Imagine being a child, or the parent of a child. Imagine that child or parent represented by someone “less than” a supposed “superior race”. Someone who is stereotyped as ugly, unintelligent, careless, and violent. Imagine the feelings one must have when those negative stereotypes are falsely made to represent their ethnicity. This was the case for African Americans before the Harlem Renaissance. Whether one has experienced or not, this exhibit aims to put this difficult, yet powerful time for African Americans into perspective.

Some of the children’s books in this exhibit are also included in the bibliographies or referenced in the textbooks. Most of the children’s literature is written by women. The goal is not to discredit the works of African American males. Rather, it is to highlight the accomplishments of women. They were not exempt from sexism during the Harlem Renaissance. Although discrimination persists, many women enjoy careers in children’s literature. As desired by figures of the Harlem Renaissance, the hope to provide entertaining, yet informative books for children is something that educators and parents fight for today.

Overview of African American Children's Literature

From 1920 to 1930, Harlem experienced a boom in culture. Advancements were made in the arts, social sciences, and many other subjects. The importance of children’s literature was addressed, as more books and magazines were published for African Americans. With the publication of The Crisis and Opportunity, young African American men and women could submit their works in or serve as editors for these magazines. The Crisis also had The Brownies’ book, a magazine that established the importance of literature for African American children.

From the multitude of books in Ellis Library, twenty-one fit the exhibit’s theme. All books displayed were published after 1930, although some of the text was written during or before the Renaissance. The genres range from general children’s literature, bibliographies, and historical textbooks.

Some books are invaluable for learning about the Harlem Renaissance. Others display and analyze juxtapositions of children’s literature written for African Americans by people from different racial groups. There is also an abundance of material regarding the lives of notable Harlem Renaissance figures, themes, and elements of culture.

Although these texts are not entirely similar, reading one book could help give more insight towards others in the group. Ellis Library has several books regarding the Harlem Renaissance, including Alain Locke’s The New Negro. Although it is an invaluable text, not as much focus was given to children’s literature. These books provide details and discussions on the impact of various children’s literature on its target audience. Albeit difficult, and sometimes jarring, the material in these books is a representation of how African Americans were viewed, treated, and portrayed from the late 1800s and beyond.