These cards, collected by Langston Hughes and held with his papers in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, advertised “rent parties” to be held in Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s.
Hosts of these gatherings opened up their apartments for a night, charging a fee to guests in return for live music, dancing, and socializing. Food was extra, and the accumulated cash went to help the hosts pay their rent. Sandra L. West points out that 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. These parties were originally meant to bridge that gap.