Week 11. “Or Does it Explode?”: A Jazz Renaissance in Harlem and Paris

Week 11. “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” and the Great Depression

Harlem in a Global Context 

Listen to this short podcast clip to learn about the “Red Summer” of 1919

Photo gallery of the World War I Gold Star Mother Tours & Harlem’s Hellfighters Musical Genius


All of no man’s land is ours. Europe, James Reese. 1881-1919. M. Witmark & Sons,, New York [1919].


African American Women Innovate in Paris

Josephine Baker, born in St. Louis, becomes an international star in Paris after touring with Shuffle Along, the first full-fledged African American Broadway show.

Augusta Savage (below) poses with her sculptures. She trained in both Paris and Harlem.

Billie Holiday (below) became an international jazz sensation and used music as a form of protest with her cover of “Strange Fruit” as an anti-lynching campaign anthem. 



The following photographs and paintings are of Jacob Lawrence’s workshop in Harlem. He is undeniably the most important visual artist during the Harlem Renaissance coupled with statistics to give you a sense of the magnitude of the Great Migration which transformed American demographics throughout the twentieth century.

Author & Poet Claude McKay

05-1933-harlem-art-workshop-1024x743 06-1934-306-studio-1024x898-jacob-lawerence 10-1938-protest-by-wpa-artist-guild

Infographics of the Great Migration: How Many People Left the South for the North and West? When? Where Did They Go?

12-9-2016-10-54-05-pm 12-9-2016-10-55-31-pm
12-9-2016-10-56-53-pm 12-9-2016-10-57-25-pm 12-9-2016-10-57-58-pm 12-9-2016-10-58-48-pm 12-9-2016-10-59-22-pm 26-1956-lawrence 36-1993-1995-migration


American Blues Set List 

Skip James, “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues.” Read the lyrics and think about how this song is representing the Great Depression.

Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues”

Howlin’ Wolf “How Many More Years”

Leadbelly, “Goodnight Irene”

Works Progress Administration Multimedia 

http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/shows/soul-of-a-people-writing-americas-story/0/135396 [These film clips are not embeddable, but they are worth checking out].

Directed by Orson Welles (War of the Worlds) the Federal Theatre Project under the WPA staged Shakespeare adaptations with all-black casts.

Archival footage of the Federal Theatre Project in Los Angeles shot by the Federal Government for newsreels

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany 

Above is live footage of the race and below are two documentary excerpts about its historical significance.


Salt of the Earth 


Mini Assignments 

  1. Watch “Salt of the Earth” and take notes for discussion using the film analysis guide I provided in class. A digital copy is below.
  2.  Questions for Their Eyes Were Watching God will be posted shortly.


Thinking critically about historical films and movies:

  • Most importantly, think about context: When was the movie created? Who directed it and what else have they directed? Who wrote it? Do you have a sense of audience reception at the time? What genre of film is this?
  • Narration: Does the film have voice-over narration like in Salt of the Earth? Is the film linear? Are there flashbacks? Think about how the story is constructed and what effect this has on the story.
  • Character names: Do character names reveal anything about the characters or the plot? For example, Esperanza was the protagonist of Salt of the Earth; “Esperanza” means “hope” in Spanish.
  • Cinematic techniques: Did the director use any reoccurring techniques in the film? In Salt of the Earth, for example, the director makes ample use of dust, shadow, and lighting.
  • Costuming, makeup, and set design: What does the clothing and make up tell you about each character and their relationships with each other? What does the set look like and what does it tell you about the story? Why is the setting important in this movie?
  • Camera angles, speed, and composition: How is the position of the camera angle emphasizing or deemphasizing elements of the plot? How is speed and zoom used? What about framing? Does the camera pan or stay still? How does this impact your emotional reaction to the film?
  • Use of color: Is the film in black and white? Are there any color palettes used throughout the film? For example, does the movie have a warm, rosy glow or a darker, bluish hue? How does this set the mood for the film?
  • Music and sound: Does the soundtrack develop plot lines? What non-spoken sounds are important to the film? Is silence used as a cinematic tool and, if so, how? Think about the juxtaposition in sound and silence before and after the radio was confiscated in Salt of the Earth.
  • Correlatives: Does the director use metaphors to add another layer to the story or develop it in another way? Are there any objects in the film that somehow symbolizes a character’s development? A famous example of this is Holly Golightly’s refusal to name her stray cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
  • Dialogue and acting: How do characters communicate with each other? Did any quotes stick out to you?  Why are they important?
Rhae Lynn Barnes is an Assistant Professor of American Cultural History at Princeton University (2018-) and President-Elect of the Andrew W. Mellon Society of Fellows in Critical Bibliography. She is the co-founder and C.E.O. of U.S. History Scene and Executive Advisor to the documentary series "Reconstruction: America After the Civil War" (PBS, 2019).

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