A historic Harlem and American landmark is in danger due to gentrification. African American poet Langston Hughes’ home is in danger of being sold to developers. Several media outlets released the story this week, including Essence, News One and CNN. The effort to save this historic building is being led by local artists Renee Watson and the I, Too Collective. The current owner of the space, while wishing to sell, does not want to see the home fall prey to the gentrification trend that has been occurring in Harlem — turning beautiful old spaces into coffee shops and high priced condos. The artists wish to turn the home into an art and performance space, letting Hughes inspire yet another generation of creatives.They are working on raising $150,000 to rent the space via an internet campaign on Indiegogo.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a pioneering poet, playwright and writer, who was active during the Harlem Renaissance. He was the voice of the average African American at the time, using his pen to record pain and injustice. Hughes’ work was written for the average person, not just for the elite. He promoted young writers and poets, giving many generations a voice as well as an outlet for their creativity. You may learn more about him through a great piece by the Bio Channel.
One poem of his that I find timeless and inspiring is “I Look at the World”
I look at the world
I look at the world
From awakening eyes in a black face—
And this is what I see:
This fenced-off narrow space
Assigned to me.
I look then at the silly walls
Through dark eyes in a dark face—
And this is what I know:
That all these walls oppression builds
Will have to go!
I look at my own body
With eyes no longer blind—
And I see that my own hands can make
The world that’s in my mind.
Then let us hurry, comrades,
The road to find.
Even though his Harlem residence was given landmark status, the residence is still up for sale.
What is distressing to me is what is happening to Harlem in general.
Harlem to me as a New Yorker was the Apollo Theatre, a great place to get my hair done, to get African fabrics and hair supplies off of 125th. It’s the mecca for African American history in the North, which is where I hail from.
I knew it was bad when I went during Thanksgiving of 2012. My husband and I were meeting friends at an African restaurant in Harlem – and I noticed on my phone that the area was being referred to as “Manhattan Valley”
I said what the H? That area is straight up Harlem, why are folks renaming it?
There is only one reason – re-branding, and making the area more attractive to buyers. In the process, erase the rich history of the Cotton Club, Apollo Theater, and Frederick Douglass Blvd, and make it something completely new.
A recent New York Times article detailed what I was seeing in my last trip to Harlem in 2012 — historic sites were being demolished, and long time residents were being pushed out for the sake of “progress”.
It’s insulting and upsetting.
Progress need not come with the destruction of history.
The same way we save Abraham Lincoln’s home and other treasures of American History, we must save Harlem and what made it critical to our cultural growth as a nation.
We need to save our history, because Black History is intertwined with American history.
I donated to the Indiegogo campaign — if you want to preserve American history, please do so by donating here!