harlem rent party


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@Regrann from @nmaahc -

Beginning in the Harlem during the 1920s, rent parties were a social gathering of tenants to raise money to pay their rent.

During the 1900s, a large population of over 200,000 African Americans migrated from the South to large cities such as Harlem.

Due to high rent cost, many residents lived crowded in tenement and slum housing.

With a potluck of food and bootleg liquor, tenants would band together to hire a musician or band to perform.

During performances a hat was passed around to contribute to the rent or a fee was charged at the door.

Rent parties once flourished in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C., and other cities.

Rent parties would also prove to be influential to the early development of jazz, drawing intimate crowds.

Although, rent parties are not as traditionally common, they would inspire the modern-day house party.


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“Black tenants in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s faced discriminatory rental rates. That, along with the generally lower salaries for black workers, created a situation in which many people were short of rent money.” How did these tenants cope? By sending out these invitations and charging for parties that would help them make rent.


In early 20th century Harlem, New York, these cards would have been your ticket to a good weekend. Advertised as “Harlem Rent Parties”, African American tenants in Harlem would raise money to pay rent by throwing parties. These parties, always held on saturdays, would run well into sunday early morning with hosts charging .25 cents for admission. Here is an old documentary that imagines what it would have been like to attend one. 

These parties played a major role in the development of jazz and blues music. The popular phrase “cutting a rug”, is thought to have come from the Harlem rent parties, as they were often the location of so-called “cutting contests”, which involved jazz pianists taking turns at the piano, attempting to outplay one another. 

These cards are part of a collection of personal items held at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, that belonged to Langston Hughes, a pioneer of the Harlem Renaissance.