The Other Harmon

Clifford B. Harmon is well-known to Crotonites as the famous aviator and real estate developer who created what he modestly advertised as “HARMON, the New City on the Hudson—the most important and extensive suburban development in the history of New York.” But how many of us have heard about his brother and partner, William E. Harmon?

A serendipitous discovery on the blog of the libraries of the Smithsonian reveals that Clifford’s brother left a legacy more interesting and more important than a real estate development.

Harmon-1928-Exhibit“When wealthy real estate developer William Elmer Harmon founded the Harmon Foundation in 1922, it originally supported causes as varied as playgrounds, biblical films and nursing programs. But it is better known today as one of the first major supporters of African American creativity and ingenuity.

Harmon grew up in the Midwest, where his father was an officer in the 10th Cavalry regiment, a black unit known as the Buffalo Soldiers. Growing up among the soldiers likely had an impact on his attitudes toward blacks, and in particular, Harmon himself became interested in supporting them after meeting an artist who was unable to sell his paintings because of his race. The Harmon Foundation gained its now well-known focus in 1925 when it began presenting cash awards to blacks for distinguished achievements in eight fields: business, education, fine arts, literature, music, race relations, religious service, and science. Between 1928 and 1933, the Foundation was one of the first to give national recognition to the achievements of African Americans.

It is best known for its impact on African American art of the Harlem renaissance. Only a few years after the first awards were presented, the annual program was receiving such large numbers of high-quality art works that the Harmon Foundation began organizing a corresponding exhibition to provide an opportunity for the candidates to show and sell their work. These awards exhibitions gained even more national attention when they were toured to art museums, colleges, public libraries, and even YMCAs all around the country.”

Read the rest here.

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