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Harlem Stomp!: A Cultural History Of The Harlem Renaissance by Laban Carrick Hill (2009-01-01) Paperback
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2. It is well researched and tastefully deals with topics general considered “hands off” in such publications.
3. Mr. Hill writing is fluent, imitative, and clear.
4. “Harlem Stomp” deserves a place in any library and would be a wonderful gift for any teen or young adult.
Setting the tone for the ways in which the text engages the time period, Chapter 1: The Smoldering Black Consciousness, 1900-1910, latches on to the intellectual back and forth between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois--in the very first major section of the chapter! My students used the opening pages of the initial chapter as part of an exercise to determine points of comparison and contrast between Washington and Du Bois's ideas about the best course of African American efforts to achieve equality. Artwork by Aaron Douglas that often graced the covers of The Crisis provides an aesthetic anchor from the very beginning. The first chapter alone demonstrates the rising African American confidence and acts of self-assertion at the turn of the century.
Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Augusta Savage, Alain Locke, Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, and countless others all provide stories of passion and pride on each page. What makes this book such a gem is that it does not parade individuals along with little connection to context. Instead, each actor is part of the larger narrative that unfolds. Individual stories in this book provide a starting point for students to create biographies of major figures. (The book was so successful that when I assigned biographies to the class and allowed students to choose the figures they would study, I could invariably hand the book over to any student who expressed initial disinterest in beginning the project. "I don't want to do this, Mr. Smith." Within a few turns of the pages, the initially obstinate student would look up, with figure in mind, inspired by the stories told in the book. Each student was hooked.)
As I read Harlem Stomp! this past spring, I was stunned while reading about real estate and residential struggles that eventually gave way to Harlem as it was in the 1920s and 1930s. A massive power struggle between residents and real estate owners played out on the books pages. Indeed, I was reminded just have prominently conflicts over property influence politics of race and class. Similar topics, like the segregated nature of the Cotton Club, are presented faithfully and honestly on the books pages. In class, we were able to compare and contrast the exclusivity (based on race) of the Cotton Club with the more integrated Savoy Ballroom.
What spoke to me, and my students, so clearly was just how much the period of the Harlem Renaissance was characterized by black hope and pride. In 2010, students and teachers alike could use a strong dose of this same hope and pride.