Creative survival, that’s what I call it, when African Americans struggled during times of low wages and high rents. It began in Harlem, so the story goes, when small gatherings of neighbors and friends came together in a community-like effort to pay next month’s bills. The earlier parties consisted of small gatherings where they passed the hat and listened to a couple of musicians who donated their time. Rent Parties, as they were called, document the struggles of the African American population while spreading jazz across America.
Rent Parties were not limited to the 1920s. They sprouted up during the great depression of the 1930s, during the current recession of 2009, and anytime people were in need. The parties became the perfect prescription for helping others while having a good time
The Rent Party serves as ritualistic communal gathering - engaging community and enlivening the ethos of the shared experience. Historically, a rent party, also known as a “skiffle” or a “boogie” is a social occasion where tenants hire a musician or band to play and pass the hat to raise money to pay their rent, originating in Harlem during the 1920s. At the start of the Great Migration, and at the start of World War I large populations of African Americans moved north. This was brought on with the need for a large labor force to help supply the war effort. Out of this grew the red light districts and the grounds for rent parties. Culturally, rent parties were places for middle class African Americans to go on their nights off and get away from the everyday struggle. During this time the African Americans faced high rent prices due to discrimination and large numbers of people would be forced to live in small spaces for very high rent.Historically these parties were an answer to a problem. During the 1920's, around two-hundred thousand African Americans migrated to the north.
Rent parties often had to be held in secret due to the threat that police presented to African American people, and also due to the presence of alcohol which was illegal under Prohibition. Therefore, attendees often carried special cards that could be handed to the "right" people to gain access to the party. The rent parties often charged a cover or fee for entry and provided alcohol and food. Typically dishes included fried chicken and potato salad.
Rent parties not featuring either Jazz or specifically African American crowds are featured in the plots of movies set in New York during the 1980s and 1990s such as Party Girl (starring Parker Posey). The song "House Rent Party" (1955) by Babs Gonzales and The Waldos' 1994 album "Rent Party" are references to the practice.
As such, accumulated funds 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.
From 2007 to 2016, the black poverty rate rose more than 5 percentage points, from 22.7 percent to 27.9 percent, while the white poverty rate hovered just above 7 percent. Last year, the poverty rate for D.C.'s total population of around 650,000 was 18.6 percent, meaning the black poverty rate was almost 10 percentage points higher than that. This translates to about 120,000 District residents who are considered impoverished by federal standards. Please note that the poverty line is currently $19,000 for a family of three. D.C.'s poverty rate is higher than the national poverty rate of 12.7 percent.
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Introducing THE FIRST FLOOR, at the apollo on H st with “rent party”. A community engaging, costume party event organized to raise money through donations for THE FIRST FLOOR initiative fund. A fund created to support organizations aligned with the goal of creating a more sustainable environment for local dc residents and retailers. The rent party at the Apollo on H will feature local brown and black artists with visual art displays and exhibits explored throughout the space.