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Content Reading Guide: The 1920s: Culture and the Harlem Renaissance
By the 1920s, the number of Americans attending high school greatly increased. Also in this decade, the more educated population heavily consumed newspapers and magazines. Radio was the most dominant form of media in the 1920s. The shared experience of exposure to national news helped create common cultural bonds across the nation.
The economy was strong in the early 1920s and many used their money for entertainment. Jazz music and dance marathons were common. Also in this era, sports became very popular. Baseball in particular drew large crowds with famous athletes like New York Yankees player Babe Ruth. In the late 1920s, motion pictures began to be released with sound. Even animated movies, like those released by Walt Disney, added sound. Millions of viewers attended the movies each week. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby whose main character, Jay Gatsby, illegally sold alcohol. Like many authors in this era, the book critiqued the materialistic culture prevalent in the 1920s.
During the Great Migration, from around 1916 to 1930, many African Americans fled the racism of the South and migrated North. In the neighborhood of Harlem, in New York, a massive expression of African American culture and art resulted in the Harlem Renaissance. Poets, musicians, artists, and others contributed to the movement.
In New Orleans, musicians combined Ragtime with Blues music and made Jazz. One of the most famous Jazz musicians was trumpet player Louis Armstrong. While starting off in New Orleans, Armstrong relocated to New York and gained stardom in the world of Jazz. Zora Neale Hurston was an influential writer in the movement. Her most famous novel was Their Eyes Were Watching God. Langston Hughes was the most well-known poet of the Harlem Renaissance. His poems displayed the obstacles that many African Americans faced in the 1920s. Claude McKay, writer and poet, also contributed to the movement. He urged African Americans to stand against racism and discrimination.