The rise and fall of Harlem

Part One


The famous Harlem 1958 jazz portrait

From Pyramid builders to project dwellers, from rulers of empires to servants and products of the “anti-Nigger machine” that is White Supremacy, Africans have been used as tools to create build, excavate and then discarded with out maintenance or a second thought.The ourstory of Harlem is an example of urban abuse based on caste, capitalism and the scorched earth policy of modern governments and corporations as they seek to perpetuate their wet dreams of a New World Order. Harlem is a neighbourhood in the New York borough of Manhatten, it has long been known as the Mecca of African cultural and business center in America Inc. Harlem was first associated for much of the twentieth century with African culture, but since the 1970’s Harlem was also promoted as rift with crime  and poverty, now it’s experiencing a social and economic renaissance, that sees concentrated attempst by wealth Anglo-Saxons and other ethnic groups looking to make in roads into the community. 

Harlem stretches from the East River to the Hudson River between 155th Street—where it meets Washington Heights—to a ragged border along the south. Central Harlem begins at 110th Street, at the northern boundary of Central Park; Spanish Harlem extends east Harlem’s boundaries south to 96th Street, while in the west it begins north of Morningside Heights, which gives an irregular border west of Morningside Avenue. The neighborhood contains a number of smaller, cohesive districts.  

Harlem before the black migration The land area in what is now Harlem was originally illegally occupied by Hendrick de Forest and fellow Dutch settlers in 1637. The settlement was claimed for Denmark in 1658 as Nieuw Haarlem (New Haarlem), after the Dutch city of Haarlem, under leadership of Peter Stuyvesant. However the area was repeatedly defended by Native Americans, leading many of the illegal Dutch land grabbers to eventually abandon it. The native trail to Harlem’s lush bottomland meadows was rebuilt by eleven black laborers on behalf of the Dutch West India Company, and eventually developed into the Boston Post Road. In 1664, the English took control of the New Netherland colony and anglicized the name of the town to Harlem. In the early 1900s, particularly in the 1920s, the literature of Africans in American Inc., art, music, dance, and social commentary began to flourish in Harlem. This African-American cultural movement became known as “The New Negro Movement” and later as the Harlem Renaissance. More than a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance exalted the unique culture of Africans in American Inc., and redefined the diasporic African expression. Africans in American Inc. were encouraged to celebrate their heritage.

The main factors contributing to the development of the Harlem Renaissance were rural to urban migration, trends toward experimentation throughout the country, and the rise of radical African intellectuals. The Harlem Renaissance transformed the identity and my story of Africans in American Inc., but it also transformed American culture in general. Never before had so many Anglo-saxons, Africans and other ethnic groups read the thoughts of intellectual African giants thus embracing our community’s productions and expressions.

The end of the era didn’t come with a bang, but with a wimper.

Between 1907 and 1915, some white residents of Harlem resisted the neighborhood’s change, especially once the swelling African population pressed west of Lenox Avenue, which served as an informal color line until the early 1920s. Some made pacts not to sell to or rent to blacks.  Others tried to buy property and evict black tenants, but the Afro-American Realty Company retaliated by buying other properties and evicting Anglos. The Anglo-Saxons then attempted to convince banks to deny mortgages to African buyers, but soon gave that up. The buildings on West 135 Street were among the first in Harlem to be occupied entirely by Africans.

A number of factors contributed to the decline of the Harlem Renaissance by the mid-1930s. The Great Depression of the 1930s increased the economic pressure on all sectors of life. Organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, which had actively promoted the Renaissance in the 1920s, shifted their interests to economic and social issues in the 1930s. As well, many influential African writers and literary promoters, including Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Charles S. Johnson, and W.E.B. DuBois, left New York City in the early 1930s, most relocating to France. Finally, the Harlem Riot of 1935—set off in part by the growing economic hardship of the Depression and mounting tension between the African community and the European shop-owners in Harlem who profited from that community—shattered the notion of Harlem as the Mecca of the New Negro. In spite of these problems the Renaissance did not disappear overnight. Almost one-third of the books published during the Renaissance appeared after 1929. In the last analysis, the Harlem Renaissance ended when most of those associated with it left Harlem or stopped writing.



Employment among African New Yorkers fell as some traditionally African owned businesses, including domestic service and some types of manual labor, were taken over by other ethnic groups, or the industries in question left New York City altogether. The entertainment industry was a major employer in Harlem but relied on income from wealthier whites, whose numbers dropped significantly after Harlemites rioted in 1935, and who stopped coming to Harlem almost altogether after a second round of riots in 1943. Many Harlemites found work in the military or in the Brooklyn shipyards during the European tribal wars called World War II, but the neighborhood declined rapidly once the war ended. There was little investment in private homes or businesses in the neighborhood between 1911 and the 1990s. However, the unwillingness of landlords elsewhere in the city to rent to African tenants, together with a significant increase in the African population of New York, meant that rents in Harlem were for many years higher than rents elsewhere in the city, even as the housing stock decayed. In 1920, one-room apartments in central Harlem rented for $40 to whites or $100-$125 to blacks.

In the late 1920s, a typical Anglo-Saxon working class family in New York paid $6.67 per month per room, while blacks in Harlem paid $9.50 for the same space. The worse the accommodations and more desperate the renter, the higher the rents would be. This pattern would persist through the 1960s; in 1965, CERGE reported that a one room apartment in Harlem rented for $50-$74, while comparable apartments rented for $30-$49 in European slumsin other areas of the city. The high rents encouraged some property speculators to engage in block busting, a practice whereby they would acquire a single property on a block and sell or rent it to Africans with great publicity. Other landowners would panic, and the speculators would then buy additional houses relatively cheaply. These houses could then be rented profitably to Africans.  


Beginning in the 1930’s and accelerating through the 40’s and 50’s, a large numbers of black professionals left Harlem, although a small middle-class presence remained through the decades. Their departure followed the decay of apartments during the Depression and new opportunities for integration in places like Brooklyn and Queens. The exodus ushered in absentee landlord and building owners to fill the void, these slumlords had no problem taking African money but didn’t want to live amongst Africans. The city did not become a slum by accident. It became a slum in part as part of a scam to milk the taxpayers for millions and move working class whites out of the city and to places like Leavitown.

In the Anglo-Saxons place moved even cheaper labour, taxpayer funded welfare recipients. With cheaper labour in place more wealth is shifted to the upper caste. Bankers made millions off the destruction of neighbourhoods like Bushwick and left a 30 year trail of ashes, crime and corpses. In a five-year period in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn was transformed from a neatly maintained community of wood houses into what often approached a no man’s land of abandoned buildings, empty lots, drugs and arson.