The poetry of Langston Hughes, the jazz vocals of Billie Holiday, the art of Aaron Douglas. In the 1920’s works by these and other African-American artists energized a burgeoning black neighborhood in Manhattan to forge a body of cultural expression that came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. And among those luminaries was a white man, a writer named Carl Van Vechten.
The story of how his friendship among these black cultural icons turned to controversy and rejection by some of them after the publication of one controversial novel is told in a new biography: "Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaisance: A Portrait in Black and White," by Emily Bernard, an associate professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont.
A note of caution that this conversation contains sensitive words that some listeners may find offensive, but the language is central to the understanding of Carl Van Vechten’s legacy.
Emily Bernard tells VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb the effect of the Harlem Renaissance was to illuminate African-American cultural life for millions of Americans.