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Harlem

Harlem

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In the history of New York, begins James Weldon Johnsons authoritative 1930s history Black Manhattan, the significance of the name Harlem has changed from Dutch to Irish to Jewish to Negro (p. 3). Though Johnsons historical vantage was the dawn of the twentieth century, his observation is an ideal start for locating a fluid, rather than fixed, meaning for Harlem. His words pinpoint for his contemporaries, as well as later generations, three aspects of Harlemits meaning, its transitions, and its multiethnicitysuggesting that it be infinitely defined in a shifting matrix of politics, economy, and culture.

Nieuw Harlem, as it was named by early Dutch settlers, was a farming community in the mid-1600s. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Harlem belonged to the descendants of Dutch, French, and English settlers who oversaw its transition from an isolated, poor, and rural village to an upper- and upper-middle-class residential suburb. By the 1840s and 1850s, as the lands productivity declined, many estate owners sold off or abandoned their properties. Irish immigrants arrived in Harlem as squatters, establishing shantytowns as well as a territorial claim to street and neighborhood boundaries.

With the elevated train pushing farther north between 1878 and 1881, fashionable brownstones and exclusive apartments were built to house a genteel class. By the 1890s Harlems brownstone aristocracy lived alongside Irish and Italian immigrants who populated low-lying spaces, marshland, and peripheral areas filled with tenement housing. German immigrants, including German Jews, joined the wealthy native American and European immigrant population. Economic success in the late 1890s also pulled upwardly mobile Eastern European Jews out of the Lower East Side as they, too, became Harlemites. Harlem was even home to a little Russia.

In spite of its well-known reputation as the cultural capital of black America, Harlem had few black residents until a wave of white flight produced a remarkable transition at the beginning of the twentieth century. The great subway proposition to extend a streetcar line to Manhattans upper reaches spurred wild real-estate speculation in Harlem. A bust came in 1905, however, as speculators faced an uncertain completion date for the subway. To save themselves from financial ruin, landlords were willing to rent properties to blacks. As middlemen, black real estate agents such as Philip A. Payton Jr., founder of the Afro American Realty Company, John E. Nail, and Henry C. Parker steered clients to Harlem. Whites at first resisted, though in the end, established (white) tenants and white realtors were unsuccessful against what they called a negro invasion. As Jervis Anderson, a cultural historian of the Harlem Renaissance era, noted: As the community became predominantly black, the very word Harlem seemed to lose its old meaning (1981, p. 60).

From about 1905, then, the formation of black Harlem was located at the spatial intersection of race relations and the demographic transformation of urbanizing America. The community, which covers 3,829 acres, is surrounded on all sides by the East, Harlem, and Hudson Rivers; its official boundaries run south to north from 96th Street to 178th Street in upper Manhattan. From the start of the twentieth century, however, Harlem has existed beyond geography.

From a period that roughly spans 1919 to 1929, the cultural movement defining the neighborhoods heyday took place: the Harlem Renaissance. Black artists and intellectuals participated jointly in the creation of a new urban collective identity. As a center of urban black America, it was home to churches, hospitals, and other important social institutions that served a segregated community in Jim Crow America. The black city within a city exerted a magnetic pull as Harlem loomed large as a symbol of liberty and a promised land. As queen of the blackbelts, Harlem was a mecca for black activists, intellectuals, painters, and musicians. Its prominent writers included Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Nella Larsen, and Zora Neale Hurston. Harlem was a stage, too, for important political spokespersons such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, who used Harlem as a platform from which to challenge racist America.

Those were the years, wrote Langston Hughes, when Harlem was in vogue (Hughes 1986, p. 227). For white downtowners a variety of Harlems clubs offered a glimpse and a thrill beyond the color line. Establishments such as Connies Inn, the Nest, Smalls Paradise, the Capitol, the Cotton Club, the Green Cat, the Sugar Cane Club, Happy Rhones, the Hoofers Club, and the Little Savoy staged music and dance numbers and, skirting the ban of prohibition, offered booze to white slummers and curiosity seekers. Ironically, some of the clubs had a Jim Crow policy that allowed black performers but excluded blacks as customers.

No consensus holds about the precise end of the Harlem Renaissance. The 1929 American stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression, coupled with the end of Prohibition in 1933, loosely mark a transition to post-Renaissance Harlem. By the time of the 1935 Harlem Riot the luster was off. In a 1948 essay titled Harlem Is Nowhere, Ralph Ellison equated Harlem with madness, and argued that for over four hundred thousand Americans overcrowded and exploited politically and economically, Harlem is the scene and symbol of the Negros perpetual alienation in the land of his birth (p. 296). From the 1930s to the 1960s, Harlems declining social conditions gave the neighborhood a sensationalist and decidedly negative reputation.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s urban renewal turned up on Harlems doorstep promising a turnaround. Within the community these slum clearance policies were derisively tagged Negro removal. This time Harlems transition became a struggle over whether redevelopment and reinvestment could coexist alongside preservation of its black cultural heritage. When 1980s noises of gentrification sounded through postindustrial urban America, they could be heard knocking at Harlems door. With the establishment of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone in the mid-1990s, an era of public and private investment was initiated in Harlem to offset years of decline and disinvestment. By 2000 Starbucks had arrived in Harlem, touching off complicated questions about who belongs in Harlem and to whom Harlem belongs. As far back as 1930, James Weldon Johnson had presciently asked: Will the Negroes of Harlem be able to hold it? (p. 158). At the dawn of the twenty-first century, gentrification offers a window into the past, present, and unknown future definition(s) of Harlem.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anderson, Jervis. 1981. This Was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait, 19001950. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ellison, Ralph. [1948] 1995. Harlem Is Nowhere. In Shadow and Act. New York: Vintage.

Hughes, Langston. [1940] 1986. The Big Sea: An Autobiography. New York: Thunders Mouth Press.

Johnson, James Weldon. 1930. Black Manhattan. New York: Da Capo Press.

Osofsky, Gilbert. 1971. Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto. 2nd ed. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Taylor, Monique. 2002. Harlem: Between Heaven and Hell. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Monique M. Taylor

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Harlem

HARLEM

HARLEM. The New York City neighborhood—bounded by the Harlem River to the northeast and Washington Heights to the north, and by 110th Street to the south and Morningside Heights to the southwest—that eventually became the biggest and one of the most important black communities in the United States. Harlem began as a farming village in Dutch New Amsterdam. It remained an agricultural community until after the Civil War, when rapid population growth pushed New Yorkers uptown. By 1880, elevated trains ran as far north as 129th Street, and the neighborhood attracted tens of thousands of upper-class whites, with poorer Italians and Jews settling to the east and south.

Real estate speculators turned quick profits in booming Harlem, but in 1905, the market collapsed and blacks flooded into the overdeveloped neighborhood. Black New Yorkers desperately needed a place to go at the beginning of the twentieth century. The black population was growing even faster than the rest of the city, and increasing racial violence made most neighborhoods unsafe. During the 1920s, roughly 120,000 blacks, most new arrivals from the Caribbean and the South, migrated to Harlem, and an equal number of whites moved out. At the same time, Puerto Rican immigrants established "El Barrio" in East Harlem, known today as Spanish Harlem.

At first, Harlem represented great promise for blacks. Unlike most northern ghettos, it featured beautiful new buildings on wide streets. In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance brought together a talented group of artists, writers, and musicians that included Aaron Douglas, Ro-mare Bearden, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Duke Ellington. Harlem also established itself at the center of black political culture in the United States. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League, as well as Marcus Garvey's nationalist Universal Negro Improvement Association (see Black Nationalism) and the labor leader A. Philip Randolph's Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters maintained headquarters there. Later, Malcolm X worked primarily out of Harlem, and the community elected two of the most prominent African Americans in congressional history, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1944–1970) and Charles Rangel (1970–).

By the eve of the Great Depression, the huge influx of people had overwhelmed both the housing market and the job market; the latter made even tighter by racist hiring practices. Gradually, Harlem became a slum. The depression hit hard, and unemployment approached 50 percent. Despite a number of ill-conceived urban renewal efforts, Harlem has struggled with unemployment, poverty, health crises, and crime since World War II. The sweeping economic prosperity of the 1990s renewed interest in Harlem and sections of the neighborhood were rebuilt, but its core remains very poor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Greenberg, Cheryl Lynn. Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Hamilton, Charles V. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma. New York: Atheneum, 1991.

Markowitz, Gerald E., and David Rosner. Children, Race, and Power: Kenneth and Mamie Clark's Northside Center. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Osofsky, Gilbert. Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890–1930. New York: Harper and Row, 1968.

JeremyDerfner

See alsoAfrican Americans ; New York City ; Puerto Ricans in the United States .

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Harlem

Harlem, residential and business section of upper Manhattan, New York City, bounded roughly by 110th St., the East River and Harlem River, 168th St., Amsterdam Ave., and Morningside Park. The Dutch settlement of Nieuw Haarlem was established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658. To the W of Harlem, near the present site of Columbia Univ., British and Continental forces fought (Sept. 16, 1776) the Battle of Harlem Heights. Harlem remained rural until the 19th cent. when improved transportation facilities linked it with lower Manhattan. It then became a fashionable residential section of New York City. By the turn of the century Harlem had a large Jewish population; starting around 1910 Harlem became the scene of increasing African-American migration from the South. It soon became the largest and most influential African-American community in the nation, one of the centers of innovation in jazz, and the home of such Harlem Renaissance authors as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston. In East Harlem, a largely Italian neighborhood—the home of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia—many Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic-Americans settled after World War II. Seventh Ave. at 125th Street is generally considered the heart of Harlem; Lenox Ave., once internationally known for its entertainment spots, is now mainly lined with housing developments. Harlem is the site of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, headed for many years by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and the Apollo theater, noted for performances by African-American musicians and entertainers. An extensive scholarly collection is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (part of the New York Public Library), which is adjacent to the Countee Cullen branch of the Library. Harlem today is a depressed economic area with considerable unemployment; much of its housing is substandard. There has been some gentrification and a return of middle-class blacks to the neighborhood.

See G. Osofsky, Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto (1966); J. S. Gurock, When Harlem Was Jewish (1979); C. L. Greenberg, Or Does It Explode: Black Harlem in the Thirties (1991); S. Rhodes-Pitts, Harlem Is Nowhere (2011); C. J. Bergara, Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto (2013).

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Harlem

Harlem a district of New York City, situated to the north of 96th Street in NE Manhattan. It has a large black population and in the 1920s and 1930s was noted for its nightclubs and jazz bands.
Harlem Renaissance a movement in US literature in the 1920s which centred on Harlem and was an early manifestation of black consciousness in the US.

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Harlem

Harlem Residential area of New York City, USA, a political and cultural focus for African-Americans. The Center for Research in Black Culture is located here, next to the Countee Cullen Library, which has been a meeting place for black writers since the 1920s.

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Harlem

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