Saturday, June 19, 2010

Harlem Renaissance: As Gay As It Was Black

Langston Hughes was a major figure during the Harlem Renaissance
 in New York City and one of the earliest innovators of the
then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. 

"The years after WWI saw a rejection of Victorian social constructs that had been adopted by American society. New York was one of the epicenters of this movement. Harlem, like its white counterpart Greenwich Village, had its own Renaissance of music, art, and letters."

A. Sebastian Fortino writes:
African-American historian Henry Louis Gates has described the Harlem Renaissance as being “surely as gay as it was black, not that it was exclusively either of these.” The black community has long had gay people as a visible, yet invisible presence. 
Black gays and lesbians, described in Harlem vernacular as being “in the life,” provided entertainment in the form of private parties, sometimes fund raisers, and sometimes private erotic events. Larger events such as costume parties hosted by a Harlem- based chapter of the Oddfellows drew even white socialites from the highest orders. 
“With few exceptions,” said Chad Thilborger, the Development Director at Stonewall Library Museum Archive. “The writers, artists and performers of this seminal period in black history were closeted, but nonetheless imbued their work with coded references to their sexuality. With gay men and lesbians in legal and social limbo, the Harlem Renaissance celebrated sexuality with a level of tolerance remark- able for that era.”