Drop Me Off in Harlem

Explore the themes and art that emerged during the Harlem Renaissance


Good for: Teens 14 and up

Estimated Time: Give yourself enough time to explore, and plan to come back after you’ve had some time to think. Start with 15-20 minutes to explore the artists, and another 10 for the map.

Key Technology: This microsite is best experienced on a computer or interactive whiteboard. The Media Player requires the Flash plug-in.

What happens when great minds congregate in the same time and place? How do creative individuals both reflect and influence the places and time periods in which they live? Drop Me Off in Harlem explores these questions in the context of the vibrant, complex, and unique moment in time that was the Harlem Renaissance.


Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, was the epicenter of African American culture between the years of 1917 and 1935. Artists, writers, dancers, musicians, activists, philosophers, and patrons went to the same parties, danced at the same clubs, and lived and worked on the same streets. As a result, many of the works produced during this period were results of collaborations between artists, and of the influence, encouragement, and inspiration of individuals living and working in Harlem.

In turn, Harlem itself inspired an incredible array of artistic, philosophical, political, and social works, many of which were created in an attempt to capture the mood and energy of this extraordinary place.

Drop Me Off in Harlem is a Web-based resource that explores the themes and works that emerged when creative and intellectual voices intersected during the Harlem Renaissance. The site contains three main sections:

  • Faces of the Renaissance: a collection of "cards" that discuss influential individuals and works and their intersections with other individuals and works.
  • A Place Called Harlem: an interactive map of prominent cultural, social, and political establishments in Harlem.
  • Themes and Variations: a series of features that provide an in-depth look at seminal works, and important themes and threads that emerged during this period.

Each section contains a wealth of primary sources to read, listen to, and watch. You can also jump straight to the various multimedia offerings through the link to our Media Player to experience the sights and sounds of the Harlem Renaissance.

Ready? Let’s go.

Think About...

After you have gone through the interactives, use these questions to reflect on what you have learned.


  • What is the significance of Harlem in African American history?
  • How did the artists learn from each other?
  • How and why did Harlem become the catalyst for this movement?
  • How was the movement influenced by the economic factors that were playing out at the time?
  • Identify and discuss jazz terminology and concepts that came out of the Harlem Renaissance.
  • How did the migration to Harlem represent a new way of life for African Americans?

 Critical Thinking

  • What similarities did the Harlem Renaissance have with the Italian Renaissance movement?
  • How would you distinguish and compare the different types of jazz and jazz musicians?
  • Can you identify the time period of the Harlem Renaissance and what was happening around the globe at that time?


  • Identify African Americans who contributed to the Harlem Renaissance through music, literature, dance, inventions, politics, etc., and are still known today.
  • What kinds of emotions do you feel when you listen to jazz music? What ideas and images are conjured when you listen?
  • Create original artwork incorporating color, line, and shape as visual representations of the technique and/or emotions found in jazz music.

Learn More

The Poem, "Harlem"

1. To get a snapshot of the community, listen to the poem "Harlem" by Walter Dean Myers. It’s above, in the Resource Carousel.

2. During your first listen, use the Listening Guide displayed with the audio. Imagine being in the Harlem that Myers describes. What moods and feelings have Myers created?

3. Listen to the poem again. This time, list the references to people and places with which you are unfamiliar. Show your list to other students and ask if they can help you identify some of the items. As you explore this mini-site, keep your list nearby. Add notes about each person/place you learn about.

A Place Called Harlem

1. Visit the section of this mini-site titled A Place Called Harlem. Here, you will get a sense of the important places that made up the neighborhood. Explore the map. As you explore, add notes to your list of unfamiliar places and people in Myers' poem "Harlem."

2. As you explore, think about how these places reveal the spirit of Harlem—the values and interests of its residents during the Renaissance. 

  • Begin by locating the places mentioned in Myers' poem "Harlem" (Smalls' Paradise, Abyssinian Church, Lennox Avenue, Strivers' Row, etc.). 
  • Click throughout the map to visit a sampling of Harlem's churches, businesses, and residences. Which buildings are next to each other? What kinds of activities and interactions might have taken place in these locations? 
  • Visit the YMCA, Dunbar Apartments, and 267 House. Who lived in these places? How did each inspire creativity? Community building? Intellectual pursuits? Political debate? Collaboration? 
  • Locate Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club and read about them. These were places that were either segregated or too expensive for lower- or middle-class blacks. If you lived in Harlem, how would you have felt if you were not allowed to enter these places? If you were an artist during the Harlem Renaissance, you would need a job to earn money for food and rent. You would face the difficult question of whether or not to perform at a place that would not accept you as a guest/audience member. What would you do? 

3. After exploring the map... 

  • Think about whether the renaissance that happened in Harlem could have occurred elsewhere. Why or why not? What physical qualities of Harlem might have contributed to the Renaissance (e.g., crowded conditions, isolation from other parts of the city)? What aspects of community life (e.g., attendance at church, social life) were conducive to the Renaissance? Share your notes with another student and discuss your ideas. 
  • Compare and contrast the Harlem with other city neighborhoods inhabited by African Americans (Washington, D.C., Chicago, New Orleans) during the same time period. Did people in these cities influence people in Harlem and vice versa? If so, how? Give one example of an influential work from another African American community and describe how it came to Harlem. Share the results of your investigation orally or in writing.

Re-visiting the Poem "Harlem": Listening with Knowledge

1. Return to the list of unfamiliar people and places from Myers' poem "Harlem." Which items on the list were you able to identify? If any item(s) on your list are still unidentified, ask other students or your teacher for help. 

2. Listen again to the poem "Harlem" in light of your research. In what ways is your understanding different from the other times you listened to it? To what extent is the picture Myers paints of Harlem consistent with your picture of Harlem? How do they differ? Share your reactions.

Respond and Create

1. Create an original work to capture some aspect of Harlem during its Renaissance (e.g., a scene from Harlem street life or nightlife, a poetry reading, or a dramatization of a rent party, political meeting, soiree, or other event). Write a poem, create a painting, write/perform a dramatic scene, create a movement sequence, or create a musical collage to depict some aspect of life in Harlem. Your work should include a written commentary that describes the ways in which your work captures the spirit of the community.

For the Educator

Explore, Think, and Share

1. Have students visit the section of this mini-site titled Faces of the Renaissance. Notice a grid of 12 boxes. Click on the faces of individuals from different art forms as well as those who are supporters and activists. As you explore information about each person, notice the "Intersections" that shows how this person relates to others.

2. As students explore Faces of the Renaissance, look for specific examples of collaboration, influence, and patronage among the figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Collaboration refers to the work two or more people accomplish together. Influence refers to the effect of one person on another. Patronage refers to the support (e.g., stipends, awards) provided to individuals by those who want them to succeed. Divide the class into three groups, and assign each group one of the following activities.


1. Each student in the group should cite an example of collaboration that he/she discovered in the Faces of the Renaissance and prepare responses to the following questions: 

  • How did the individuals come to know each other and/or work together? 
  • Did the individuals work across different art forms/genres? If so, what did each participant bring to the collaboration? 
  • What was the nature of their collaboration? Was it formal? Informal? 
  • To what extent was the collaboration fruitful? Did it result in a lasting product/ performance/work? What was that work? 
  • What did each collaborator gain/learn from the relationship? Was the relationship mutually beneficial? Why or why not? 
  • Did the initial collaboration lead to future collaborations? If so, describe them. 
  • Did their collaborative work achieve a greater level of quality or longevity than either participant could have achieved alone?


1. Each student in the group should cite an example of an artist, scholar, or patron who influenced another individual that he/she discovered in the Faces of the Renaissance and prepare responses to the following questions: 

  • In your opinion, did the artist, scholar, or patron intend to influence the other individual? How do you know?   
  • Did the individuals involved actually know one another or were they influenced by their works? If they knew each other, how did they become acquainted? If they did not know one another, how did they learn of one another's work?
  • Was the influence collegial, or was it the result of a contentious relationship? 
  • What common themes, symbols, or conventions emerged as a result of this influence? 
  • Did the influence of others "raise the bar" and help artists advance their work? Did it inspire them to create an entirely new work?


1. Each student in the group should cite an example of patronage that he/she discovered in the Faces of the Renaissance and prepare responses to the following questions: 

  • Discuss the relationship between patron and artist. What positive aspects did it have? What negative aspects? 
  • Did the patron influence the creative works? How and why? 
  • What were the patrons' terms of support, the reasons for contributing to the work, and/or expectations for the works produced? 
  • Were there any struggles between the patron and artist during the creative process? Ultimately, did the patron "approve" of the work that resulted from his/her patronage? 
  • What are some of the ways individuals can support creative work without providing financial backing? Find examples of individuals who supported artists and facilitated their creative output without providing financial support. 
  • In general, what are some of the positive and negative aspects to the influence of patrons on artists and their works? 
  • What roles did patrons play during the Harlem Renaissance? In what ways are they similar or different from the roles they play today?


Redistribute the students into new groups. Each group should include individuals who explored different areas: collaboration, influence, or support. Working together, have students develop a statement regarding the role that collaboration, influence, and support played in the Harlem Renaissance.


1. Have students select an artist (poet, actor, musician, dancer, visual artist) or scholar from the Harlem Renaissance that they studied in the activity above. Have each student find a partner who researched another artist or scholar with whom he/she did not work (to the best of your knowledge). Decide on a fictional collaboration that could have occurred between these two individuals. 

2. Have students write and perform a dialogue between these two individuals, in which they discuss similarities and differences in their artistic styles and/or political beliefs. They should also discuss their reasons for working together and their hopes for the collaboration.

3. Create a work that incorporates the styles/techniques/ideas of both artists/scholars. The final product could take the form of a dance, music composition, poem, article/essay, visual artwork, or drama. Each artist/scholar's contribution to the final work should be readily identifiable.

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