The Harlem Tenant League, organized in uptown Manhattan during World War I, began as a white organization committed to combating rent increases and organizing grassroots support for the Socialist Party. With never more than a handful of dues-paying members, it engaged in rent bargaining with landlords, signed more than four hundred leases with apartment owners, and, during the Left-wing upsurge in 1919-1920, led rent strikes among a handful of buildings.
The league faded away during the 1920s, when New York City rents remained reasonably stable, but resurfaced amid Harlem's segregated housing market later in the decade. In February 1928, black Communist leader Richard Moore led a protest against the State Legislature's decision to allow the lapse of emergency rent laws that mandated rent controls. The league held protest meetings and agitated at the New York City Board of Aldermen for renewal of the laws. In the Daily Worker, Moore attacked the “capitalist caste system, ” which, he claimed, segregated blacks in Harlem and made them “the special prey of rent gougers.” Dominated by Communists, the league held protest meetings, sponsored marches, and helped force the enactment of Harlem Assemblyman Lamar Perkins' bill for partial control of the low-rent housing market. When the rent law was nullified by the courts in Fall 1929, the league organized a “Harlem-wide rent strike, ” although the results proved spasmodic, limited to a handful of tenants.
Despite its limited success, the Harlem Tenant League was a bridge to Harlem's mass mobilization in the early 1930s. It vied with Garveyite and African nationalist groups for street-corner attention, particularly after evictions mounted with the onset of the Depression. The league often worked with the Communists' Unemployed Councils in anti-eviction protests and staged a celebrated rent strike in September 1934. Tenant movement historian Mark Naison argues that it was “an important step in implanting a culture of collective protest among Harlem tenants.” The league was phased out after 1935, when the Communists' united front emphasized mainstream tenant activity.
The Harmon Foundation, founded in 1922, provided philanthropic and educational support for many African American artists from the zenith of the Harlem Renaissance to the early 1930s. Moreover, the Harmon Foundation supported the development of urban playgrounds, extended educational loans to disadvantaged students, and stimulated the growth of African American art.