Social Times and the Culture Term Paper

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They were followed in 1936 by the Harlem River Houses, a more modest experiment in housing projects. And by 1964, nine giant public housing projects had been constructed in the neighborhood, housing over 41,000 people [see also Tritter; Pinckney and Woock].

The roots of Harlem's various pre 1960's-era movements for African-American equality began growing years before the Harlem Renaissance itself, and were still alive long after the Harlem Renaissance ended. For example:

The NAACP became active in Harlem in 1910 and Marcus Garvey's Universal

Negro Improvement Organization 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. DuBois lived and published in Harlem in the 1920s, as did

James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey. ("Harlem")

Later, the lingering economic residue of the Great Depression gave black Harlem dwellers additional incentive for renewed activism, this time to change the dire post-Depression economic and working situation in Harlem with the "Don't Buy Where You Can't Work" movement" (Clarke). This new post-Depression Harlem movement 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 more fully integrate its staff. 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. ("Harlem")

In addition, in 1935 five separate riots broke out, on separate occasions, throughout Harlem (Clarke). According to the article "Harlem," one of these:

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. Such internationalism continued intermittently, including broad demonstrations in favor of Egyptian president

Nasser after the Suez invasion of 1956.

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. [53]

1943 saw the second Harlem riot. A black soldier was shot and wounded by a white policeman, and the resulting riots saw hundreds of stores looted and six people killed.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Harlem was the scene of a series of rent strikes by neighborhood tenants, led by local activist Jesse Gray, together with the Congress of Racial Equality, Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU), and other groups. These groups wanted the city to force landlords to improve the quality of housing by bringing them up to code, to take action against rats and roaches, to provide heat during the winter, and to keep prices in line with already-existing rent control regulations. (According to the Metropolitan Council on Housing, in the mid-1960s, about 25% of the city's landlords charged more for rent than allowed by law.) [54]

Many groups mobilized in Harlem in the 1960s, fighting for better schools, jobs, and housing. Some were peaceful and others advocated violence. By the early 1960s, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) had offices on 125th street, and acted as negotiator for the community with the city, especially in times of racial unrest. They pressed for civilian review boards to hear complaints of police abuse, a demand that was ultimately met. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. had become chairman of the House Committee of Education and Labor at the start of the 1960s, and was able to use this position to direct federal funds to various development projects back home. [55]

The influence of the southern nonviolent protest movement was muted in Harlem. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the black leader most respected in Harlem, but at least two dozen groups of black nationalists also operated in New York. The most important of these by far was the Nation of Islam, whose Temple Number Seven was run by Malcolm X from 1952-1963. Malcolm was assassinated in the Audobon Ballroom in Washington Heights in 1965, and the neighborhood remains an important center for the Nation of Islam.

From the mid-20th century, the terrible quality of local schools has been a source of distress. In the 1960s, about 75% of Harlem students tested under the grade levels in reading skills, and 80% tested under grade level in math. In 1964, residents of Harlem staged two boycotts to call attention to the terrible quality of local schools. In central Harlem, 92% of students stayed home. In 1977, Isiah Robinson, president of the New York City Board of Education, was quoted as saying that "the quality of education in Harlem has degenerated to the level of a custodial service." As of May 2006, Harlem is the heart of the charter schools movement in Manhattan; of the 25 charter schools operating in Manhattan, 18 are in Harlem. [61]

The third in Harlem's series of riots took place in July 1964 after the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old black boy by a white police officer. One person was killed, more than 100 were injured, and hundreds more were arrested. Property damage and looting were extensive.

In the aftermath of the riots of July 1964, the federal government funded a pilot program called Project Uplift, in which thousands of young people in Harlem were given jobs during the summer of 1965. The project was inspired by a report generated by HARYOU called Youth in the Ghetto, and HARYOU was given a major role in organizing the project, along with the National Urban League and nearly 100 smaller community organizations. [63]

One particular additional literary work, by a key then-Harlem-dwelling black American novelist of the late 1940's-early 1950's, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, captures the overall unrestive street atmosphere (and the major reasons for it) of certain pre-1960's; Harlem-based black equal rights movements. The core events of this novel take place upon an unnamed young narrator's (the "Invisible Man" of Ellison's title) arrival in New York, having now been expelled from college (for inadvertently showing a white benefactor of the school the true underside of African-American living).

Ellison's naive young "Invisible Man" has no job, no money, and (as he eventually learns, the hard way) no one to recommend him for a job, either. The letters inside the seven sealed envelopes given to him by the black President of his former college, Dr. Bledsoe provide him a false sense of security. Soon after this, he first encounters the Brotherhood, an organized Harlem street-corner black equality group. Here begins his real education. His eyes now opened, it is also around this time that his earlier dream of becoming an "educator" is replaced by one of wishing to make a positive difference for others through use of his public speaking skills on Harlem street corners.

But the Brotherhood of Central Harlem, as it turns out, is both extremely competitive and jealous within its self. Supposedly, it is also committed to putting out only an emotionally detached "scientific" message in its speeches to crowds. So when a listening crowd is moved by the narrator's first-ever organized public speech (following his spontaneous "eviction speech," that is, which caused him to be recruited by the Brotherhood in the first place), although Brother Jack likes the speech, he is criticized by other Brothers for making the speech too emotional. One member states, to the narrator's surprise, "It was a most unsatisfactory beginning" (p. 341). When pressed, this Brother continues (p. 342): "In my opinion, the speech was wild, hysterical, politically irresponsible, and dangerous... And worse than that, it was incorrect [emphasis Ellison's]!" And Brother Wrestrum chimes in with "I think the speech was backward and reactionary" (Ellison).

After more heated debate about the quality and appropriateness of the speech, t is decided, by the Brotherhood, finally, to retire the narrator from speechmaking for the time being, and to send him, for further training, instead, with a brother named Hambro. But despite this verdict, later that night, when finally alone, the narrator begins to show signs of understanding himself as a human being, with convictions and values of…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. "Sonny's Blues." Online. Retrieved February 3, 2007, at

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)'. Wikipedia.

December 7, 2006. Retrieved December 7, 2006, from: http://en.


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