Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
The poignant and impactful painting, Into Bondage, hangs in the Negro Hall of Life as a powerful reminder of the history and journey of slavery.
Aaron Douglas, who was a leader of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 30s, was chosen to illustrate murals for the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas. A passage derived from a letter he wrote to Langston Hughes in 1925 encourages a new way of expressing art from the black culture. He writes, “Let’s bare our arms and plunge them deep through laughter, through pain, sorrow, hope, and disappointment into the very depths of the souls of our people. Let’s sing it, dance it, write it, paint it. Let’s do the impossible.” One of the four paintings he was commissioned to create, Into Bondage, is one that shows some of the raw, brutal, harrowing, and the stressful moments during an African American’s life when all they’ve known up until that very moment was being taken from them. Standing shackled, possibly beaten with shattered souls, their feet touched their homeland for the last time as they watched the ships arrive to take them as prisoners to an unknown future. Although they were full of despair and hopelessness, the light from the North Star shining brightly down on them filled them with hope that they would eventually find their way back home and gain their freedom back. This painting was a major acknowledgement of the hardships and obstacles African Americans had to jump over and endure to get to where they are, and still, they are perpetually fighting for their rights. The Harlem Renaissance was an era of time to commemorate their victories and freedom while also using art as one example of how far they had come and as a daily reminder to fight for their rights, the human right.
“It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest musical influence on me” said Frank Sinatra.
Billie Holiday’s song, Strange Fruit, was originally a poem that was written by a white Jewish school teacher, who went by Lewis Allan, to uncover the problem of lynching in America. The song was considered to be the first great song of protest.
Billie Holiday was one of the first black women to work with an orchestra. She was a major influence to the Harlem Renaissance and also to everyone around her. When she first wanted to record the song, she was told no and wasn’t allowed because of its meaning, yet she persevered. It was a cry for civil rights and she wanted nothing more than to shine a light onto the plights and struggles of black americans. As a sign and symbol of resistance against the oppression, she included in the act of singing the song, a ritual of sorts. Billie Holiday, also known as Lady Day, would turn off the lights in the room and would have a single spotlight shining just on her face as a way to force the crowd of mostly whites to “face” and really “hear” the lyrics and get the meaning behind the lyrics.
Strange Fruit compared the hangings of black americans and their body to that of fruit, once beautiful in its early growing period left hanging to rot, perfect for insects and birds to pluck at. Though beauty and sweet scents may surround, what hung among that was ugly and bitter. Just as a neglected fruit will rot and become infested, black americans were neglected as well, forced to hang in the trees amongst the sweet smells, killed to then have their blood drip onto the tree limbs, leaves and ground, left to rot. Billie Holiday used her voice by singing songs to draw attention to the horrible treatment of black people in the past, as well as the current struggles. She sang with her heart, from a place of grief not only for the community, her people, but also in memory of her father, who, being a war veteran, died from exposure from mustard gas, who died because he was denied medical care.
Eye catching, classy, and modern for the time, clothing designed by an African American designer, Anne Lowe, very quickly became the most sought after clothing style by most americans and specifically the African American community. The clothing of the Victorian era was dying off and during the Harlem Renaissance zoot suits, flapper dresses, red silk panty hose, pearls, feather accessories, and modern stylish hats to name a few filled the streets and stores. The people showed off their style as a way of presenting themselves as having money or being of influence. Hair was neat, smoothed down and back and most times covered by a hat, shoes were made for dancing and most importantly for the women, the added accessories were what made the outfit. The women would often hand sew their dresses, adding rhinestones and jewels, feathers and decorations, finishing off the look with a string of pearls around their necks and silk gloves on their hands.
It was a true turning point in the history of fashion.