Harlem History

a neighborhood with a complex history that has shaped America’s cultural and political landscape from its contributions to the civil rights movement to welcoming immigrants with open arms Harlem has also been brought to its knees by poverty crime and racial discrimination but it has always been lifted up by activism music and art join me on this edition of inside out as we take an in-depth look at the history of Harlem and why what is often known as the black Mecca of the world is now fighting to sustain its heritage and identity Harlen was once regarded as a sort of country retreat the village had a population of poor residents as well including blacks who came north to work in factories or to take advantage of relatively low rents during the American Civil War many poor Jewish and Italian families came here taking advantage of the low rents the neighborhood also became a major Center for more conventional entertainment with 125th Street as a particular Center for musical theater vaudeville and moving pictures the Jewish soon left and their apartments in East Harlem were increasingly filled by Puerto Ricans who were arriving in large numbers by 1913 the Italians stayed longer well into the 1970s but how did Harlem become the black Mecca of the world and how did it become known as the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance I met up with Derrick Edwards a Harlem expert and tour guide Derrick knows the fabric and history of Harlem inside and out and agreed to show us around he’s a tour guide with free tours by foot with a background of performing and writing derek is known for mixing in a bit of history cultural insight pop culture references and charm into his tours the capital of black America when Harlem goes from being other immigrant groups which include Jewish Italian and German shoe start to be black in 1904 by 1920 its majority black and you’re going to see explosion arts you’re gonna see great jazz you’re going to see um politics you are going to see everything you can think of that makes up culture in black America right here in Harlem we started an Astor row which refers to the semi-attached houses on the south side of the street these were among the first speculative town houses built in Harlem and their design is very unusual the houses are set back from the street and all half front yards and Oddity and man and the reason it’s called that is the Astor family who actually owned Times Square when it was farmland they do the okay I’ll job on that investment over time they built these as summer homes for wealthy people Harlem back then is considered the suburbs in mozz well been considered Connecticut because it was very far away from the rest of the main city at that time and sold wealthy homes with summer people to enjoy themselves and over time other groups got their hands on it as time goes on Philip Paton also known as the father of Harlem also lived right down the street we had a financial crisis in 1904 because of that landlords were losing money even on low income places blacks were looking for a new area to move to and Philip bought leases on low-income areas in Harlem at the time um segregation is already a part of the United States that’s Plessy vs. Ferguson it’s already been designed but because um landlords needed people to move in Philip what the leases hit let blacks move in I can guarantee you you’ll get new renters well that’s great news two landlords and so they started letting Black’s come into low-income neighborhoods and in what was a trickle becomes a shrink and now within fifteen years time Harlem will switch to being majority black and lead to you two what’s known as a Harlem Renaissance soon after blacks began to move into Harlem the community became known as the spiritual home of the black protest movement the NAACP or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People became active in Harlem in 1910 the NAACP chapter and Harlem soon grew to be the largest in the country by the end of World War one Harlem became associated with outspoken advocacy of dignity and a refusal to submit quietly to the practices and laws of the Jim Crow racial segregation and in 1921 the artistic outpouring known as the Harlem Renaissance which extended to poetry novels theater

and the visual arts was born many in the Harlem Renaissance were part of the great migration out of the south to the north and Midwest african-americans sought a better standard of living and relief from the institutionalized racism in the south others were people of African descent from the Caribbean who came to America hoping for a better life among the many migrants was a young ambitious girl named Sylvia you’re at the queen of soul food herself this is Sylvia’s Sylvia comes to New York via South Carolina she was born and raised in South Carolina and she actually used to pick beans and cotton on the family farm she liked that too much and she vowed she leave become a beautician but originally she came here now it was not named Sylvia’s it was named Johnson’s when she came um is the first time she had ever walked into a restaurant in her life that’s how much of a country girl she was but she could make a mean smothered chicken I’m talking about chicken smothered and gravy and a lot of the soul food items that you’re going to see black eye peas collard greens familiar with it great personality people loved her in front of the restaurant – owner was ready to retire then sold it to her but she didn’t have enough money in hand so she has to go back to her mother and put the family farm up as collateral now this is very very scary because if it doesn’t go well you lose everything but actually she gained everything when Sylvia purchased a restaurant it was a small luncheonette which consisted of a counter and a few booths today it has flourished into a family owned enterprise you are talking about a who’s who of local politicians including Reverend Powell many others have eaten here over the years this is where they always were seen when they were working out differences every visiting politician that could be Nelson Mandela that could be President Clinton that could be President Obama because they’ve all eaten in here I’ve stopped here and the big-time musicians from James Brown to Liza Minnelli chew um oh heck Beyonce and jay-z you name it they’ve all in here we couldn’t just leave without sampling Sylvia’s world-famous recipes we went with some good old-fashioned southern side orders collard greens candied yams macaroni and cheese black-eyed peas cornbread and of course some peach cobbler throughout african-american journey music has always played a vital role from the basic tribal chants to field work songs to modern day hip-hop music has been essential in all aspects of communal life music is very important to understanding the condition of African Americans in America music is really the first contribution that was appreciated by White’s the first the first use of the word genius refers to two African American music even in the slavery days when people would be in the field and they would be singing or working much of that music much of that rhythm became part of the American Church experienced the Christian experience and so that by the by the 20th century that music is being used in many forms the Irish the Italians the Jews being most folk music was borrowing some elements of them of African American music in 1959 a man named Barry Gordy founded Motown Records and none other than Detroit Michigan The Supremes The Temptations the Jackson 5 all of these legendary acts were cultivated by Gordy and Motown Records the soundtracks brought a turbulent era of change in American history which is chronicled in the exhibit Motown the truth is a hit at the Schomburg Center for Research and black culture in Harlem while the exhibit looks at the groups that made the music it also looks at the times that coincided with these hits recorded as the civil rights movement was picking up in the 1960 very often when people think of civil rights do not think music but in this case and within this exhibition the Motown exhibition we get to see how Barry Gordy the founder of Motown effectively changed much America and we America thought of itself particularly in music prior to Motown we had a situation where people knew African American music but most often White’s white performers sang black songs but mr. Gordy who came from Detroit Motown had worked in the in the automobile factories and he thought the idea of taking a plain piece of metal and

turning it into somehow a luxury car was the same methodology he would use in presenting music so he took basically kids he took a 16 year old girl named Diana Ross a 12 year old boy named Stevie Wonder a 9 year old boy Michael Jackson and helped them shape their style and their music into fundamental changes in America the 1960s the 60s became a time in America people don’t realize that the extent of bigotry much of it changed in the 1960s by the 1960s the civil rights movement was picking up steam across the country also known as the african-american civil rights movement at school was to end racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans and enforced constitutional voting rights the movement was characterized by major campaigns of civil resistance Harlem was the scene of a series of rent strikes by neighborhood tenants who 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 percent of the city’s landlords charge more for rent than allowed by law other groups were mobilized in Harlem in the night 60s as well fighting for better schools job and housing some were peaceful others advocated violence Reverend dr Martin Luther King jr. was a black leader most respected in Harlem and urged for nonviolent movement at least two dozen other groups of black nationalists operated in New York at the time including Malcolm X the african-american Muslim minister and human rights activist people were beginning to talk is it Brotherhood was possible was a possibility as it happened John F Kennedy had shot Martin Luther King jr. was shot and so was Malcolm X and a performer like Marvin Gaye took the phrase what’s going on because he just couldn’t understand we’re trying to live in peace and brotherhood all of the things were a part of the American dream if these people are being assassinated and killed you can see Oh Cordys music label communicated across a racially divided country and segregated society around the world touching all people regardless of skin color he also released the recorded speeches of dr Martin Luther King jr. as part of his active involvement and a civil rights movement it’s interesting that you find dr. King whose first job was a four year old singing in the churches in Atlanta that he decides to tune effect team with Barry Gordy and he does a recording of the 1963 march on Washington truly I have a dream speech he’s actually recorded earlier through Berry Gordy and Motown so it’s in effect as if dr. King is trying to understand how can he convey a message and for the length of that speech that occurred in 1963 what do people remember I have a dream which was the poetry which was the rhythm which was the whiff of that particular speech he found the importance in the poetry in the musicality and the rhythm of conveying a message I have a three my four little children one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of our skin but by the content of their character I have a dream to be Harlem is also home to the famous Apollo Theater which was built in 1914 as a burlesque theater it became the Apollo in 1934 when it was opened to black patrons previously it had been a whites-only venue performers of soul music on the Apollo stage included Ray Charles Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin I think there is a unified message from the music of the Motown era and it becomes rather infectious because the British groups that come here seem to everyone talks brotherhood it almost started in that field in 1963 in Washington DC with dr King’s I have a dream speech by 1969 where are we won a mountain in New York State called Woodstock and which is open to by Richie Haden and ends with Jimi Hendrix so in a people

it’s I think to use the word hippie is so dismissive of that movement I sort of cringe when I hear Woodstock referred to as hippie because that just means oh everybody was on drugs I was there I was I was not on but was was a sense of camaraderie of people living together even in rain and tough conditions they were sharing they were sharing food they were sharing water but and that was that is the American dream the people share that the only living Brotherhood not just I’m the wealthiest guy and leave me alone don’t come yet your dream then you’ll go that route now right across the street from the Apollo Theater was once the bloom sign department store where dr. Martin Luther King survived an assassination attempt by a young african-american woman named Azula Curie a few buildings down is hotel Teresa now hotel Teresa had guests from all over the world including Fidel Castro who was in New York attending the opening session of the United Nations he met with prominent activists like Malcolm X he also met with Egypt’s Kamal Abdul Nasser by some measures the 1970s were the worst period in Harlem history many of those Harma lights who were able to escape from poverty left the neighborhood in search of safer streets better schools and homes those who remain were the poorest and least skilled with the fewest opportunities for success the worst part of Harlem the bradhurst section was described in the New York Times as follows since 1970 an exodus of residents has left behind the poor the uneducated the unemployed nearly two-thirds of the households have incomes below $10,000 a year in a community with one of the highest crime rates in the city garbage strewn vacant lots and tumbledown tenements many of them banned and sealed contribute to the scene of danger and desolation that pervades much of the area Harlem began to see rapid gentrification in the late 1990s this was driven by changing federal and city policies including fierce crime fighting property value in Central Harlem increased nearly 300% during the 1990s for many old-time residents of a community gentrification is simply the process of new residents moving in to a community and displacing lower-income residents this seems to be the case for parts of Harlem today longtime residents of Harlem are being priced out however it’s still more affordable than the rest of Manhattan Marcus torta Ricci is one of many young professionals who’s recently moved to New York City I’m a photographer and a filmmaker and I moved up here to New York City a couple years ago to pursue that career from from Alabama actually he now lives in Harlem I’m just out of college so this area is actually something that you know I can afford so it was really I had you know really limited options in New York City for places to live Marcus knows that some worried that the resulted increase of non black residents in Harlem threatens the fabric of the neighborhood today Harlem’s population is more white than black the area is really changing a lot which is has been sort of a an area of concern for a lot of local people living here and sort of creates a little bit of conflict every now and then because as as more and more young people moving to the city the people that have been living here gets sort of pushed out because the rents you know the culture shifts the culture changes and the rents they go way up and people that have been living over so long get pushed out so I actually encounter that a little bit more often than you’d think really even comments from people here and there and being from out of the city you know it was not really a thing I really thought about it was just what can I afford and not knowing it was kind of adding to this sort of bigger problem of justification in this area I think I think the nature of the gentrification is kind of deceptive because people that live here they see these sort of new developments popping up on their neighborhood and a neighborhood that’s been neglected for years and years and they think to themselves wow this is really great no Starbucks on the corner this that and the other but you know with often they don’t realize until later is that those things aren’t exactly put there for them you know they’re put there for people to attract outsiders into their into their home which drives them out and I think that you know they feel a little bit betrayed by their by their city leaders in a way by their community leaders even with the influx of young professionals the unemployment rate in Harlem remains high at nineteen percent the current average household income in Harlem is just over forty thousand dollars many residents receive income support from the government and high poverty rates can often lead to high crime according to a survey published in 2013 by Union settlement association residents of East Harlem perceived crime as their biggest single concern it has

increased by 17 percent since 2012 as Harlem continues to battle gentrification unemployment and crime there is also a lot to celebrate from the early days of the Harlem Renaissance stood some core role in the civil rights movement – its ongoing desire for style Flair and pride those who have grown up and lived here have a very difficult task of maintaining restoring and sustaining its heritage however Harlem has always been a place for those who strive from the early days of the immigrants who came here looking for a place to stay – the artists musicians and entrepreneurs thanks so much for staying with us and joining us on inside out remember you can always send me your emails the inside out it’s use de Medeiros com I’m always looking forward to them you can also follow me on Twitter for latest updates and discussions until next week in another show from all of us here in New York City goodbye you