Teaching American History Project Lesson
  Desiree Gray

Author: Desiree Gray

Unit Title: Harlem Renaissance

Lesson Title: “The New Negro”

Subject: Harlem Renaissance

Level: 8th and 11th Grades

Length of Lesson: One 75 – minute blocked period


The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural and psychological turning point, an era in which black people liberated them selves from a past littered with images of slavery and reveled in pride for all things black. African Americans went on a pilgrimage to Harlem to find the definitive symbolic black cultural space, the Mecca of the New Negro (Alain Locke 1925).

Langston Hughes wrote that Harlem was like a great magnet for the Negro intellectual… a state of mind, the cultural metaphor for black America itself. Writers and artists were determined to transform the stereotypical image of Black Americans at the turn of the century away from their popular image as ex-slaves, as members of an inferior race. A “New Negro” was called for, black men and women proud of their cultural heritage…educated and self-aware.

In a 1925 essay entitled “The New Negro,” Alain Locke described this transformation as an embracing of a new psychology and spirit. Locke felt that it was imperative for the “New Negro” to “smash” all of the racial, social and psychological obstacles that had previously kept the Black man from reaching his goals. Before beginning the lesson, students should have background knowledge of what life was like for Black people after the Civil War and understanding of the impact WWI had on race relations between soldiers and society. Students will read Alain Locke’s essay about “The New Negro” before beginning a group project exploring the history, art, music, and literature that marked the time period.



  1. Students will examine primary sources on the subject of the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration.
  1. Students will identify the area of Harlem and the significance of the Great Migration.
  1. Students will create a multimedia group project displaying the history, art, music, and literature of the Harlem Renaissance.
  1. Students will critique the scholarly and artistic accomplishments of Black artists, musicians, and writers produced during the Harlem Renaissance.


Standards: Nevada State Content Standards and Benchmarks

History Standard 8.0: The Twentieth Century, a Changing World: 1920 to 1945: Students understand the importance and effect of political, economic, technological, and social changes in the world from 1920 to 1945.
Benchmark 8.8.4 Explain how literature, music, and visual arts were a reflection of the time.
Benchmark 8.12.4 Analyze how cultural developments in the arts, education, media, and leisure activities reflected and changed United States society.


In Class Student Activities:
Activity One (50 minutes):
Make a class set of the following documents:

Students will read the documents silently then together as a class. Discuss the documents. 

Possible ideas and quotes for discussion:

“Negro life is not only establishing new contacts and founding new centers, it is finding a new soul.” What does Alain Locke mean by a “new soul?”

“So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being --a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be "kept down," or "in his place," or "helped up," to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogey or a social burden?” Why does Locke feel that the “Old Negro” is more of a myth than a man?

“By shedding the old chrysalis of the Negro problem we are achieving something like a spiritual emancipation.” Explain this metaphor.

“The day of "aunties," "uncles" and "mammies" is equally gone. Uncle Tom and Sambo have passed on…” What does this mean? Why might these phrases be disrespectful?

“The intelligent Negro of today is resolved not to make discrimination an extenuation for his shortcomings in performance, individual or collective; he is trying to hold himself at par, neither inflated by sentimental allowances nor depreciated by current social discounts.” Why do people in “bad” situations make excuses for themselves? Have you ever known someone who did this? How do you respond to him or her?

“The fiction is that the life of the races is separate and increasingly so. The fact is that they have touched too closely at the unfavorable and too lightly at the favorable levels.” What fiction is Locke talking about?

“In the intellectual realm a renewed and keen curiosity is replacing the recent apathy; the Negro is being carefully studied, not just talked about and discussed. In art and letters, instead of being wholly caricatured, he is being seriously portray eel and painted.” Who do you think makes up “the intellectual realm?”

“More and more, however, an intelligent realization of the great discrepancy between the American social creed and the American social practice forces upon the Negro the taking of the moral advantage that is his.” How is there a discrepancy between the American creed and social practice?

“The ordinary man has had until recently only a hard choice between the alternatives of supine and humiliating submission and stimulating but hurtful counter-prejudice.” How is this a choice? Do you think it is a good one?

“Harlem, as we shall see, is the center of both these movements; she is the home of the Negro's "Zionism." The pulse of the Negro world has begun to beat in Harlem.” Why was Harlem significant for the “New Negro?”

“…For the present, more immediate hope rests in the revaluation by white and black alike of the Negro in terms of his artistic endowments and cultural contributions, past and prospective.” What is the “immediate hope?” What is Locke taking about?

“…If in our lifetime the Negro should not be able to celebrate his full initiation into American democracy, he can at least, on the warrant of these things, celebrate the attainment of a significant and satisfying new phase of group development, and with it a spiritual Coming of Age.” What was the primary goal of Harlem Renaissance?

SUMMARIZE THE ARTICLE. Why was Alain Locke’s article so important to Black people? How do you think people responded? Explain the article in relation to the Harlem renaissance.

Activity Two (25 minutes):

Assign students to groups of four. Each group will put together a multimedia presentation about the Harlem Renaissance. Student will be responsible for one aspect of the Harlem Renaissance: a historian, a poet, an artist, and a musician. Each group member will have a specific task to complete.

Historian- this person will be in charge of researching the events that occurred between the years of 1919-1929 and evaluating their historical significance. They will also need to make a map of Harlem and explore the culture of the time period. Where did people go for fun? What changed for Black America? How did white people view the Harlem Renaissance? Create a visual display of Harlem and an illustrated timeline.

Poet/Writer- this person will research the life and works of one particular poet from the Harlem Renaissance. What influence did this poet/writer have on American writing? How did this person’s work reflect the ideology of the “New Negro?” Choose several examples of the writer’s work and interpret the author’s message. Is there a primary theme?

Musician- this person will research the life and works of one particular musician. What was music like during this time period? How was it different than other music? What are the defining characteristics? Record and share several examples of the musician’s collection.

Artist- this person will research the life and works of one particular artist. How is this art representative of the Harlem Renaissance? Choose several art pieces and try to interpret the artist’s intentions. Make color copies if possible.

Using a tri-fold display (science board) the group will display their research and findings. The display should be as neat, colorful, and illustrated as possible. Each group will share their information, art, music, and literature with the class.


Extended Enrichment Activities:
Students will work in groups of four to read and analyze three poems by Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes Poems from http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?prmID=84

  • “Let America Be America Again”
  • “I, Too Sing America”
  • “Will V-Day Be Me-Day Too?”

Students will listen to a one-hour radio show about the life of Langston Hughes and his favorite music artists. You can download this site from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation. On January 30th, 2002 WWOZ Show Host Tom Morgan honored the great poet and jazz-lover Langston Hughes by dedicating his show to some of Hughes' favorite music, his own recordings, and also information about his life.

Langston Hughes and His Favorite Music http://www.wwoz.org/html/langston_hughes_show.html

Langston Hughes Teacher Resource File http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/hughes.htm


Materials List:
“Enter the New Negro” by Alain Locke from The Survey Graphic Volume VI, Number. 6. Harlem, New York. March 1925. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/harlem/LocEnteF.html

Locke Alain. Forward to The New Negro, An Interpretation New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925, p. ix.


Evaluation /Assessment:

  • Students will complete notes and questions about “The New Negro.” 
  • Each student will complete his or her assigned role in the multimedia presentation. 
  • Rubric - I like the rubric site http://rubistar.4teachers.org/index.php There are many scoring guide options but I like the multimedia and collaborative work skills choices for this project.



Locke, Alain. “Enter the New Negro.” The Survey Graphic Volume VI, Number. 6. Harlem, New York. March 1925. http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/harlem/LocEnteF.html

Locke Alain. Forward to The New Negro, An Interpretation New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1925, p. ix.

Rubistar Rubric Maker

Langston Hughes Poems


Additional Sources
The Circle Association’s Web Links to the Harlem Renaissance http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/circle/harlem-ren-sites.html
This website has a great timeline of important people and events that happened from 1919-1929. Disregard the links at the bottom of the page. Most are dead-ends.

Harlem Renaissance
This is a great site to get a general overview of the time period. It also includes many links of poetry and art collections.

“Rhapsodies in Black: Music and Words From the Harlem Renaissance [BOX SET]” Various Artists Rhino Records. 2000.
Sometimes I like to play music appropriate to the time period while students work. This collection offers a wide range of talent.

Writers of the Harlem Renaissance http://afroamhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa072301a.htm

This site gives summaries about many of the popular writers during the Harlem Renaissance and several links to other resources.