President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help

Printer-Friendly Version   Email this page to a friend

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
March 13, 2002

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Harlem Renaissance Event at the "White House Salute to America's Authors"
As Delivered
The East Room

Good afternoon. Welcome to the "White House Salute to America's Authors". This program, the second in a series on American authors, celebrates one of the richest literary periods in American history, the Harlem Renaissance, and the authors whose genius brought it to life.

In many ways, the Harlem Renaissance began as a dream looking for a creative outlet. African-Americans fleeing the racism of the South found a welcome haven in Harlem. In Harlem, skin color didn't prevent people from having a well-paying job or going out on the town. And in Harlem, people could write what they felt, what they believed, and what they hoped for.

During the 1920s and 30s, Harlem was the place where social forces, cultural pride and creative passion collided. That collision caused a truly remarkable artistic outpouring by African-American writers, artists and musicians.

The writers of the Harlem Renaissance, whom we focus on today, celebrated their culture in poetry and prose while capturing the stark realities of being black in America. In committing their words to paper, they shaped a rich literary history and became agents of change.

W.E.B. Du Bois' character in The Souls of Black Folk captured the frustration of many with the words: "How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word."

Zora Neale Hurston captured the extremes of human emotion when she wrote, "I have been in sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and a sword in my hands." Lucy Hurston, Zora's niece, is here today - welcome.

Countee Cullen recorded a wrenching childhood memory of bigotry on a train ride in Baltimore.

Langston Hughes lamented the inequalities around him in I, too, sing America… and, in Harlem (2), he asked, "What happens to a dream deferred?"

The words of these writers opened us to the truth at a time when it most needed to be heard. For instance, in Hughes' poem "Freedom", he writes:

Some folks think
By burning churches
They burn
Some folks think
By imprisoning me
They imprison
Some folks think
By killing a man
They kill
But Freedom
Stands up and laughs
In their faces
And says,
No -
Not so!

The Harlem Renaissance brought great change to American letters and it broadened the influence of literature and social commentary. The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance spans decades and generations. We recognize and appreciate it today, in our societyand in works of contemporary writers.

Some of those writers are with us today: James McBride, Walter Dean Myers, and Colson Whitehead. We'll hear from them later.

Our first guest has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work on W.E.B. Du Bois (in 1994 and 2001). He's the Martin Luther King, Jr., University Professor at Rutgers University and a 1999 winner of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. Please join me in welcoming Dr. David Levering Lewis.

# # #

Printer-Friendly Version   Email this page to a friend

Laura Bush's Biography       |   Speeches   |   Speeches by Date   |   Speeches by Topic       |   Education Initiative Ready to Read, Ready to Learn   |   Summary   |   Initiative Overview (pdf)   |   Early Childhood   |   Teachers   |   Recommended Reading       |   Photos   |   Photo Index       |   Life at the White House   |   Behind the Scenes   |   Recipes     |   History   |   East Wing History   |   Past First Ladies