26. Dunbar Apartments (1926)

Dunbar Apartments

The Dunbar Apartments is an apartment complex in Harlem on West 149th and West 150th Streets constructed in 1926 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The complex consists of 511 apartments across six separate buildings and was the first large housing cooperative in the city aimed to provide housing for African Americans. Designed by Andrew J. Thomas, the apartment complex is named after Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African-American poet known for works like “Sympathy,” which inspired Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The apartments were originally conceived as an experiment in housing reform to provide African Americans a place to live due to Harlem’s housing shortage. The buildings were later converted into rental units after many tenants failed to make payments of $14.50 per room per month. However, the apartments were a significant cultural symbol of the community, housing figures like singer Paul Robeson, poet Countee Cullen, and renowned sociologist W.E.B. DuBois. The buildings were also home to Asa Philip Randolph, an American labor unionist and civil rights activist who founded the first predominantly African-American labor union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

The Matthew Henson Residence is one of the six apartment buildings of the Dunbar Apartments and is named after an African-American explorer who was arguably the first man to reach the North Pole. Henson lived at Apartment 3F in the building from 1929 until his death in 1955. Henson accompanied the explorer Robert Peary on seven voyages to the Arctic, the first when he was just 25 years old. Expedition records state that Henson was the first of a group of six, including Peary and four Inuit assistants, to reach the North Pole, although these records may be unreliable. He also authored A Negro Explorer at the North Pole and was the first African American to be made a life member of The Explorers Club.