Richmond “Jimmie” Barthé was a sculptor and a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance in the 1930s. That he was also a gay man who expressed his orientation in his work is most likely why he fell into obscurity by the 1940s. Much of his art depicted African-American men in sensual poses, often nude. Today, his work seems not that confrontational, but in a basically racist, sexually nervous America of the middle of the last century, it is remarkable that his work received the acclaim that it did.
Writer and activist Lorraine Hansberry was raised by parents who decided to take a stand against discrimination when they waged a legal battle challenging housing segregation in the city of Chicago. Her parents' legal saga influenced her most famous work, A Raisin In The Sun (1959).
She felt a greater calling than college and left the University of Wisconsin to work in New York on Paul Robeson's political journal Freedom, where she met her husband Robert Nemiroff, who she married in 1962. But before that, she was a member of the Daughters of Bilitis, one of the earliest recorded lesbian organizations, and wrote entries to The Ladder, the organization's groundbreaking newsletter, in 1957. Hansberry signed with her initials, "L.H.," as was standard in the journal. She also wrote an unpublished letter to ONE magazine in 1961 urging gay men to accept feminists. It wasn't until after her death in 1965 at age 34, that the letters were revealed to have been written by Hansberry.
Langston Hughes's name is almost synonymous with the Harlem Renaissance. At a time when African-Americans across the country were struggling to find a foothold on par with the rest of society, Hughes and his contemporaries were flourishing in Harlem, writing, creating, and living lives that were expressive and revolutionary. He discovered the scene uptown while studying at Columbia University in New York, and eventually became one of the first black writers to support himself through writing with his accessible, relatable voice. He was known for stressing the message of "black is beautiful" and racial consciousness without anger, in a pre-Civil Rights world.