In the early 1900s, particularly in the 1920s, African-American literature, art, music, dance, and social commentary began to flourish in Harlem, a section of New York City. This African-American cultural movement became known as "The New Negro Movement" and later as the Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance elevated the unique culture of African-Americans and redefined African-American expression. African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage. The main factors contributing to the development of the Harlem Renaissance were African-American urban migration, trends toward experimentation throughout the country, and the rise of radical African-American intellectuals. The Harlem Renaissance has long been considered by many to be the high point in African American writing. It probably had its foundation in the works of W.E. B. Du Bois, influential editor of The Crisis from 1910 to 1934; DuBois believed that an educated Black elite should lead Blacks to liberation. He further believed that his people could not achieve social equality by emulating white ideals, that equality could be achieved only by teaching Black racial pride with an emphasis on an African cultural heritage.
The Harlem Renaissance transformed African-American identity and history, but it also transformed American culture in general. Never before had so many Americans read the thoughts of African-Americans and embraced the African-American community's productions, expressions, and style. The movement centered in the vast black ghetto of Harlem, in New York City, where aspiring black artists, writers, and musicians gathered, sharing their experiences and provided encouragement to each other. One of the leading figures of the period was James Weldon Johnson , author of the pioneering novel Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), and perhaps best known for God's Trombones (1927), a collection of seven sermons in free verse.