Harlem During 1920-1960 The United Term Paper

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This is why people that had financial resources to move away from the agitated center often chose Harlem. At the same time however,

On the periphery of these upper class enclaves, however, impoverished Italian immigrants huddled in vile tenements located from 110th to 125th Streets, east of Third Avenue to the Harlem River. To the north of Harlem's Italian community and to the west of Eighth Avenue, Irish toughs roamed an unfilled marshlands area referred to by locals as "Canary Island."

In this sense, it can be said that in the beginning, Harlem represented the escape place for many of the needy in search for a better life. From this amalgam, the Jews represented the largest group, the reason being the oppressive treatment they were continuously subject to throughout the world. Still, the phenomenon that led to the coming of a black majority of people in this area was essential for the configuration of the blueprint of Harlem. The black migration in the North was the result of their leaving the South in search for jobs and better wages, as well as better conditions of living. However, other cities such as Detroit or Chicago were also the target of this type of migration and the results were contradictory. By comparison to the mentioned cities, New York proved to be more tolerant to this flux of black population. In New York's Manhattan, African-Americans made their way to 7th avenue and 34th street which was better known as Tenderloin and to the Columbus Circle area. These areas were overcrowded, dirty, and expensive. Therefore, the black population oriented itself towards cheaper areas, such as Harlem, where they had little resistance to fight. This was largely due to the fact that at the same time, other ethnic groups such as the Jews were leaving their establishments and thus, the social pressure was much reduced. In the end, lower rents and a great number of living spaces made black people create what is today known as Black Harlem.

In 1905, the New York Herald announced the beginning of the end of white Harlem. "An untoward circumstance has been injected into the private dwelling market in the vicinity of 133rd and 134th streets. At 31 West 133rd Street tenants were leaving.

East of Eighth to the Harlem River, from 130th to 145 streets, lay black Harlem, the largest, most exciting urban community in Afro-America -- or anywhere else, for that matter.

The 1920s, the World War, and the events that followed had a great impact on the status of the African-Americans in the Harlem. In the first place, the Great Depression represented a cut in jobs all over the country and the unskilled labor black people from the Harlem provided was the first sector to suffer from these cuts. Secondly, the standard of living decreased significantly throughout the U.S. And taking into account the limited financial possibilities of the black people, they became a sensible and vulnerable segment of the society, "according to a 1933 study conducted by the Milbank Memorial Fund, the median family income of all black families surveyed declined to $1,019 in 1932 from $1,808 in 1929." Thirdly, the fact that they still lacked the entire set of civil rights based on race discrimination or purely social injustice also played an important role in shaping the future evolution of the black community in Harlem.

The 40s saw an increase in the hostilities between the white and the black population of Harlem. The main reason for this surge in violence was the decreasing influence of the whites in the Black Harlem. In this sense, there was the constant threat that the whites would eventually lose the control over this part of the city. At the same time, however, there were different instigating forces from the part of the black community which was frustrated for the over control the whites had on job opportunities and employment in the area. Therefore, there were growing tensions which eventually led to events such as the 1943 Riot that resulted, according to some figures, in at least five people killed.

This evolution of events must be seen in its historical context. They were in fact a replica of similar riots that took place in Detroit. However, for...
...In this sense, Dominic Capeci considers that "the Harlem riot of 1943...was a harbinger of the 1960's urban black protest. It reflected in microcosm the shifts in racial attitudes and demography that were occurring under the transforming process of urbanization." Moreover, it pointed out to the difficult tensions existing between the two communities at the time.

From a historical approach, the 40s were considered to be an important period in the history of the Harlem suburb because it marked the increase in the black population and the changes in terms of social landscape and cultural affirmation. According to some figures, "Harlem's Black population rapidly increased from 83,248 in 1920 to 203,894 in 1930, with a residential density of 236 persons per acre, or twice that of Manhattan as a whole. Low incomes and high rents forced two or three families into apartments designed for one family." The Depression years had taken their toll on the building of houses which became less accommodating for the increasing population. This in turn transformed the social environment because it forced families to reduce their personal living space and thus a certain aspect of decay and slum type architecture became associated with the area.

The 50s and the 60s did not see any reasonable improvements, on the contrary. Despite various housing plans to increase the number of blocks hence the conditions of living, these failed most of the times or had limited results. Therefore, the 1949 Urban Renewal Act tried to make use of federal funds to reshape the structure of the cities in America, but had little effect on the Harlem. It only increased the "pattern of monolithic architectural design in overwhelming superblock housing developments with few design amenities."Overall, it is important to briefly take into consideration the timeline of the evolution of the Harlem suburb from the residential area it was first intended to be to the actual low income, ethnically diverse area it eventually resulted in. This perspective led to the establishment of the idea that Harlem became an ill famed part of the city and the rising tensions between the whites and the blacks only added to this conception which would mark both the overall history of the district and its development.

The advancements of Black Americans

From the 20s onwards, Harlem slowly became associated with the black population taking into account the fact that the whites were constantly losing their influence in the district. In reaction to the growing pressures exercised by whites, many black intellectuals tried to establish an empowering philosophy which would eventually lead to the improvement of the status of the black community in respect to the white. This philosophy followed two interwoven directions. On the one hand, it excluded all white liberals, and on the other, it promoted a certain black nationalism that focused mainly on the elevation of the black spirit as a support paradigm for development.

The main aspect of the reactions manifested by the black community towards the whites was the rejection of the white liberals. In general terms, the exclusion of any possible influence of whites in black people's affairs and in their struggle for emancipation and cultural identification is justified through the fact that "many black people perceive most white liberals as hypocritical and selfishly motivated in their relation with black people." Although laboratory experiments cannot justify this attitude, the practical experience has this perception entrenched in the collective mentality of the black community. This reaction to the influence the whites tried to exercise on the African-American population, especially in Harlem seeing the great density of the district, triggered a negative overall approach of the relation between the two racial groups.

On the other hand, in strict connection with the refusal of any contact with the white liberals, Black Nationalism became an important issue in the collective mind of the African-American community. Along with the Negro Renaissance, "Black Nationalism shared a strong sense of racial consciousness and racial pride." One of its most representative figures, Marcus Garvey pointed out the importance of reaching back to the cultural roots of the African-American people that must strive above its situation and reach a higher degree of self achievement. He used his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, to promote, by appealing to religious arguments as well, the improvement of the condition of the African-American community in cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York. However,…

Sources Used in Documents:


African-American Odyssey. "World War I and Postwar Society." Library of Congress Web site: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/aaohtml/exhibit/aopart8b.html,(accessed 16 September 2007)

Ames, William C.. The Negro struggle for equality in the twentieth century. New dimensions in American history. Lexington, Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company.. 1965, 90-1

Black Americans of Achievements. "Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.." Home to Harlem website. http://www.hometoharlem.com/harlem/hthcult.nsf/notables/a0d3b6db4d440df9852565cf001dbca8,(accessed 16 September 2007)

Capeci, Dominic. The Harlem Riot of 1943. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1977.

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