|On This Page:|
|Black History Month Overview|
|The Great Migration|
|Harlem Renaissance: Politics & Civil Rights|
|Harlem Renaissance: Art, Music & Literature|
|Harlem Renaissance: Legacy|
|Civil Rights Movement|
|Recent History: Famous Harlem Residents|
|125th St: Historical Landmarks|
|February 2013: Black History Month in Harlem|
Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans.
Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including
Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating black history. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history-month
Black History in Harlem began with the Great Migration. Economic and social conditions in the South, as well as opportunities in the North, drove many African-Americans to relocate. Click here for more information on the Great Migration.
After the American civil war, liberated African-Americans searched for a safe place to explore their new identities as free men and women. They found it in Harlem. Click here to read about how Harlem became the "Capital of Black America" in the early 1900s.
In the decades immediately following World War I, huge numbers of African Americans
migrated to the industrial North from the economically depressed and agrarian South.
In cities such as Chicago, Washington, DC, and New York City, the recently migrated sought and found (to some degree)
new opportunities, both economic and artistic. African Americans were encouraged to celebrate
their heritage and to become "The New Negro," a term coined in 1925 by sociologist and critic
Alain LeRoy Locke in his influential book of the same name. (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/565)
During the early 1900s, the burgeoning African-American middle class began pushing a new political agenda that advocated racial equality. The epicenter of this movement was in New York, where three of the largest civil rights groups established their headquarters.
Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In 1905 Du Bois, in collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and white civil rights workers, met in New York to discuss the challenges facing the black community. In 1909, the group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement.
At this same time, the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey began his promotion of the “Back to Africa movement.”
Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL), which advocated the reuniting of all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government. The movement not only encouraged African-Americans to come together, but to also feel pride in their heritage and race.
Read an Oral History with Dr. A. Philip Randolph, who remembers Marcus Garvey's movement in Harlem
The National Urban League (NUL)also came into being in the early 20th century. Founded by Ruth Standish Baldwin and Dr. George Edmund Haynes, the fledgling organization counseled black migrants from the South, trained black social workers, and worked to give educational and employment opportunities to blacks.
Together, these groups helped to establish a sense of community and empowerment for African-Americans not only in New York, but also around the country. In addition, they provided a rare opportunity for whites to collaborate with black intellectuals, social activists, educators, and artists in an attempt to transform a largely segregated and racist American society.
Instead of using more direct political means to achieve their goals, African-American civil rights activists employed the artists and writers of their culture to work for the goals of civil rights and equality. Jazz music, African-American fine art, and black literature were all absorbed into mainstream culture, bringing attention to a previously disenfranchised segment of the American population. This blossoming of African-American culture in European-American society, particularly in the worlds of art and music, became known as The Harlem Renaissance. (www.biography.com/tv/classroom/harlem-renaissance#thr)
Characterizing the Harlem Renaissance was an overt racial pride that came to be represented in the idea of the New Negro, who through intellect and production of literature, art, and music could challenge the pervading racism and stereotypes to promote progressive or socialist politics, and racial and social integration. The creation of art and literature would serve to "uplift" the race.
Some common themes represented during the Harlem Renaissance were the influence of the experience of slavery and emerging African-American folk traditions on black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the dilemmas inherent in performing and writing for elite white audiences, and the question of how to convey the experience of modern black life in the urban North.
African Americans used art to prove their humanity and demand for equality. The Harlem Renaissance led to more opportunities for blacks to be published by mainstream houses. Many authors began to publish novels, magazines and newspapers during this time. The new fiction attracted a great amount of attention from the nation at large. Some authors who became nationally known were Jean Toomer, Jessie Fauset, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, Eric D. Walrond and Langston Hughes.
African-American expressions of writing, music, and art during the 1920s and 1930s are well represented in the vast collections of the Library of Congress. This guide presents the Library's resources as well as links to external Web sites on the Harlem Renaissance and a bibliography: http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/harlem/harlem.html
The Harlem Renaissance helped lay the foundation for the post-World War II phase of the Civil Rights Movement. (In 2009, two Harlem streets were named after Civil Rights leaders.) Moreover, many black artists who rose to creative maturity afterward were inspired by this literary movement.
The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance opened doors and deeply influenced the generations of African American writers that followed, including Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks.
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 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.
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. As chairman of the House Committee of Education and Labor at the start of the 1960s, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. used this position to direct federal funds to various development projects in Harlem.
The influence of the southern nonviolent protest movement was muted in Harlem. Rev. Dr. 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 was the Nation of Islam, whose Temple Number Seven was run by Malcolm X from 1952–1963. Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights in 1965. The neighborhood remains an important center for the Nation of Islam. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem#1946.E2.80.931969.2C_the_Civil_Right...)
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., (November 29, 1908 – April 4, 1972) was an American politician and pastor who represented Harlem, New York City, in the United States House of Representatives (1945–71). He was the first person of African-American descent elected to Congress from New York and became a powerful national politician. In 1961, after sixteen years in the House, he became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the most powerful position held by an African American in Congress.
James Arthur Baldwin (August 2, 1924 – December 1, 1987) was an African-American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic.
Baldwin's essays, for instance "Notes of a Native Son" (1955), explore palpable yet unspoken intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in Western societies, most notably in mid-20th century America, vis-à-vis their inevitable if unnameable tensions with personal identity, assumptions, uncertainties, yearning, and questing. Some Baldwin essays are booklength, for instance The Fire Next Time (1963), No Name in the Street (1972), and The Devil Finds Work (1976).
Romare Bearden (September 2, 1911 – March 12, 1988) was an African American artist and writer. He worked in several media including cartoons, oils, and collage.
Harold George "Harry" Belafonte, Jr.(born March 1, 1927) is an American singer, songwriter, actor and social activist. He was dubbed the "King of Calypso" for popularizing the Caribbean musical style with an international audience in the 1950s. Belafonte is perhaps best known for singing "The Banana Boat Song", with its signature lyric "Day-O." Throughout his career he has been an advocate for civil rights and humanitarian causes and was a vocal critic of the policies of the George W. Bush Administration.
Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer and was also known for his impersonations of actors and other celebrities. Primarily a dancer and singer, Davis started as a child vaudevillian who became known for his performances on Broadway and Las Vegas. He went on to become a world famous recording artist, television and film star. Davis was also a member of Frank Sinatra's "Rat Pack".
Ralph Waldo Ellison (March 1, 1914 – April 16, 1994) was an American novelist, literary critic, scholar and writer. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellison is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. He also wrote Shadow and Act (1964), a collection of political, social and critical essays, and Going to the Territory (1986).
Althea Gibson (August 25, 1927 – September 28, 2003) was a World No. 1 American sportswoman who became the first African-American woman to be a competitor on the world tennis tour and the first to win a Grand Slam title in 1956. She is sometimes referred to as "the Jackie Robinson of tennis" for breaking the color barrier. Gibson was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Thurgood Marshall (July 2, 1908 – January 24, 1993) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, serving from October 1967 until October 1991. Marshall was the Court's 96th justice and its first African-American justice.
Sugar Ray Robinson (born Walker Smith Jr., May 3, 1921 – April 12, 1989) was an African-American professional boxer. Frequently cited as the greatest boxer of all time, Robinson's performances in the welterweight and middleweight divisions prompted sportswriters to create "pound for pound" rankings, where they compared fighters regardless of weight. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Hazel Dorothy Scott(June 11, 1920 – October 2, 1981) was an internationally known, American jazz and classical pianist and singer. In addition to Lena Horne, Scott was one of the first African American women to garner respectable roles in major Hollywood pictures.
Eunice Kathleen Waymon (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), better known by her stage name Nina Simone (/ˈniːnə sɨˈmoʊn/), was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist widely associated with jazz music. Simone aspired to become a classical pianist while working in a broad range of styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
Dinah Washington, born Ruth Lee Jones (August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963), was an American blues, R&B and jazz singer. She has been cited as "the most popular black female recording artist of the '50s", and called "The Queen of the Blues". She is a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996), known by his stage names 2Pac (or simply Pac) and Makaveli, was an American rapper and actor. Shakur has sold over 75 million albums worldwide as of 2007, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. Rolling Stone Magazine named him the 86th Greatest Artist of All Time.
Click here for Wikipedia's list of people from Harlem, NY
View biography.com's video collection of some famous Harlem residents
125th Street has long been considered the "Main Street" of Harlem. The American Planning Association named 125th Street one of 10 great streets in America. According to Denny Johnson, Public Affairs Coordinator for the American Planning Association, 125th Street was given this honor because it is a “unique area with lots of character”, it has played a “prominent role in history of black America”, and shown “resilience though ups and downs”.
The Cotton Club: The Club first stood at 142nd Street, then moved to 48th Street, before being reincarnated on 125th St. a few years ago. It was noted for featuring the most notable black entertainers of the era. Lena Horne began her career by performing there, as did Dorothy Dandridge; Duke Ellington’s orchestra was the ‘house band’.
The Apollo Theater: The Hertig and Seaman New Burlesque Theater, as it was originally known opened in 1914. It took nearly twenty years for it to open its doors to African-American patrons for the first time on Friday, January 26, 1934. Amateur Night began that year, and one of its first performers was a young Billy Holiday. At the age of 17, Ella Fitzgerald made her singing debut here. The Apollo launched other famous careers, including that of James Brown, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, and Sarah Vaughan.
The Victoria Theater: A few doors east of the Apollo Theater stands another grand vaudeville house, the former Loew’s Victoria Theater. Designed in 1917 by Thomas W. Lamb, it had nearly 2394 seats and an organ costing almost $250,000 to build at the time. In 1987 it was converted into a multi-screen movie complex before being shuttered in 1989. There have been several proposals for redevelopment for the building, most notably in 2005.
Former Blumstein’s Department Store: 230 West 125th Street. Designed by Architects Charles Kohn and Charles Butler in 1923, it was a stylistic amalgam of late Art Nouveau and Early Art Deco. In its day, it was one of the most elegant department stores uptown. In 1958, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was stabbed there while signing copies of his new book, ‘Stride Toward Freedom’. He was taken to Harlem Hospital for surgery. Years before, in 1934, Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. led an eight week “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work" campaign in protest of racially segregated hiring practices. On July 26, Blumstein’s promised to hire 35 African-American women as a result. On that day, 1,500 people marked in a victory parade, despite a heavy rain.
The Hotel Theresa: On Seventh Avenue, between 125th Street and 124th Street stands the Hotel Theresa, designed by George and Edward Blum in 1913. Once Harlem’s most prestigious hotel, the “Waldorf of Harlem,” has hosted celebrities and world dignitaries including Fidel Castro. It also contained the offices of A Phillip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement and Malcolm X’s Organization of Afto-American Unity. Now an office building, rechristened the Teresa Towers, the Hotel Theresa was designated a city landmark in 1993.
Lenox Lounge: On Lenox Ave, between 125th St and 124th St, is the legendary Lenox Lounge. Among the many notable performers to play there were: Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Malcolm X were often found among the patrons. The Lounge was restored in 1999, 60 years after it opened.
National Black Theater: On the corner of 125th St and 5th Avenue is the National Black Theater. Founded in 1968 as a non-profit organization and center for research and development known as the National Black Theatre Workshop, it now promotes African Americans in the arts. It also houses a large collection of art.
Click to read CultureNOW's full walking tour of 125th Street
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