Tremendous optimism filled the streets of Harlem during the decade and a half following World War I. Langston Hughes, Eubie Blake, Marcus Garvey, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Robeson, and countless others began their careers; Afro-America made its first appearance on Broadway; musicians found new audiences in the chic who sought out the exotic in Harlem's whites-only nightclubs; riotous rent parties kept economic realities at bay; and A'Lelia Walker and Carl Van Vechten outdid each other with glittering "integrated" soirées.
When Harlem Was in Vogue recaptures the excitement of those times, displaying the intoxicating hope that black Americans could create important art and compel the nation to recognize their equality. In this critically-acclaimed study of race assimilation, David Levering Lewis focuses on the creation and manipulation of an arts and belles-lettres culture by a tiny Afro-American elite, striving to enhance "race relations" in America, and ultimately, the upward mobility of the Afro-American masses. He demonstrates how black intellectuals developed a systematic program to bring artists to Harlem, conducting nation-wide searches for black talent and urging WASP and Jewish philanthropists (termed "Negrotarians" by Zora Neale Hurston) to help support writers.
This extensively-researched, fascinating volume reveals the major significance of the Renaissance as a movement which sprang up in Harlem but lent its mood to the entire era, and as a culturally-vital period whose after-effects continue to add immeasurably to the richness and character of American life.
"Lewis summons back the spirit and substance of New York City's black center during its best years," said LJ's reviewer (LJ 3/15/81). The author traces the history of blacks in Harlem from 1905, when they began moving uptown, to the riot of 1935. Another natural for Black History Month, this "gem of a book" remains "highly recommended."