History of Harlem

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Founded in the 17th century as a Dutch outpost, Harlem developed into a farming village, a revolutionary battlefield, a resort town, a commuter town, a ghetto, and a center of African-American culture.

1637–1865[edit]

Before the arrival of European settlers, the area that would become Harlem (originally Haarlem) was inhabited by the Manhattans, a native tribe, who along with other Native Americans, most likely Lenape[1] occupied the area on a semi-nomadic basis. As many as several hundred farmed the Harlem flatlands.[2] The first European settlement in the area was by Hendrick (Henry) de Forest, Isaac de Forest, his brother, and their sister Rachel de Forest, Franco-Dutch immigrants in 1637.[1] in 1639 Jochem Pietersen Kuyter established the homestead named Zedendaal, or Blessed Valley, stretched along the Harlem River from about the present 127th Street to 140th Street.[3][4][5] Early European settlers were forced to flee to New Amsterdam in lower Manhattan whenever hostilities with the natives heated up,[6] and the native population gradually decreased amidst conflict with the Dutch.[1] The settlement was named Nieuw Haarlem (New Haarlem), after the Dutch city of Haarlem, and was formally incorporated in 1660[7] under leadership of Peter Stuyvesant.[8] The Indian trail to Harlem's lush bottomland meadows was rebuilt by black laborers of the Dutch West India Company,[9] and eventually developed into the Boston Post Road.

In 1664, the English took control of the New Netherland colony, and English colonial Governor Richard Nicolls established the "Harlem Line" as the southern border patent line of the village of Nieuw Haarlem (later, the village of Harlem) running westward from near modern East 74th Street, at the East River.[10][11][12][13] The British also tried to change the name of the community to "Lancaster," but the name never stuck,[14] and eventually settled down to the Anglicized Harlem. The Dutch took control of the area again for one year in 1673.[15] The village grew very slowly until the middle 18th century, and it became a resort of sorts for the rich of New York City.[16] Only the Morris-Jumel Mansion survives from this period.

Harlem played an important role in the American Revolution. The British had established their base of operations in lower Manhattan, and George Washington fortified the area around Harlem to oppose them. From Harlem, he could control the land routes to the north, as well as traffic on the Harlem River. The New York Provincial Congress met in White Plains, as did the convention drafting the constitution for New York State.[17] On September 16, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Harlem or Battle of Harlem Plain, was fought in western Harlem around the Hollow Way (now West 125th St.), with conflicts on Morningside Heights to the south and Harlem Heights to the north. The American troops were outnumbered, 5000 to 2000, and were ill equipped compared to their opponents, but outflanked the British and forced them to retreat to the area around what is now West 106th Street. It was Washington's first American victory.[18] Later that year, the British would avenge this defeat by chasing Washington and his troops north, then turning back and burning Harlem to the ground.[19]

In 1765, Harlem was a small agricultural town not far from New York City.

Rebuilding took decades, and infrastructure was improved much more slowly than was happening in New York City proper.[20] The village remained largely rural through the early 19th century and, though the "grid system" of streets, designed downtown, was formally extended to Harlem in 1811, it does not seem that anybody expected it would mean much. The 1811 report that accompanied the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 noted that it was "improbable that (for centuries to come) the grounds north of the Harlem Flat will be covered with houses."[21][22]

Though undeveloped, the area was not poor. Harlem was "a synonym for elegant living through a good part of the nineteenth century."[22] The village remained largely farmland estates, such as [Conrad] Van Keulen's Hook, orig. Otterspoor, bordered north of the Mill Creek (now 108th St., orig. Montagne Creek at 109th St.), which flowed into Harlem Lake, to the farm of Morris Randall, northwest on the Harlem River, and westward to the Peter Benson, or Mill Farm.[23] This former bowery [of land] was subdivided into twenty-two equal plots, of about 6 to 8 acres (32,000 m2) each, of which portions later owned by Abraham Storm, including thirty-one acres (east of Fifth Avenue between 110th & 125th St.) were sold by Storm's widow Catherine in 1795 to James Roosevelt (great grandfather of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1760–1847). This branch of the Roosevelt family subsequently moved to the town of Hyde Park, but several of Roosevelt's children remain interred in Harlem.[24]

As late as 1820, the community had dwindled to 91 families, a church, a school, and a library. Wealthy farmers, known as "patroons",[22] maintained these country estates largely on the heights overlooking the Hudson River. Service connecting the outlays of Harlem with the rest of the City of New York (on the southern tip of the island of Manhattan) was done via steamboat on the East River, an hour-and-a-half passage, sometimes interrupted when the river froze in winter, or else by stagecoach along the Boston Post Road, which descended from McGown's Pass (now in Central Park) and skirted the salt marshes around 110th Street, to pass through Harlem.

The New York and Harlem Railroad (now Metro North) was incorporated in 1831 to better link the city with Harlem and Westchester County, starting at a depot at East 23rd Street, and extending 127 miles (204 km) north to a railroad junction in Columbia County at Chatham, New York by 1851. Charles Henry Hall, a wealthy lawyer and land speculator, recognized the changes that this railroad would make possible in Harlem and began a successful program of infrastructure development, building out streets, gas lines, sewer lines, and other facilities needed for urban life.[25] Piers were also built, enabling Harlem to become an industrial suburb serving New York City. The rapid development of infrastructure enabled some to become wealthy, and the area became important to politicians, many of whom lived in Harlem. New York mayors Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence and Daniel Tiemann both lived in Harlem in this period. For many in New York City, Harlem was at this time regarded as a sort of country retreat.[25][26] The village had a population of poorer residents as well, including blacks, who came north to work in factories or to take advantage of relatively low rents.

Between 1850 and 1870, many large estates, including Hamilton Grange, the estate of Alexander Hamilton, were auctioned off as the fertile soil was depleted and crop yields fell. Some of the land became occupied by Irish squatters, whose presence further depressed property values.[22]

1866–1920: Reconstruction[edit]

During the American Civil War, Harlem saw draft riots, along with the rest of the city, but the neighborhood was a significant beneficiary of the economic boom that followed the end of the war, starting in 1868. The neighborhood continued to serve as a refuge for New Yorkers, but increasingly those coming north were poor and Jewish or Italian.[26] Factories, homes, churches, and retail buildings were built at great speed.[27] The Panic of 1873 caused Harlem property values to drop 80%,[27] and gave the City of New York the opportunity to annex the troubled community as far north as 155th Street.[28]

Recovery came soon, and row houses (as distinct from the previous generation's free-standing houses) were being constructed in large numbers by 1876. Development accelerated in part in anticipation of elevated railroads, which were extended to Harlem in 1880. With the construction of the "els," urbanized development occurred very rapidly. Developers anticipated that the planned Lexington Avenue subway would ease transportation to lower Manhattan. Fearing that new housing regulations would be enacted in 1901, they rushed to complete as many new buildings as possible before these came into force.[29] Early entrepreneurs had grandiose schemes for Harlem: Polo was played at the original Polo Grounds, later to become home of the New York Giants baseball team. Oscar Hammerstein I opened the Harlem Opera House on East 125th Street in 1889. By 1893, even row houses did not suffice to meet the growing population, and large-scale apartment buildings were the norm.[30] In that year, Harlem Monthly Magazine wrote that "it is evident to the most superficial observer that the centre of fashion, wealth, culture, and intelligence, must, in the near future, be found in the ancient and honorable village of Harlem."

However, also in that year, the construction glut and a delay in the building of the subway led to a fall in real estate prices which attracted immigrant Eastern Europe Jews and Italians to Harlem in accelerating numbers. There had been a Jewish community of 12 in Harlem in 1869[31] that grew to a peak of almost 200,000 in about 1915.[32] Presaging their resistance to the arrival of blacks, existing landowners tried to stop Jews from moving into the neighborhood. At least one rental sign declared “Keine Juden und Keine Hunde” (No Jews and no dogs).[33] Italians began to arrive in Harlem only a few years after the Jews did. By 1900 there were 150,000 Italians in Harlem.[32] Both groups moved particularly into East Harlem.

The Jewish population of Harlem embraced the City College of New York, which moved to Harlem in 1907. In the years after the move, 90% of the school's students were Jewish,[34] and many of the school's most distinguished graduates date from this period. Both the Jewish and Italian Mafia emerged in East Harlem and soon expanded their operations to the entire neighborhood.[35] West 116th Street between Lenox and 8th Avenue became a vice district.[36] The neighborhood also became a major center for more conventional entertainment, with 125th Street as a particular center for musical theater, vaudeville, and moving pictures.[37]

The Jewish presence in Harlem was ephemeral, and by 1930, only 5,000 Jews remained. As they left, their apartments in East Harlem were increasingly filled by Puerto Ricans, who were arriving in large numbers by 1913.[38] Italian Harlem lasted longer, and traces of the community lasted into the 1970s in the area around Pleasant Avenue.

Black population increase[edit]

These buildings on West 135 Street were among the first in Harlem to be occupied entirely by blacks; in 1921, #135 became home to Young's Book Exchange, the first "Afrocentric" bookstore in Harlem.[39]

Black people have been present in Harlem continually since the 1630s, and as the neighborhood modernized in the late 19th century, they could be found especially in the area around 125th Street and "Negro tenements" on West 130th Street. By 1900, tens of thousands lived in Harlem.[40] The mass migration of blacks into the area began in 1904, due to another real estate crash, the worsening of conditions for blacks elsewhere in the city, and the leadership of black real estate entrepreneurs including Phillip Payton, Jr. After the collapse of the 1890s, new speculation and construction started up again in 1903 and the resulting glut of housing led to a crash in values in 1904 and 1905 that eclipsed the late-19th century slowdown.[29] Landlords could not find white renters for their properties, so Philip Payton stepped in to bring blacks. His company, the Afro-American Realty Company, has been credited with the migration of blacks from their previous neighborhoods,[41] the Tenderloin, San Juan Hill (now the site of Lincoln Center), Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village and Hell's Kitchen in the west 40s and 50s.[42][43] The move to northern Manhattan was driven in part by fears that anti-black riots such as those that had occurred in the Tenderloin in 1900[44] and in San Juan Hill in 1905[22] might recur. In addition, a number of tenements that had been occupied by blacks in the west 30s were destroyed at this time to make way for the construction of the original Penn Station.

In 1907, black churches began to move uptown. Several congregations built grand new church buildings, including St Philip's on West 134th Street just west of Seventh Avenue (the wealthiest church in Harlem), the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street and St Mark's Methodist Church on Edgecombe Avenue. More often churches purchased buildings from white congregations of Christians and Jews whose members had left the neighborhood, including Metropolitan Baptist Church on West 128th and Seventh Avenue, St James Presbyterian Church on West 141st Street, and Mt Olivet Baptist Church on Lenox Avenue.[39][45] Only the Catholic Church retained its churches in Harlem, with white priests presiding over parishes that retained significant numbers of whites until the 1930s.[46]

Marcus Garvey in 1925

The early 20th-century Great Migration of blacks to northern industrial cities was fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South, seek better jobs and education for their children, and escape a culture of lynching violence. During World War I, expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs, thinly staffed after the draft began to take young men.[41] So many blacks came that it "threaten[ed] the very existence of some of the leading industries of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama."[47] Many settled in Harlem. By 1920, central Harlem was 32.43% black. The 1930 census revealed that 70.18% of Central Harlem's residents were black and lived as far south as Central Park, at 110th Street.[48] The expansion was fueled primarily by an influx of blacks from the southern U.S. states, especially Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, who took trains up the East Coast. There were also numerous immigrants from the West Indies. As blacks moved in, white residents left. Between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighborhood and 87,417 blacks arrived.

Between 1907 and 1915,[49] some white residents of Harlem resisted the neighborhood's change, especially once the swelling black population pressed west of Lenox Avenue, which served as an informal color line until the early 1920s.[41][50] Some made pacts not to sell to or rent to blacks.[51] Others tried to buy property and evict black tenants, but the Afro-American Realty Company retaliated by buying other property and evicting whites. They also attempted to convince banks to deny mortgages to black buyers, but soon gave up.[52]

In 1910, Central Harlem was about 10% black. By 1930, it had reached 70%.[53]

Soon after blacks began to move into Harlem, the community became known as "the spiritual home of the Negro protest movement."[54] The NAACP became active in Harlem in 1910 and Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1916. The NAACP chapter there soon grew to be the largest in the country. Activist A. Philip Randolph lived in Harlem and published the radical magazine The Messenger starting in 1917. It was from Harlem that he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. W. E. B. Du Bois lived and published in Harlem in the 1920s, as did James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey.

1921–1929[edit]

Starting around the time of the end of World War I, Harlem became associated with the New Negro movement, and then the artistic outpouring known as the Harlem Renaissance, which extended to poetry, novels, theater, and the visual arts.

The growing population also supported a rich fabric of organizations and activities in the 1920s. Fraternal orders such as the Prince Hall Masons and the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks set up lodges in Harlem, with elaborate buildings including auditoriums, and large bands. Parades of lodge members decked out in uniforms and accompanied by band music were a common sight on Harlem's streets, on public holidays, lodge anniversaries, church festivities and funerals.[55] The neighborhood's churches housed a range of groups, including athletic clubs, choirs and social clubs. A similar range of activities could be found at the YMCA on 135th Street and the YWCA on 137th Street. The social pages of Harlem's two African-American newspapers, the New York Age and the New York Amsterdam News, recorded the meetings, dinners and dances of hundreds of small clubs.[56] Soapbox speakers drew crowds on Seventh and Lenox Avenues until the 1960s, some offering political oratory, with Hubert Harrison the most famous, while others, particularly in the late 1920s, sold medicine.[57][58] Harlem also offered a wealth of sporting events: the Lincoln Giants played baseball at Olympic Field at 136th and Fifth Avenue until 1920, after which residents had to travel to the Catholic Protectory Oval in the Bronx; men's and women's basketball teams from local athletic clubs played in church gymnasiums, and, as they became more popular, at the Manhattan Casino on 155th Street, before giving way to professional teams, most famously the Rens, based at the Renaissance Ballroom on Seventh Avenue;[59][60] and boxing bouts took place at the Commonwealth Casino on East 135th Street (run by white promoters the McMahon brothers). The biggest crowds, including many whites, came to see black athletes compete against whites.[61][62]

It took years for business ownership to reflect the new reality. A survey in 1929 found that whites owned and operated 81.51% of the neighborhood's 10,319 businesses, with beauty parlors making up the largest number of black-owned businesses.[63][64] By the late 1960s, 60% of the businesses in Harlem responding to surveys reported ownership by blacks, and an overwhelming fraction of new businesses were black owned after that time.[65]

Marginalized in the legitimate economy, a small group of blacks found success outside the law, running gambling on numbers. Invented in 1920 or 1921, numbers had exploded by 1924 into a racket turning over tens of millions of dollars every year. That year the New York Age reported that there were at least thirty bankers (the name given to someone running a numbers game) in Harlem, with many employing between twelve and twenty people to collect bets, and Marcellino, the largest banker, employing over one hundred. By the late 1920s, Wallace Thurman guessed there were over a thousand collectors taking bets from 100,000 clients a day.[66] The most successful bankers, who could earn enormous sums of money, were known as Kings and Queens. The wealthiest numbers king of all was almost certainly the reputed inventor of the game, Casper Holstein. He owned a fleet of cars, apartment buildings in Harlem and a home on Long Island, but did not have the ostentatious style and lifestyle of many other kings. He, and other bankers, gave money to charities and loans to aspiring businessmen and needy residents. Holstein's role in the community extended further than most of his colleagues, included membership in the Monarch Lodge of the Elks, support for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, philanthropy in his native Virgin Islands, and patronage of the Harlem Renaissance.[67][68]

Harlem adapted rapidly to the coming of Prohibition, and its theaters, nightclubs, and speakeasies became major entertainment destinations. Claude McKay would write that Harlem had become "an all white picnic ground", and in 1927 Rudolph Fisher published an article titled "The Caucasian Storms Harlem".[69] Langston Hughes described this period at length, including this passage from his 1940 autobiography,

White people began to come to Harlem in droves. For several years they packed the expensive Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue. But I was never there, because the Cotton Club was a Jim Crow club for gangsters and monied whites. They were not cordial to Negro patronage, unless you were a celebrity like Bojangles. So Harlem Negroes did not like the Cotton Club and never appreciated its Jim Crow policy in the very heart of their dark community. Nor did ordinary Negroes like the growing influx of whites toward Harlem after sundown, flooding the little cabarets and bars where formerly only colored people laughed and sang, and where now the strangers were given the best ringside tables to sit and stare at the Negro customers—like amusing animals in a zoo.

—Langston Hughes, The Big Sea

In response to the white influx, some blacks operated alternative venues in their homes. Called buffet flats, they offered alcohol, music, dancing, prostitutes, and, commonly, gambling, and, less often, rooms to which a couple could go. Their location in residential buildings, typically on cross streets above 140th Street, away from the nightclubs and speakeasies on the avenues, offered a degree of privacy from police, and from whites: you could only find a buffet flat if you knew the address and apartment number, which hosts did not advertise.[70]

Since the 1920s, this period of Harlem's history has been highly romanticized. With the increase in a poor population, it was also the time when the neighborhood began to deteriorate to a slum, and some of the storied traditions of the Harlem Renaissance were driven by poverty, crime, or other social ills. For example, in this period, Harlem became known for "rent parties", informal gatherings in which bootleg alcohol was served and music played. Neighbors paid to attend, and thus enabled the host to make his or her monthly rent. Though picturesque, these parties were thrown out of necessity. Further, over a quarter of black households in Harlem made their monthly rent by taking in lodgers, many of whom were family members, but who sometimes brought bad habits or even crime that disrupted the lives of respectable families. Lodgers also experienced disruption, with many having to move frequently when households relocated, roommates quarreled or they could not pay rent.[71] Urban reformers campaigned to eliminate the "lodger evil" but the problem got worse before it got better; in 1940, still affected by the Depression, 40% of black families in Harlem were taking in lodgers.[72]

The high rents and poor maintenance of housing stock, which Harlem residents suffered through much of the 20th century, was not merely the product of racism by white landlords. By 1914, 40% of Harlem's private houses and 10% of its tenements were owned by blacks.[73] Wealthier blacks continued to purchase land in Harlem,[41] and by 1920, a significant portion of the neighborhood was owned by blacks.[29][74] By the late 1960s, 60% of the businesses in Harlem responding to surveys reported ownership by blacks, and an overwhelming fraction of new businesses were black owned after that time.[65]

In 1928, the first effort at housing reform was attempted in Harlem with the construction of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Houses, backed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. These were intended to give working people of modest means the opportunity to live in and, over time, purchase, houses of their own. The Great Depression hit shortly after the buildings opened, and the experiment failed. They were followed in 1936 by the Harlem River Houses, a more modest experiment in housing projects.[29] And by 1964, nine giant public housing projects had been constructed in the neighborhood, housing over 41,000 people.[75]

Stately Harlem apartment buildings adjacent to Morningside Park

The earliest activism by blacks to change the situation in Harlem itself grew out of the Great Depression, with the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" movement.[76] This was the ultimately successful campaign to force retail shops on 125th Street to hire black employees. Boycotts were originally organized by the Citizens' League for Fair Play in June 1934 against Blumstein's Department Store on 125th Street. The store soon agreed to integrate its staff more fully. This success emboldened Harlem residents, and protests continued under other leadership, including that of preacher and later congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., seeking to change hiring practices at other stores, to effect the hiring of more black workers, or the hiring of members of particular protesting groups.[77]

Communism gained a following in Harlem in the 1930s, and continued to play a role through the 1940s.[54] In 1935, the first of Harlem's five riots broke out. The incident started with a (false) rumor that a boy caught stealing from a store on 125th Street had been killed by the police. By the time it was over, 600 stores had been looted and three men were dead. The same year saw internationalism in Harlem politics, as Harlemites responded to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia by holding giant rallies, signing petitions and sending an appeal to the League of Nations.[78] Such internationalism continued intermittently, including broad demonstrations in favor of Egyptian president Nasser after the Suez invasion of 1956.[79]

1930–1945[edit]

The neighborhood was hit hard by job losses in the Great Depression. In the early 1930s, 25% of Harlemites were out of work, and employment prospects for Harlemites stayed bad for decades. Employment among black New Yorkers fell as some traditionally black businesses, including domestic service and some types of manual labor, were taken over by other ethnic groups. Major industries left New York City altogether, especially after 1950.

The job losses of the Depression were exacerbated by the end of Prohibition in 1933[80] and by the Harlem Riot of 1935, which scared away the wealthier whites who had long supported Harlem's entertainment industry.[8] White audiences decreased almost totally after a second round of riots in 1943. Many Harlemites found work in the military or in the Brooklyn shipyards during World War II,[81] but the neighborhood declined rapidly once the war ended. Some middle-class blacks moved north or west to suburbs, a trend that increased after the 1960s Civil Rights Movement decreased discrimination in housing.

The neighborhood enjoyed few benefits from the massive public works projects in New York under Robert Moses in the 1930s, and as a result had fewer parks and public recreational sites than other New York neighborhoods. Of the 255 playgrounds Moses built in New York City, he placed only one in Harlem.[82]

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. addressing a citizens' committee mass meeting in 1942

The earliest activism by blacks to change the situation in Harlem itself grew out of the Great Depression, with the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" movement.[76] This was the ultimately successful campaign to force retail shops on 125th Street to hire black employees. Boycotts were originally organized by the Citizens' League for Fair Play in June 1934 against Blumstein's Department Store on 125th Street. The store soon agreed to integrate its staff more fully. This success emboldened Harlem residents, and protests continued under other leadership, including that of preacher and later congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., seeking to change hiring practices at other stores, to effect the hiring of more black workers, or the hiring of members of particular protesting groups.[77]

Communism gained a following in Harlem in the 1930s, and continued to play a role through the 1940s.[54] In 1935, the first of Harlem's five riots broke out. The incident started with a (false) rumor that a boy caught stealing from a store on 125th Street had been killed by the police. By the time it was over, 600 stores had been looted and three men were dead. The same year saw internationalism in Harlem politics, as Harlemites responded to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia by holding giant rallies, signing petitions and sending an appeal to the League of Nations.[78] Such internationalism continued intermittently, including broad demonstrations in favor of Egyptian president Nasser after the Suez invasion of 1956.[83]

Black Harlemites took positions in the elected political infrastructure of New York starting in 1941 with the election of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. to the City Council. He was easily elected to Congress when a congressional district was placed in Harlem in 1944, leaving his City Council seat to be won by another black Harlemite, Benjamin J. Davis. Ironically, Harlem's political strength soon deteriorated, as Clayton Powell, Jr. spent his time in Washington or his vacation home in Puerto Rico, and Davis was jailed in 1951 for violations of the Smith Act.[84]

The year 1943 saw the second Harlem riot. A black soldier knocked down a policeman who then shot him. An onlooker shouted that the soldier had been killed, and this news spread throughout the black community and provoked rioting. A force of 6,600, made up of city police, military police and civil patrolmen, in addition to 8,000 State Guardsmen and 1,500 civilian volunteers was required to end the violence. Hundreds of businesses were destroyed and looted, the property damage approaching $225,000. Overall, six people died and 185 were injured. Five hundred people were arrested in connection with the riot.

1946–1969, the Civil Rights Movement[edit]

1970–1979[edit]

By some measures, the 1970s were the worst period in Harlem's history. Many of those Harlemites who were able to escape from poverty left the neighborhood in search of safer streets, better schools and homes. Those who remained were the poorest and least skilled, with the fewest opportunities for success. Though the federal government's Model Cities Program spent $100 million on job training, health care, education, public safety, sanitation, housing, and other projects over a ten-year period, Harlem showed no improvement.[85]

The deterioration shows up starkly in the statistics of the period. In 1968, Harlem's infant mortality rate had been 37 for each 1000 live births, as compared to 23.1 in the city as a whole. Over the next eight years, infant mortality for the city as whole improved to 19, while the rate in Harlem increased to 42.8, more than double. Statistics describing illness, drug addiction, housing quality, and education are similarly grim and typically show rapid deterioration in the 1970s. The wholesale abandonment of housing was so pronounced that between 1976 and 1978 alone, central Harlem lost almost a third of its total population, and east Harlem lost about 27%.[85] The neighborhood no longer had a functioning economy; stores were shuttered and by estimates published in 1971, 60% of the area's economic life depended on the cash flow from the illegal "Numbers game" alone.[86]

The worst part of Harlem was the "Bradhurst section" between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Edgecombe, from 139th Street through 155th. In 1991, this region was described in the New York Times as follows: "Since 1970, an exodus of residents has left behind the poor, the uneducated, the unemployed. Nearly two-thirds of the households have incomes below $10,000 a year. In a community with one of the highest crime rates in the city, garbage-strewn vacant lots and tumbledown tenements, many of them abandoned and sealed, contribute to the sense of danger and desolation that pervades much of the area."[87]

Aerial view of Harlem with river, seen from north (2010)

Plans for rectifying the situation often started with the restoration of 125th Street, long the economic heart of black Harlem.[88] By the late 1970s, only marginalized and poor retail remained.[89] Plans were drafted for a "Harlem International Trade Center," which would have filled the entire block between 125th Street and 126th, from Lenox to Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, with a center for trade with the third world. A related retail complex was planned to the west, between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and St. Nicholas. However, this plan depended on $30 million in financing from the federal government,[88] and with the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency of the United States, it had no hope of being completed.[89]

1980–1989[edit]

The city did provide one large construction project, though not so favored by residents. Starting in the 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, Harlemites fought the introduction of an immense sewage treatment plant, the North River Water Pollution Control Plant, on the Hudson River in West Harlem. A compromise was ultimately reached in which the plant was built with a state park, including extensive recreational facilities, on top. The park, called Riverbank State Park, was opened in 1993 (the sewage plant having been completed some years earlier).[90]

The city began auctioning its enormous portfolio of Harlem properties to the public in 1985. This was intended to improve the community by placing property in the hands of people who would live in them and maintain them. In many cases, the city would even pay to completely renovate a property before selling it (by lottery) below market value.[91] The program was soon beset by scandal—buyers were acquiring houses from the city, then making deals with churches or other charities in which they would inflate the appraised values of the properties and the church or charity would take out federally guaranteed 203(k) mortgage and buy it. The original buyer would realize a profit and the church or charity would default on the mortgage (presumably getting some kind of kickback from the developer).[92][93] Abandoned shells were left to further deteriorate, and about a third of the properties sold by the city were tenements which still had tenants, who were left in particularly miserable conditions. These properties, and new restrictions on Harlem mortgages, bedeviled the area's residential real estate market for years.

1990–present[edit]

After four decades of decline, Central Harlem's population bottomed out in the 1990 census, at 101,026. It had decreased by 57% from its peak of 237,468 in 1950. Between 1990 and 2006 the neighborhood's population grew by 16.9%, with the percentage of blacks decreasing from 87.6% to 69.3%,[48] then dropping to 54.4% by 2010,[94] and the percentage of whites increasing from 1.5% to 6.6% by 2006,[48] and to "almost 10%" by 2010.[94]

From 1987 through 1990, the city removed long-unused trolley tracks from 125th Street, laid new water mains and sewers, installed new sidewalks, curbs, traffic lights, streetlights, and planted trees. Two years later, national chains opened branches on 125th Street for the first time – The Body Shop opened a store at 125th street and 5th Avenue (still extantAs of 2010),and a Ben & Jerry's ice cream franchise employing formerly homeless people opened across the street.[95] The development of the region would leap forward a few years later with the 1994 introduction of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which brought $300 million in development funds and $250 million in tax breaks.[96]

Plans were laid for shopping malls, movie theaters, and museums. However, these plans were nearly derailed in 1995 by the "Freddy's Fashion Mart" riot, which culminated in political arson and eight deaths. These riots did not resemble their predecessors, and were organized by black activists against Jewish shop owners on 125th street.[97]

Sign disparaging Barack Obama outside the Atlah World Missionary Church in the former Harlem Club at 123rd Street and Lenox Avenue

Five years later, the revitalization of 125th Street resumed, with the construction of a Starbucks outlet backed in part by Magic Johnson (1999), the first supermarket in Harlem in 30 years,[96] the Harlem USA retail complex, which included the first first-run movie theater in many years (2000),[96] and a new home for the Studio Museum in Harlem (2001). In the same year, former president Bill Clinton took office space in Harlem, at 55 West 125th Street.[98] In 2002, a large retail and office complex called Harlem Center was completed at the corner of Lenox and 125th.[96] There has been extensive new construction and rehabilitation of older buildings in the years since.

After years of false starts, Harlem began to see rapid gentrification in the late 1990s. This was driven by changing federal and city policies, including fierce crime fighting and a concerted effort to develop the retail corridor on 125th Street. The number of housing units in Harlem increased by 14% between 1990 and 2000,[99] and the rate of increase has been much more rapid in recent years. Property values in Central Harlem increased nearly 300% during the 1990s, while the rest of New York City saw only a 12% increase.[99] Even empty shells of buildings in the neighborhood were routinely selling for nearly $1,000,000 each as of 2007.[100]

In January 2010, The New York Times reported that in "Greater Harlem," which they defined as running from the East River to the Hudson River, from 96th Street to 155th Street, blacks ceased to be a majority of the population in 1998, with the change largely attributable to the rapid arrival of new white and Hispanic residents. The paper reported that the population of the area had grown more since 2000 than in any decade since the 1940s.[101] Median housing prices dropped farther in Harlem than in the rest of Manhattan during the real estate crash of 2008, but recovered more rapidly as well.[102]

The neighborhood's changes have provoked some discontent. James David Manning, pastor of the ATLAH World Missionary Church on Lenox Avenue, has received press for declaring a boycott on all Harlem shops, restaurants, other businesses, and churches other than his own. He believes that this will cause an economic crash that will drive out white residents and drop property values to a level his supporters can afford.[103] There have been rallies against gentrification.[104]

On March 12, 2014, two buildings in East Harlem were destroyed in a gas explosion.[105]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ellis, Edward Robb (1966). The Epic of New York City. Old Town Books. p. 52. 
  2. ^ Gill, 2011, p.6
  3. ^ Riker, James (1904), Harlem: Its Origins and Early Annals, Elizabeth, New Jersey: New Harlem Publishing Company 
  4. ^ "Harlem in the Old Times". The New York Times. January 11, 1880. Retrieved December 30, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Harlem In The Old Times Fighting Hostile Indians on the Flats". The History Box. May 23, 2012. Retrieved December 31, 2102. 
  6. ^ Gill, Jonathan (2011). Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America. Grove/Atlantic. p. 18. 
  7. ^ Cf. Gill, 2011, p.33
  8. ^ a b "To Live In Harlem," Frank Hercules, National Geographic, February 1977, p. 178+
  9. ^ Introduction to Harlem USA, John Henrik Clarke, 1970.
  10. ^ Elliot Willensky and Fran Leadon (2010). AIA Guide to New York City. Oxford University Press. Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  11. ^ Eric K. Washington (2012). Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem. Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved April 13, 2013. 
  12. ^ James Renner (2007). Washington Heights, Inwood, and Marble Hill. Arcadia Publishing. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Mount Morris Bank Building". Landmarks Preservation Committee. January 5, 1993. Retrieved April 10, 2013. 
  14. ^ Gill, 2011, p.38
  15. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 46.
  16. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 53.
  17. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 56.
  18. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 59.
  19. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 61.
  20. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 75.
  21. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 79.
  22. ^ a b c d e "Harlem, the Village That Became a Ghetto," Martin Duberman, in New York, N.Y.: An American Heritage History of the Nation's Greatest City, 1968
  23. ^ Riker, James. Revised History of Harlem (City of New York): Its Origin and Early Annals: Prefaced by Home Scenes in the Fatherlands; or, Notices of Its Founders Before Emigration. Also, Sketches of Numerous Families, and the Recovered Histories of Land – Titles. New York: J. Riker, 1881, pp. 588–91.
  24. ^ Hoffman, Eugene Augustus. Genealogy of the Hoffman Family: Descendants of Martin Hoffman, with Biographical Notes. New York: Dodd and Mead, 1899, pp. 262–64.
  25. ^ a b Gill, 2011, p. 86.
  26. ^ a b Gill, 2011, p. 100.
  27. ^ a b Gill, 2011, p. 109.
  28. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 102.
  29. ^ a b c d "The Growth and Decline of Harlem's Housing", Thorin Tritter, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 1998
  30. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 112.
  31. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 114.
  32. ^ a b Gill, 2011, p. 169.
  33. ^ Bruce Perry, Station Hill, Malcolm, 1991, p. 154-55.
  34. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 150.
  35. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 151.
  36. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 154.
  37. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 160.
  38. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 210.
  39. ^ a b "Africa-Conscious Harlem," Richard B. Moore, in Harlem U.S.A., 1971 ed. p. 37.
  40. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 175.
  41. ^ a b c d "The Making of Harlem," James Weldon Johnson, The Survey Graphic, March 1925
  42. ^ "Negro Districts in Manhattan," The New York Times, November 17, 1901.
  43. ^ "Negroes Move Into Harlem," New York Herald, December 24, 1905.
  44. ^ Alphonso Pinkney & Roger Woock, Poverty and Politics in Harlem, College & University Press Services, Inc., 1970, p. 26.
  45. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Churches in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, April 17, 2009, accessed August 22, 2011
  46. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Catholics in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, July 1, 2010, accessed August 22, 2011
  47. ^ "118,000 Negroes Move From The South", The New York World, November 5, 1917
  48. ^ a b c "Harlem's Shifting Population". Gotham Gazette. The Citizens Union Foundation. August 27, 2008. Retrieved June 9, 2011. 
  49. ^ "Harlem, the Making of a Ghetto," Gilbert Osofsky, in Harlem U.S.A., 1971 ed. p.13
  50. ^ Cf. Gill, 2011, p.182
  51. ^ Osofsky, "Making of a Ghetto", in Harlem: A Community in Transition, 1964, p.20
  52. ^ "Loans To White Renegades Who Back Negroes Cut Off," Harlem Home News, April 7, 1911
  53. ^ Gotham Gazette, 2008
  54. ^ a b c "New York's Racial Unrest: Mounting Negro Anger Swells Protests," Layhmond Robinson, The New York Times, August 12, 1963, p.1
  55. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Parades in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, February 1, 2011, accessed October 5, 2011
  56. ^ Stephen Robertson, Shane White, Stephen Garton and Graham White, "This Harlem Life: Black Families and Everyday Life in the 1920s and 1930s", Journal of Social History, 44, 1 (Fall 2010)
  57. ^ Watkins-Owens, Irma, Blood Relations: Caribbean Immigrants and the Harlem Community, 1900–1930 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 92–100.
  58. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Harlem's Soapbox Speakers", Digital Harlem Blog, May 14, 2010, accessed August 22, 2011.
  59. ^ Bob Kuska, Hot Potato: How Washington and New York Gave Birth to Black Basketball and Changed America’s Game Forever (Charlottesville, 2004)
  60. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Basketball in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, June 3, 2011, accessed August 22, 2011.
  61. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Harlem and Baseball in the 1920s", Digital Harlem Blog, July 27, 2011, accessed August 22, 2011.
  62. ^ Kuska, 151
  63. ^ Greenberg, Cheryl, Or Does It Explode? Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York, 1991), 27.
  64. ^ Robertson, Stephen, "Harlem's Beauty Parlors", Digital Harlem, September 10, 2010, accessed August 22, 2011
  65. ^ a b The Economic Development of Harlem, Thomas Vietorisz and Bennett Harrison, Praeger Special Studies in U.S. Economic and Social Development, 1970, p. 37, p. 45, p. 238.
  66. ^ White, Shane, Stephen Garton, Stephen Robertson and Graham White, Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem Between the Wars (Cambridge, Mass., 2010), 73–73.
  67. ^ White, Garton, Robertson & White, Playing the Numbers (2010), pp. 147–89.
  68. ^ "Bankers, Kings and Queens", Digital Harlem Blog, accessed October 5, 2011.
  69. ^ Cf. Gill, 2011, p. 281.
  70. ^ Stephen Robertson, "Harlem Undercover – the maps", Digital Harlem Blog, April 17, 2009, accessed August 23, 2011.
  71. ^ Stephen Robertson, "Roger Walker – A Lodger's Life in 1920s Harlem", Digital Harlem Blog, June 15, 2010, accessed August 23, 2011.
  72. ^ "244,000 Native Sons", Look Magazine, May 21, 1940, p. 8+
  73. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 180.
  74. ^ Inside U.S.A., by John Gunther (1947) specifically cites a black man named A. A. Austin who owned many properties.
  75. ^ Pinkney & Woock, Poverty and Politics in Harlem (1970), p. 29.
  76. ^ a b John Henrik Clarke (ed.), Harlem U.S.A., introduction to 1971 edition.
  77. ^ a b Fact Not Fiction In Harlem, John H. Johnson, St. Martin's Church, 1980., p.52+
  78. ^ a b "Africa-Conscious Harlem," in Clarke , Harlem U.S.A." (1971), p. 50.
  79. ^ "Africa-Conscious Harlem", in Clarke, Harlem U.S.A. (1971), p. 51.
  80. ^ Gill, 2011, p. 283.
  81. ^ The Economic Development of Harlem, Thomas Vietorisz and Bennett Harrison, Praeger Special Studies in U.S. Economic and Social Development, 1970, p.6
  82. ^ The Power Broker, Robert Moses, p.252, p.318–319, p.490, p.491, p.509–514, 525–561, 578, 589, 736, 834, 1086, 1101
  83. ^ "Africa-Conscious Harlem", in Clarke , Harlem U.S.A." (1971), p. 51.
  84. ^ "Four Men of Harlem – The Movers and the Shakers," in Clarke , Harlem U.S.A." (1971), p. 262.
  85. ^ a b "Harlem's Dreams Have Died in Last Decade, Leaders Say," New York Times, March 1, 1978, p. A1.
  86. ^ "The Black Mafia Moves Into the Numbers Racket," Fred J. Cook, New York Times, April 4, 1971.
  87. ^ "Harlem Battles Over Development Project," Shipp, E. R., New York Times, July 31, 1991, p. B.1.
  88. ^ a b "Harlem Pins Revival Hopes on New Plans for 125th Street," New York Times, May 20, 1979
  89. ^ a b Stern, Fishman & Tilove, New York 2000 (2006), p. 1007.
  90. ^ Stern, Fishman & Tilove, New York 2000 (2006), p. 1039.
  91. ^ Stern, Fishman & Tilove, New York 2000 (2006), p. 1016
  92. ^ "Harlem Tenants Fear Displacement After 203(k) Scandal"
  93. ^ "SRO Limbo: After Arrests in the HUD Scandal, Will Its Victims Lose Their Homes?" Andrew Friedman, Village Voice, January 16–22, 2002.
  94. ^ a b "Census trends: Young, white Harlem newcomers aren't always welcomed," New York Daily News, December 26, 2010
  95. ^ Stern, Fishman & Tilove, New York 2000 (2006), p. 1009.
  96. ^ a b c d Stern, Fishman & Tilove, New York 2000 (2006), p. 1011.
  97. ^ "'Freddy's Not Dead'," Peter Noel, Village Voice, December 23, 1998.
  98. ^ "New boy in the 'hood," The Observer, August 5, 2001
  99. ^ a b The Economic Redevelopment of Harlem, PhD Thesis of Eldad Gothelf, submitted to Columbia University in May 2004
  100. ^ "After the Shell Game", S. Jhoanna Robledo, New York Magazine, March 26, 2007, p. 69. The article states that, after rocketing upwards for many years, prices on shells have settled to about the same level in 2007 as they had been in 2005. Examples are given of sales around $800,000.
  101. ^ "In Harlem, Blacks Are No Longer a Majority," Sam Roberts, The New York Times, January 6, 2010, p. A16.
  102. ^ "After a Short Nap, Harlem Is Back", Julie Satow, The New York Times, March 22, 2012.
  103. ^ "A Pastor’s Mission to Destroy Harlem," Timothy Williams, New York Times, February 22, 2008
  104. ^ "Residents Continue to Rally Against Gentrification in Harlem," Stephanie Basile, IndyMedia, May 30, 2008.
  105. ^ "Harlem explosions ripped the stomach right out of you". New York Times. March 13, 2014.