Many New York City public schools are named in honor of prominent figures in American and world history. The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project compiled a list of the 25 public schools named after gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals, although only one — Harvey Milk High School — intentionally honors an LGBT individual. This list includes Countee Cullen Public School 194, in Manhattan.
Countee Cullen (1903-1946), a renowned African-American poet and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, which promoted Black art and culture, was one of the few of that movement who grew up in Harlem. Born Countee LeRoy Porter, he changed his last name when Reverend Frederick A. Cullen, the influential pastor of Harlem’s Salem Methodist Episcopal Church, and his wife Carolyn, unofficially adopted him at age 15. Though closeted and married twice to women, Cullen was likely gay rather than bisexual. He had sexual relationships with men throughout his adult life and dedicated poems to his lovers or friends, and many of his poems have coded gay language. He was also a teacher at Frederick Douglass Junior High School (now known as Frederick Douglass Academy) in Harlem, where future author and activist James Baldwin was one of his students.
“3,000 at Funeral of Countee Cullen,” The New York Times, January 13, 1946, p. 44.
“A Guide to Lesbian & Gay New York Historical Landmarks,” Organization of Lesbian + Gay Architects and Designers, 1994.
Amanda Casper, “Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form (Philadelphia: National Park Service, Northeast Regional Office, October 15, 2015).
Doug Ireland, “A Queer Harlem Poet’s Renaissance and Fall,” Gay City News, November 21, 2012, bit.ly/2F2qUox.
Gerald Early, “About Countee Cullen’s Life and Career,” Modern American Poetry, bit.ly/1zys9RF. [source of Early quote]
Rictor Norton, My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters through the Centuries (San Francisco: Leyland Publications, 1998). [source of pull quote]
Sarah A. Anderson, “‘The Place to Go’: The 135th Street Branch Library and the Harlem Renaissance,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol 73, No. 4 (October 2003), pp. 383-421.
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