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Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection: Local Harlem Renaissance Connections

Local Harlem Renaissance Connections

Arthur Huff Fauset, Mae V. Cowdery and Laura Wheeler Waring, were active during the Harlem Renaissance while living and working in Philadelphia.

Huff Fauset (1899-1983) was a civil rights activist, anthropologist, folklorist, and educator.  The half-brother of Jessie Redmon Fauset, he lived and worked in Philadelphia and was principal of Philadelphia’s John Singerly School for twenty years.

During the Harlem Renaissance, Fauset conducted field work in the American South, the Caribbean, and Nova Scotia bringing attention to African American folklore.  His essays were published in Opportunity, The Crisis, The New Negro, Ebony and Topaz, as well as Fire!

In 1927, Fauset and Nellie Rathbone Bright co-edited Black Opals, a Philadelphia literary magazine, with Allan Randall Freelon as the artistic director.  The magazine lasted one years, and Alain Locke complimented the magazine.

Fauset’s influential anthropological work was Black Gods of the Metropolis, a book which explored African American “religious cults in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago”.

Mae Virginia Cowdery (1909-1953) was a poet and native Philadelphian.  Mentored by Arthur Huff Fauset, she was a part of the Harlem Renaissance literary movement.  Her poems were published in Black Opals, a Philadelphia literary magazine, in Crisis between 1927 and 1930, as well as in Opportunity in 1927 and 1928. Cowdery was awarded The Crisis magazine's Krigwa Poetry Prize in 1927 and her photo appeared on the January 1928 issue of Crisis magazine.  In 1927, one of her poems appeared in the anthology, Ebony and Topaz, edited by Charles S. Johnson.  In 1936, her book of poetry, We Lift Our Voices and Other Poems, appeared and was critically well received.  It was said of her that she was "a bright intelligence made bored and reckless by the ordinary surroundings." She committed suicide in 1953 at the age of 44.

Laura Wheeler Waring (1887-1948) was an artist and educator, who was best known for her portraits of prominent African Americans that she painted during the Harlem Renaissance.

Waring spent most of her life in the Philadelphia area.  She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and in 1914 won its William E. Caisson Memorial Scholarship to study and travel through Europe.  She only stayed for three months due to the outbreak of World War I.

Waring taught art and music at Cheyney State Teachers College, now Cheyney University, in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. Her work has been displayed at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., The Harmon Foundation exhibits, the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Waring received the second Harmon Award in 1927. The Foundation’s mission was to promote interacial cooperation and understanding.

The Harlem Renaissance began with the industrial expansion and prosperity following WWI and began to decline after the stock market crashed in 1929. Key individuals of the Harlem Renaissance began to disperse to follow their individual career goals.  For example, W.E.B. DuBois left New York to chair the Sociology Department of Atlanta University.  Langston Hughes embarked on his travels through European countries, including Russia.  Aaron Douglas and Charles S. Johnson began academic careers at Fisk University.