Cover image for A renaissance in Harlem : lost voices of an American community
A renaissance in Harlem : lost voices of an American community
Bascom, Lionel C.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bard, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 302 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
"An Avon book."

Compiled with manuscripts from the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, WPA Writer's Project Collection, 1936-1940.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS508.N3 R46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS508.N3 R46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
PS508.N3 R46 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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Established to create jobs during the Depression, the Work Projects Administration sent writers into the neighborhoods and alleyways of Harlem to capture its distinctive voices during its most flamboyant, socially active and aesthetically vibrant era. It was a time when Harlem was Mecca, as vital as any world capital, surging with a tide of Negro migrants in search of the American Dream. The 1930s heralded the greatest period of self-discovery in African-American history after the Civil War and before the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.In this illuminating document, we are introduced to a West Indian conjure man known for his infallible charms and herbal remedies; a dancer at the Apollo Theater who mourns the untimely death of the entertainer who inspired her; a domestic worker determined to fight for fair wages and better treatment. And we meet Matt Henson at his retirement from his government job, still denied official recognition for his status as the first American to plant the United States flag on the North Pole.Enter the bars, the nightclubs, the beauty shops, the street markets, the employment offices and homes. Visit with fish vendors, war veterans, Pullman porters, prostitutes, and countless others. Come listen to the memorable sounds of swing music, the singing and shouting of church choirs, and the lonely plea of a mournful spiritual.A Renaissance In Harlem is an essential addition to the historical record of the African-American experience, a startling re-creation of a lost era in the life of New York City, and a valuable look at the early writings of two masters of American literature. Filled with humor, compassion, outrage and hope, it is an uplifting celebration of a place and people integral to the American story.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Bascom asserts that the Harlem Renaissance began earlier and lasted longer than the 1920^-29 period designated, and it included considerably more contributors than the marquee writers generally associated with the period. His collection includes unpublished material, long hidden in the Library of Congress, from the writers' program of the Work Projects Administration. Bascom includes works of such writers as Dorothy West, Ralph Ellison, Frank Byrd, and Vivian Morris; and he provides historical context for these essays on common everyday life in Harlem. The collection presents a grittier image of Harlem than that of the celebrated Renaissance writers, who adopted a mission of uplifting the image of black people by avoiding dialect and any portrayals they thought might be viewed negatively. These voices recall the songs called out by pushcart peddlers of southern and Caribbean roots, the economics and sociology of rent parties, the tribulations of common workers from Pullman porters to domestics, and the sacred and profane lives of churchgoers, prostitutes, and religious hustlers in a struggling community during a vibrant passage in black American history. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Between 1934 and 1939, the Work Progress Administration sent thousands of writers around the country to document local communities, and Harlem, the unofficial capital of black America, was one of them. The Harlem writers produced hundreds of slice-of-life vignettes that provide an intriguing view of ordinary African-Americans as they struggled to cope with the Great Depression and the pervasive racism of the times. Journalist Bascom has rescued 45 of these forgotten essays from WPA Archives. They include works by young luminaries-to-be, such as Ralph Ellison and Dorothy West, as well as talented unknowns like Vivian Morris. Ellison's "The Street" is a hilarious profile of a young musician unafraid of white hecklers. Often using fictional techniques, these nonfiction stories capture aspects of Harlem life during and after Prohibition: the backbreaking, poorly paid labor and union organizing; and such irresistible characters as Pullman portersÄthe train-riding cosmopolitans of the black working classÄand an urban colony of ingenious black pushcart vendors. Although Bascom claims that the book corrects an overly middle-class, privileged view of Harlem life left to us by the Harlem Renaissance elite, these accounts are not quite a revelation. Renaissance writers like Langston Hughes and Rudolph Fisher also left many gritty, colorful sketches of working-class Harlem life. Nevertheless, Bascom has produced a delightfully engaging and diverse portrait of an almost legendary black urban community. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this collection of essays English professor Bascom introduces the early writings of some of the masters of American literatureÄRalph Ellison and Dorothy West are among the notablesÄwho detail the lives of pullman porters, domestic workers, and other everyday people of Harlem. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Levi HurbertRalph EllisonRalph EllisonRalph EllisonRalph EllisonRalph Ellison and Clarence WeinstockDorothy WestFrank ByrdFrank ByrdFrank ByrdVivian MorrisVivian MorrisFrank ByrdFrank Byrd and Terry RothFrank ByrdMarion Charles HatchFrank ByrdFrank ByrdFrank ByrdFrank ByrdFrank ByrdFrank ByrdEllis WilliamsVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisFrank ByrdFrank ByrdVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisVivian MorrisFrank ByrdLevi HurbertFrank ByrdHerman SpectorDorothy WestVivian MorrisVivian MorrisEllis WilliamsVivian MorrisDorothy WestDorothy WestVivian MorrisDorothy WestFrank ByrdTheodore PostonVivian MorrisVivian MorrisTheodore PostonVivian Morris
Introduction: History from the Ground Upp. 1
Part 1 Two Harlems
Minstrel Showp. 21
Whites Invade Harlemp. 24
Part 2 Lost Manuscripts
Visible Menp. 33
Eddie's Barp. 36
Colonial Parkp. 39
Sweet the Monkeyp. 44
The Streetp. 46
My Peoplep. 50
Plutop. 54
Rent Partiesp. 59
Buffet Flatp. 68
Slick Reynoldsp. 72
Laundry Workersp. 75
Negro Laundry Workersp. 78
Part 3 Pushcarts, Thursday Girls, and Other Workers
Afternoon in a Pushcart Peddlers' Colonyp. 85
Street Cries and Criersp. 90
Homey the Vegetable Manp. 95
Kingfishp. 97
Life in the Harlem Marketsp. 109
The Harlem Marketp. 112
Fatso the Slickster, Pullman Porters', and Dining Car Folklorep. 120
Fatso's Mistakep. 125
Chef Watkins's Alibip. 128
Chef Sampson's Iceboxp. 130
West Indiesp. 132
Worker's Alliancep. 135
Laundry Worker's Choirp. 137
Thursday Girlsp. 141
Slave Marketp. 146
Domestic Workers Unionp. 153
Domestic Price Warsp. 157
Private Life of Big Bessp. 161
Bettyp. 172
Commercial Enterprisep. 175
Dancing Girlsp. 178
Finger Waves and Nu Life Pomadesp. 180
Part 4 Uptown Gods, Kings, and Other Spiritual Entities
God Was Happyp. 189
Peace in the Kingdomp. 198
Father Divine Comes to Harlemp. 204
Emancipationp. 210
Divine Is Gawdp. 214
Temple of Gracep. 218
Deities and Their Duesenbergsp. 226
Holy and Sanctifiedp. 228
Obeahp. 233
Conjure Manp. 240
Ghost Storyp. 244
Part 5 People, Places, and Things
Amateur Night at the Apollop. 253
Almost Made Kingp. 260
Cocktail Partyp. 271
Cliff Webb and Billie Dayp. 280
Matt Henson Retiresp. 283
Race Horse Rowp. 287
Harlem Hospitalp. 292
Angelo Herndonp. 295
Swing Clubsp. 299