The subtitle of Harlem is: “The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America.” The story of the Italian-Americans who once lived here is pretty well-known. But the book covers much more, including the history of blacks in Harlem prior to the Harlem Renaissance, according to a Washington Post review of it. It sounds like a great read.
August 14, 2012
What Was Harlem Like Before Blacks Arrived?
Harlem had the highest crime rate in New York City before blacks moved there, and a photograph in this book, taken a hundred years ago, showed the worst housing conditions I have ever seen in Harlem. In some of the poorer Italian neighborhoods in East Harlem, people went barefoot in the summer and lived on one meal a day — thin soup.
With the arrival of a large black settlement around the turn of the 20th century, Harlem found the identity it has had ever since. It is useful to be reminded, however, that “there had been a significant and continuous uptown black presence, free and enslaved, since the 1630s. Some owned property, practicing their trades in peace and profit, and by 1703 a census of northern Manhattan counted thirty-three black men, thirteen black women, and twenty-six black children.” By the 1880s “there was a real estate agent who specialized in houses and apartments for Negroes along Second and Third Avenues below East 125th Street, then Manhattan’s second biggest Negro neighborhood.”