NEW YORK (AP) — Extolling the virtues of Harlem’s rich cultural history, Michelle Obama hosted a luncheon for the spouses of foreign dignitaries Tuesday in the historic New York City neighborhood she described as “quintessentially American.”
The first lady spoke to about 50 spouses of chiefs of state and heads of government who are attending the UN General Assembly. The group toured The Studio Museum in Harlem, which was founded in 1968 by artists and civic and community leaders to provide space for modern and contemporary black art.
“There’s a reason why I wanted to bring you all to Harlem today,” said Obama, who was wearing a blue and white dress by Carolina Herrera. “And that is because this community … is infused with a kind of energy and passion that is quintessentially American, but that has also touched so many people around the world.”
Obama discussed Harlem’s place in the early 20th century as the heart of black culture in the U.S., pointing to famous writers and musicians like Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and Louis Armstrong.
“Many of these men and women left the South just a couple of generations after the end of slavery, and they were desperate to find a place where they could explore their talents and express their ideas freely,” she said. “This moment in history came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.”
The first lady also encouraged the group to share ideas about how they are improving the lives of girls and women in their own countries.
“Everywhere I go in the world, I meet so many wonderful young girls — girls with so much promise, girls eager and desperate to learn, girls who just blossom when they get that one chance to go to school and to start scratching at the fulfillment of their potential,” Obama said. “And when they get that chance — when both boys and girls have an equal opportunity to learn — we all know that’s not just good for our children, it’s also good for their families and it’s good for their countries as well.”
They dined in the main gallery surrounded by life-sized paintings of African-American women created by Houston-based artist Robert Pruitt. Made from crayon and charcoal on butcher paper, the paintings depict black women in his Texas neighborhood and incorporate elements of science fiction and hip-hop culture.