Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The homosexuality of several of the Harlem Renaissance writers is now gener-
ally known and is even occasionally mentioned in scholarly studies, but rarely
has it been examined in depth. In fact, it is astonishing that so many promi-
nent participants in the Renaissance were reportedly gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
The movement that enabled outsider Negro artists to emerge as a group for
the ﬁrst time was also the movement that enabled gay and lesbian artists to ex-
press their sexuality with a greater degree of freedom than at any other period
in American history. For those both black and homosexual, who knows what
it meant to emerge from behind more than one veil for the very ﬁrst time?
The list of gay and lesbian African Americans is impressive and long, but it
is surely headed by Bruce Nugent. Nugent was boldly and proudly gay. He was
the most openly homosexual of the Harlem Renaissance writers, and he was
one of the best known, along with Alain Locke, Harvard Ph.D., Howard Univer-
sity professor of philosophy, Rhodes Scholar, and the ‘‘dean’’ of the Renaissance
Harlem in the 1920s was something of an uptown Greenwich Village, pro-
viding a black gay sanctuary apparently even more open than the Village itself.
George Chauncey, in Gay New York, tells us that ‘‘The Village’s most flamboy-
ant homosexuals wore long hair; Harlem’s wore long dresses.’’ Long after the
event, Langston Hughes wrote Arna Bontemps that he was still laughing at the
black newspaper headline ‘‘Groom Sails with Best Man.’’ This was an account of
Countee Cullen’s honeymoon voyage with the handsome Harold Jackman fol-
lowing Cullen’s socially successful but sexually disastrous marriage to W. E. B.
Du Bois’s daughter Yolanda. Nugent and his fellow writers were hardly alone
within the black community; they were simply the most visible, the names that
have been remembered. Despite predictable denials, homosexuality within the
African American community is as old as that community—and homopho-
Harlem was home to Gladys Bentley, who wore a tuxedo and sang at Hans-
berry’s Clam House, where she knew enough off-color song lyrics to last the
night. Well-attended drag balls, particularly at Hamilton Lodge, were so popu-
lar and publicly accepted that they were regularly reported by the Amsterdam