The HR was roughly a 15-year period that witnessed a wellspring of Black creativity by way of the "village of Harlem." Its literature appealed to the Afrikan-American middle class and to whites. Hence, its audience was mixed, relying on Black patrons, black-owned businesses, and publications, and the increasing support of white patrons. Some of these patrons were connected to publishers that would ultimately benefit financially by creating a white market for Black creative expression. These were the Carl Van Vechtens and the Charlotte Osgood Masons. There was also another type of white patron: The benign racist type—the white patron who was interested in so-called "primitive" cultures (as many whites viewed Afrikan American culture) and believed that the HR offered such an opportunity to amuse oneself. For these whites, going to Harlem to be entertained by Blacks was part of a new fad called "slumming"; in Harlem, these wealthy whites acted similarly to the way that contemporary white folks do when they go on vacation and visited exotic, formerly forbidden enclaves to "let their hair down."
The HR led to more opportunities for Blacks to be published by mainstream houses. While the NAACP's Crisis, and the National Urban League's Opportunity employed HR writers on their editorial staffs; published poetry and short stories by Afrikan American writers; and promoted Afrikan American literature through articles, reviews, and annual literary prizes; nevertheless, an important literary outlets for Renaissance writers relied heavily on white publishers and white-owned magazines. These interests opened the door for Renaissance artists to mainstream to the white public. The works of Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Eric D. Walrond, Langston Hughes, and others would not have become nationally, if not international known, if not for these white patrons and interests.
However, Harold Cruse argues that the HR had to pay a steep price for its white patronage. Black spiritual and aesthetic materials were taken over by many white artists, who used them allegedly to advance the Afrikan American artistically but actually used them for personal gains; for their own self-glorification. In other words, white writers began to supply the newly created white audience desire for Black-themed materials. (Between 1917 and 1930, Broadway presented 20 Black-themed plays, 15 of which were written by white writers.) The HR began to suffer from competition from white writers writing about Black themes, and Black writers writing to and for a white audience; consequently, a form of white cultural paternalism began to permeate the HR.
White support of the HR turned Harlem into a sensation, a phenomenon, an event—a spectacle even. This attracted a growing audience that often was interested in the HR because it reinforced racist stereotypes and opened the door to a new kind of popular culture that, ironically, was available to whites only. And as stated already, many of these whites were attracted to Black entertainment because they viewed its as inherently primitive or emotional. It became an catharsis or release for them from whatever remained of the Victorian constraints of their parents and grandparents. With Blacks patrons being few and the community as a whole lacking the economic institutions and simply the money to support a full-scale cultural renaissance of the magnitude of the HR (the average Black person could not even afford to attend the clubs where Renaissance artists performed), the HR increasingly became financially dependent on white patronage. And the biggest clubs, such as the Cotton Club, Connie's Inn, and Small's Paradise catered to a predominantly white audience. Initially these white owned clubs barred Black patrons. The mobster Owney Madden opened the Cotton Club in the fall of 1923 as the East Coast outlet for his bootleg beer. The Cotton Club was the largest, featured the most extravagant shows, charged the highest prices, and most strictly enforced the color line.
As Harrison has stated the HR was a white invention. Not because of its sense of racial pride or its artistic genius, we know that was Afrika; but because of its commercialization, and its timing. What many folks did not know is that white America had experienced an artistic and cultural arts movement just before the start of the HR and the two movement overlapped for a number of years. More importantly, the white artists of this movement were close friends and supporters of many of the more popular HR figures. According to Harold Cruse, an aesthetic relationship existed between the two groups.
This white literary and cultural movement began around 1912 in New York's Greenwich Village and centered around Mabel Dodge's famous “23 Fifth Avenue” salon near Washington Square Park. From the Village movement came the following figures: Carl Van Vechten, George Cram Cook (who discovered and mentored Eugene O'Neil), Emile Hapgood, Ridgely Torrence (who in 1917 was the first to premiere Three Plays for a Negro Theatre, that featured Afrikan American actors conveying complex human emotions and yearnings, and that rejected the stereotypes of the blackface and minstrel show traditions, a tradition Afrikan American entertainers rid themselves of in the 1890s), Paul Green, John Reed, Louise Bryant, Max Eastman, Walter Lippmann, Lincoln Steffens, Sinclair Lewis, Michael Gold, Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, and would later include Floyd Dell, V.F. Calverton, and H.L. Mencken.
Van Vechten was one of the most important figures in the Village movement, and later he promoted many of the major figures of the Harlem Renaissance, including Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, Richard Wright, and Wallace Thurman. He promoted their work in articles for Vanity Fair and read their manuscripts as a trusted advisor to his publisher, Alfred Knopf. He prompted Knopf to publish the blues-based early poems of Hughes and arresting novels of Nella Larsen just as he’d convinced them to bring out Wallace Stevens’s first collection of poems, Harmonium. He too was a novelist, writing the controversially titled Nigger Heaven in 1926. He wrote the essay "Negro Blues Singers" published in Vanity Fair that same year. He led slumming visitors such as Somerset Maugham on exotic tours, cruised the streets and cabarets till dawn, and invited his new “Black friends” to wild parties at his home on West 55th Street.
The climate of the Village group meetings and Van Vechten's private parties was often one of “gin, jazz, and sex.” And although Van Vechten was married to Fania Marinoff until the end of his life, he was either a closeted homosexual or bisexual. "Coincidentally," many of the artists he promoted were either homosexual or bisexual. This brings me to a point I want to make about how the HR in this age of homophilia, is presently being presented: As a flowering of Black gay and lesbian inspired artistic expression. This is more propaganda and historical revisionism than fact.
Was the HR saturated with artists that live alternative lifestyles? It appears that many of the most promoted and accomplished people associated with the HR were either, bisexual, gay or lesbian. The list includes Alain Locke, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes (sometimes considered asexual), Richard Bruce Nugent, Wallace Thurman, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Mabel Hampton, and a few others. And if an individual was not bisexual, gay, or lesbian, he or she was rumored to be, such as Duke Ellington, because of his life long close collaboration with the openly gay composer, Billy Strayhorn.
There does appear to have been a disproportionate number of bisexuals, gays, and lesbians present in the HR. They in no way were the majority, but they were especially celebrated by white patronage. But there may be a reason for their celebrity apart from their talent. The HR was promoted to a certain extent because of it gaiety. This was done through the HR's Greenwich Village connections--its white patrons--and a key HR figure. For example, Van Vechten was bisexual and prone to throwing wild parties, therefore, there exist the possibility that favoritism, and sexual favors may have been involved in who was and wasn't promoted. A casting couch relationship, where the trading of sexual favors by aspiring Renaissance artist were offered to white patrons in return for their works being published or for other career advancement within their field. This sexual exploitation of artists is conjectural, but highly probable--but the role of Alain Locke in seducing and implanting the ideas of Western pederast in the minds of his protégés/mentees is more certain.
The term Harlem Renaissance grew from the earlier term the New Negro Renaissance, which was coined by Alain LeRoy Locke. Locke, a Harvard graduate, is distinguished as the first Afrikan American Rhodes Scholar, and the philosophical architect—the acknowledged “Dean”—of the HR. In 1925, Locke edited The New Negro: An Interpretation of Negro Life, which became a landmark in Black literature (later acclaimed as the “first national book” of Afrikan America), garnering him immediate success, and which helped educate white readers about Harlem's flourishing culture. Locke promoted Afrikan American artists, writers, and musicians, encouraging them to look to Afrika as an inspiration for their works. He encouraged them to depict Afrikan and Afrikan American subjects, and to draw on their history for subject material.
However, there is more to Locke,* and his role in the HR. In England, Locke studies literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin at Oxford University and later studied philosophy at the University of Berlin. (He appeared to have faced some difficulty due to racial discrimination but was finally admitted to Hertford College.) In England, he became acquainted with the ideas of the English writer Edward Carpenter, and he deepened his understanding of Greek culture. Locke introduced several of his students to the ideas of Carpenter. Carpenter was a leader in the sexual emancipation movement; he was also a pederast. He was one of the first to assert that same-sex love was natural and wholesome, and that it could make positive contributions to society. He further argued, a line that one hears today, a la Malidoma Some, that gay people “are superior to the normal person because they combined the positive qualities of both sexes." Carpenter argued that gay people were sexual intermediaries who could be the bridge to a more spiritually advanced, and more harmonious society. Locke was an admirer of Carpenter, and while teaching philosophy at Howard University, where he came in contact with future Renaissance writer, Cullen, whom he exposed to Carpenter. Locke appeared to have been a pederast in the classical Greek sense. Though we are aware of the public Locke, the private Locke was known for openly pursuing sexual relationship with young men, which included both Cullen and Hughes; and he was a notorious misogynist. Thus, it is in his role as intellectual mentor of the HR, influencing Cullen, Hughes, Thurman and Richard Bruce Nugent, all of whom were homosexual/bisexual, that Locke had a pederastic influence on the HR.
Another reason why a bisexual, gays, and lesbian (collectively called queer) pathos permeated the HR, was Harlem was tolerate of such individuals. This last point is rarely spoken of, but advertised largely by word of mouth to those "in the life," homosexual and lesbian nightlife thrived in Harlem. Greenwich Village and Harlem were the city's main areas that countenanced homosexual gatherings, and Richard Bruce Nugent recalled that the two bore many similarities. The evidence for the accepted visibility of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals (and even transgenders) are the extremely popular Drag Balls that were held at the Savoy and the Rockland Palace. These balls attracted many high-society voyeurs and housed interracial crowd. Many of the "Negrotarians," a term Zora Neale Hurston coined for white patrons of Black artists, were themselves "queer," such as Van Vechten. Many of the queer white population flocked to Harlem at night for "rent parties," "buffet flats," and subterranean speakeasies. The best known of the homosexual and lesbian hangouts was the Clam House, and bars like the Yeahman and the Garden of Joy.
So, if one sees a same sexual propensity in the HR, it is not necessarily natural or innocent, but could in fact be purposeful, and by design. To state in more plainly, the presence of gay or bisexual patrons, the influence of Locke's pederastic-like outlook, and the fact the HR provided an outlet and audience for bisexual, gay, and lesbian performers/artists (people will gravitate to where they fell acceptance, love, and power), are some of the reasons the HR was colored the way it was. But we must keep in mind that for ever person that was "in the life" there were 3 or 4 people that were not. I suggested that rather than narrow our achievement to a 10-15 year period in a particular section of a city (Harlem), we should widen our geography and scope, remembering to be inclusive of all our post-freedom expressions, including the scientific ones, and therefore, if we must have a Renaissance, then it should be an Afrikan one—An Afrikan Renaissance in American. (See Rethinking the Harlem Renaissance.)
* The information on Locke was sourced from Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia by Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson.