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Course Hero. "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide." January 12, 2017. Accessed July 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/.

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Course Hero, "Go Tell It on the Mountain Study Guide," January 12, 2017, accessed July 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Go-Tell-It-on-the-Mountain/.

Go Tell It on the Mountain | Context

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The Great Migration

Baldwin's primary influence for Go Tell It on the Mountain was his own childhood and adolescence growing up in a fundamentalist church in Harlem with a strict father figure. He once said this novel was the one he had to write in order to write anything else, in order to make peace with his troubled relationship with his stepfather and difficult childhood.

The novel is set in 1935, in the midst of two important points in U.S. black history: the Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance. The Great Migration is a term used to describe the mass movement of black citizens from communities in the rural South to urban centers in the North—particularly New York City and Chicago—between 1916 and 1970. These citizens were seeking better work and social opportunities, as well as an escape from the racial violence and Jim Crow laws that dominated southern culture during this time.

Baldwin's own parents, like John Grimes's parents in the novel, were part of this migration, along with more than six million others. Although the migrants sought greater opportunities in the North, they often found themselves relegated to ghettos and experienced other forms of prejudice and discrimination, more subtle than the violence of the South but often equally damaging.

Harlem Renaissance

Also in full swing at the time of the novel was the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, literary, and artistic awakening in Harlem, a New York City district, between 1916 and 1937. This awakening was a result of the improved literacy and cultural opportunities afforded by the Great Migration, and it included luminaries such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and W.E.B. Du Bois.

While Go Tell It on the Mountain makes no direct reference to the Harlem Renaissance, the spirit of this movement is evident in the character Richard, who reads extensively and embraces the cultural opportunities offered in New York. The work of Harlem Renaissance writers paved the way and influenced the wave of black American authors that followed, including James Baldwin and Richard Wright.

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