African-American Art: From the Congo to 42nd Street and Beyond

Today’s blog is written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician
in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

African-American art has been a vital part of the American experience from the time of slavery in America to the present. Black artists and their artwork have been documented in textual records, still pictures and moving images at the National Archives.


Sargent Johnson, painting (National Archives Identifier 559180)
Sargent Johnson, painting (National Archives Identifier 559180)


The Harmon Film Collection at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland includes footage on some of the great African-American artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Artists such as Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Laura Wheeler Waring, Sargent Johnson, and Palmer Hayden were highlighted in several films sponsored by the William E. Harmon Foundation. The Series Motion Picture Films on Community and Family Life, Education, Religious Beliefs, and the Art and Culture of Minority and Ethnic Groups, ca. 1930 to ca. 1953 (National Archives Identifier 94791) contains nearly 300 items relating to African-American life and culture in the United States and abroad. The films were funded by the Harmon Foundation to showcase the talents of black artists, primarily those during the Harlem Renaissance.


“A Study of the Negro Artists, 1937?” (National Archives Identifier 94957) is a great source for learning more about African-American artists during the early 20th century. This silent film illustrates African-American artists and their art collections. Featured in the film are Lois Mailou Jones, Augusta Savage, James A. Porter, and several other black artists working or instructing others. This film also shows the important of art in African-American culture, which was sometimes used for communication as well as a venue to past down the African-American history and experience. The skills of the selected artists in the film were used in college classrooms across the country.

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