Monday, September 26, 2011

New York City: Uptown in Harlem

Harlem is an uptown neighborhood in Manhattan, one of New York City's five boroughs. Founded by the Dutch in 1658, it was named Nieuw Haarlem after a city in the Netherlands. Later, the British renamed the neighborhood Harlem. At first the economy was based on farming but once streets and the railroad stretched to the uptown area, the economy shifted and a housing boom ensued. By the early 1900s, Harlem was inhabited by African Americans, Irish, Germans, Hungarians, Russians, English, Italians, and Scandinavians. The population changed to mostly African Americans by 1930. Prior to the Great Depression, Harlem gained a reputation as the dominant economic success for African Americans in all of the United States. 

Our president's father, Barack Obama, Sr., lived in Harlem before and after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983

During the Depression, Harlem, like much of America, suffered through difficult times. By the 1950s and 1960s, leaders like Malcolm X motivated residents to become active in improving their lives. From 1945 - 1971 Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Junior represented Harlem in Congress and was instrumental in the passage of Civil Rights legislation. 

A statue in Harlem of Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Jr

In the 1920s and 1930s a movement called The Harlem Renaissance reflected a new optimism and pride in the African American culture. Spanning all areas of expression including art, music, dance, and literature, the era portrayed the black experience as had never been done prior. Among the artists of the time are several who are still well known today: blues singer Bessie Smith, actor and concert singer Paul Robeson, poet Langston Hughes, and jazz great Duke Ellington.

Langston Hughes' Harlem Home

Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now--
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin'
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair.

Harlem Memorial to Jazz Great Duke Ellington

One of the most famous performance halls in the United States is the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The list of famous entertainers who have performed there is lengthy. Since 1934--long before American Idol or Star Search--Wednesday night has been amateur night. Contestants perform and are either booed or cheered. Those who are cheered can go on to fame and fortune. Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Frankie Lyman, James Brown, the Jackson Five (including a young Michael Jackson), the Isley Brothers, Jackie Wilson, Luther Vandross, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Night, Dionne Warwick and Pearl Bailey have all been amateur night winners.

The Masjid Malcolm Shabazz Mosque honors the work of Malcolm X.

One of the more colorful places to shop in Harlem is this outdoor market. Inside are booths specializing in goods from Africa. Vendors from Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and other African countries sell articles from their native homelands.

Sylvia Wood, known as the Queen of Soul Food, is the founder and owner of one of New York's most famous restaurants. In 1944 Sylvia became a waitress at a Harlem luncheonette. In 1962 she bought the luncheonette and transformed it into an extensive family enterprise that now includes her restaurant, a catering service, a line of food products, a couple of cookbooks, and a real estate firm. Sylvia has won many awards and has been featured on several television shows. The third generation of the Wood family now runs the restaurant.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

I enjoy reading about your travels so much! The photos and your historical tidbits are great. I might just have to try out a meal at Sylvia's the next time we're in The City.