Celebrating the Queer Harlem Renaissance: New Walking Tours Bring History to Life

Experience the vibrant legacy of the 1920s-1930s through immersive walking tours and an augmented reality app.

The Queer Harlem Renaissance, a pivotal era in Black art and literature from 1919 to 1935, is being brought to life through a series of walking tours and an innovative phone app. These tours aim to shine a spotlight on the often marginalized history of Black queer individuals and their significant contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. By combining historical landmarks, personal stories, and augmented reality technology, participants can immerse themselves in the vibrant culture and rich heritage of this transformative period.

Unearthing Hidden Histories

The creators of the Queer Harlem Renaissance walking tours, Abri Aiken and Terry Valery II, recognized the need to preserve and amplify the stories of Black queer individuals during this influential period. Aiken, an architectural designer, and Valery, a UX consultant, collaborated on the development of a phone app that brings the past to life through augmented reality. Their goal is to ensure that the vital history of the Harlem Renaissance is not forgotten or erased.

A Digital Portal to the Past

The free-to-download app serves as a digital portal, providing users with a comprehensive virtual tour of now-demolished locations that were central to the Harlem Renaissance. The Lafayette Theater, a renowned performance venue, The Hotel Olga, a premier hotel for African Americans, and Clam House, a popular nightclub for LGBTQ+ individuals, are just a few of the landmarks featured on the app. Users can explore these locations through vivid imagery, audio recordings, and historical context, allowing them to step back in time and gain a deeper understanding of the era.

Illuminating Trailblazers

The app also highlights the influential figures who shaped the Harlem Renaissance. Bessie Smith, the iconic bisexual “Empress of Blues,” Wallace Thurman, an editor of several Black magazines, and the renowned poet and activist Langston Hughes are just a few of the notable individuals showcased. By celebrating these trailblazers, the app ensures that their contributions and stories are preserved for future generations.

Rediscovering Harlem’s Hidden Gems

The walking tours themselves offer a unique opportunity to explore the physical spaces where the Harlem Renaissance unfolded. Participants can witness the remnants of a vibrant past as they walk the streets of Harlem, guided by knowledgeable hosts. The tours focus on the impact of gay social networks on the development of the Harlem Renaissance and the significance of sexual identity during this time. By shedding light on these often overlooked aspects, the tours provide a more comprehensive understanding of the era.

A Call for Awareness and Appreciation

The concept for the walking tours and app originated from Columbia University students who created the Disappearing Queer Spaces book in 2022. The book aimed to document and share the significant places associated with the Harlem Renaissance digitally. Now, with the walking tours and app, the creators seek to bring this history to an even wider audience. Against the backdrop of ongoing discrimination and hate crimes, the tours and app serve as a powerful reminder of the origins of the queer community and the importance of preserving and celebrating its heritage.

The Queer Harlem Renaissance walking tours and augmented reality app offer a captivating journey into the heart of a transformative era. By combining historical landmarks, personal stories, and cutting-edge technology, participants can immerse themselves in the vibrant culture and rich heritage of the Harlem Renaissance. These initiatives not only shed light on the often marginalized history of Black queer individuals but also serve as a poignant reminder of the resilience and creativity of a community that continues to shape our society today. As we walk the streets of Harlem, we are reminded that although the buildings may have been demolished, the stories and legacies live on.