties', and discusses the lost art of 'strolling'. There's the glory of the Jazz Age, with its 'cutting contests', and dancing the night away at the Savoy. There's even a sidebar on 'Harlem jive', that translates terms such as 'rug-cutter' or 'fooping'.

And Hill shows how it all ended when the Great Depression resulted in blacks being 'Last Hired, First Fired', and eventually turned Harlem into a slum. The book ends on a poem by the great Langston Hughes, 'I've known rivers: / ancient, dusky rivers. / My soul has grown deep / like the rivers.' A legacy indeed.

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