Celebrating Black Achievement

  • Prosperity
  • 1922

Starting with $1,000, William Harmon built an immense real-estate development business active in dozens of cities across the U.S. After he died in 1928, journalists discovered that he was “Jedediah Tingle,” a secret donor who for years had made generous gifts under that pseudonym (which was actually his great-grandfather’s name). Tingle was particularly likely to bestow his surprise gifts on brave children, people who were suffering, heroes who saved others, and writers and artists who inspired others.

Harmon also created a foundation under his own name in 1922, and used it initially for a variety of causes—including building scores of playgrounds for children, especially in his native Ohio, sending urban youngsters to fresh-air camps, and supporting the Children’s Aid Society.

Then in the mid-1920s, Harmon focused his foundation on one unusual topic: recognizing and encouraging black creativity—in science, business, religion, and especially the arts. He started giving annual awards plus project and career grants. Harmon was white, but his father was an officer in a unit of black soldiers (the 10th Cavalry Regiment, known as the Buffalo soldiers) and growing up among these troopers made him interested in African Americans. His gifts were particularly important in fanning the art of the Harlem Renaissance and bringing to national attention painters, writers, and musicians like Hale Woodruff, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and others. When the Harmon foundation closed down in 1967, it dispersed a considerable collection of African-American art to the Smithsonian Institution and other museums.

Mentioned on this page