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Harlem Black History

Episode Summary

The area in New York City referred to as Harlem has existed under its current name for about 360 years. Usually, with these historical profiles, I try to be as succinct as possible and focus on just the relevant Black History. But, to understand Harlem’s present and put it in context, we need at least an overview of it’s more distant and complete past.


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Show Notes

Harlem 1640-1928

The Colonial Period

Harlem was originally inhabited by the Manhattans and Lenape Native American tribes which had established farmlands in the area and moved throughout the rest of what would become New Amsterdam and later Manhattan. The land consisted of two areas, flat land in the east that could be used for farming and pasture land and the more hilly area in the west. The Dutch arrived in the late 1630s and effectively took control of the area within 20 years, despite initial defenses and expulsion by the Native Americans.

In 1660, the Dutch officially established the town as Nieuw Harlem, taking the name from Haarlem in the Netherlands. For the next 13 years, control over the town shifted between the Dutch and the British. Ownership finally came to rest with the British in 1674 where it remained for approximately 100 years. The end of the American Revolutionary War officially made New York and therefore Harlem a part of the newly established United States of America. (1)


During the war the British had destroyed Harlem and given the distance from lower Manhattan at the time, it was rebuilt more slowly than the rest of Manhattan. The area remained a relatively small farming village inhabited by families with estates and tracts of land. The creation of the New-York and Harlem Rail Road in 1832 connected the rural suburb of Harlem with New York City making it easier for people to travel between the two locations. (2)

As development plans, money, and people began to flow into the community pushes were made to bring its infrastructure up to par with the rest of New York City. Transportation improved on Harlem’s West Side with the extension of elevated train lines. To accommodate the influx of people, real estate developers began building Harlem’s iconic brownstones and row houses in the 1870s followed by apartment buildings in the 1880s and tenements in the 1890s.

Harlem Brownstones
Harlem Brownstones

With the availability of more efficient travel, people began to move to Harlem to take advantage of the relatively inexpensive real estate. Around this time, poor Irish immigrants began moving to the area along with Italians and Germans. Some tracts of land were not yet developed and they took up residence as squatters. Upwardly mobile Jews, Native Americans, and Europeans also moved to the area. While Black people lived in New York, relatively few lived in Harlem at this time. (3)

Overdevelopment and a national economic downturn resulted in real estate volatility. Some of the real estate developments had been built in anticipation of the planned East Side train line causing more people to move to Central and East Harlem. But, when the train line was completed a lot of people moved North as planned but bypassed Harlem for the northern tip of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester.

Becoming the Black Mecca

Facing a deluge of empty and low occupancy tenements north of 135th St, landlords began renting to Black people. Larger numbers of Black people began to move to Central Harlem from other parts of New York City following anti-Black riots. In the early 1900s, Black people began leaving the South en masse in what would come to be known as The Great Migration. Hoping to escape racism and pursue the possibility of better opportunities, many of these people settled in Harlem which came to be viewed as America’s Black Mecca. With a large influx of Black people from the South, Harlem’s Black population grew substantially and began to spread down to 125th Street, east to Lenox Ave, and beyond. (4)

By World War I, most of the land in Harlem had been developed and the area had become predominantly Black. White residents fought against Black people moving into Harlem but couldn’t occupy all of the available housing. As often occurs when Black populations begin to noticeably increase in some neighborhoods, White residents fled. Black people had limited options for moving elsewhere in the city. Hemmed in by Spanish Harlem to the east and the pricey Heights to the west, Central Harlem began to become crowded.

Harlem Renaissance

At the same time that Black people from the South were fleeing to Harlem and creating a Black Mecca, a cultural movement was also taking shape. For many African-Americans leaving the South also meant leaving behind limitations and having greater freedom. Harlem had its fair share of problems and the rest of New York City wasn’t exactly welcoming but it was decidedly ok to be Black in Harlem.

It was still a bit early but the tremors of the later Black Pride Movement were developing. For probably the first time Black people were beginning to question and define for themselves what it meant to be Black. Thought leaders such as W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey pushed Black people to start questioning their place in the world and pushing for their human and civil rights.

Some of these transplants now had more outlets for creative expression while others had more options for consuming creative content. Black artists lived in a community surrounded by people that looked like them and could capture their likenesses. Writers could create stories about people who shared their experiences.

Alain LeRoy Locke was a benefactor of the overall Harlem Renaissance, helping many artists to find their way. Contributors to the period who came to call Harlem home include Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Countee Cullen, Aaron Douglas, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, etc.

Harlem 1929-Present

The Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted all races and socio-economic classes in America. When the market began adjusting, stock prices trended down, investors panicked, and a massive sell-off of stocks occurred. During these economically uncomfortable times, most people and institutions scaled back. Consumers changed their spending patterns and businesses adjusted by laying off staff and reducing production.

Job options for the majority of Black people in the South had been limited to farm work, domestic work, and other low-skill jobs. Black people, many in the rural South, accounted for about 20% of the people who would receive federal aid. Yet, the Social Security Act did not include provisions for farm or domestic workers, leaving them vulnerable in times of need. These circumstances in addition to openly racist and violent hostility towards Black people resulted in many families moving to the North in search of work and better opportunities.

As unemployment rates increased for positions and industries traditionally dominated by White workers they began to demand the low-paying jobs that had traditionally been filled by Black workers. Companies through their own volition and/or outside pressures laid off Black workers or paid them less.

By the time unemployment rates climbed to 30% for White Americans, it had skyrocketed past 50% for Black Americans. This meant that more than half of the Black population could not find jobs. And of those who were able to find employment, many earned meager salaries which kept their families mired in poverty. Such was the case in Harlem (as it was in Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities and communities with sizable Black populations).

Harlem had a history of being neglected by New York City proper due to its relative distance and especially as it became increasingly Black. While created and funded at the federal level, relief programs were mostly managed and implemented by local governments. Black churches and charities initially provided food and other means of aid for the Black community as some soup kitchens and charities would not serve Black people or provided them with less aid than they did White people.


The racist practice of redlining prevented many Black residents from obtaining mortgages to purchase homes or loans for new construction or renovations. Redlining was originally developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) maps which were used by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to determine where mortgages would be insured by the federal government. It was a discriminatory practice of setting investment boundaries around particular neighborhoods based at least in part on the race and/or ethnicity of its inhabitants. Urban minority communities were more likely to be redlined even in comparison to equally poor or poorer White rural communities.

Banks used the HOLC maps to determine which neighborhoods were deemed high risk or “redlined” and were therefore unlikely to have mortgages approved for insurance by the FHA. Thus multiple banks would be working off of the classification of a neighborhood being high risk. Rather than taking into consideration the creditworthiness of the individual requesting the loan, the denial or approval of the loan would be based on the neighborhood’s HOLC classification. Most banks would either not offer financial services or investments in the area while others would but at predatory interest rates.

Historically, a lot of Black people have also been denied loans because they are Black regardless of the neighborhood where they were looking to buy. The combination of redlining and other facets of institutional racism resulted in many Black Harlemites being locked out of homeownership in Harlem. Some property owners also faced difficulties in obtaining financing for maintaining and renovating properties in Harlem. As a result, many homes and buildings fell into disrepair with some outright abandoned by their owners.

By the 1930s the only new construction projects taking place in Harlem were government initiatives. Several housing projects were built which added additional living units but did not help to alleviate the population density issues caused by cramming so many people into a small area.

Post World War II

Though Black people came to demographically dominate Harlem, the community remained economically dominated by Jewish and Italian business owners and landlords. Like some other Northern and West Coast cities, White homeowners attempted to keep Black people out of their neighborhoods by creating racially restrictive covenants that prevented the sale of homes and other properties to Black people. In addition, many White businesses were willing to sell goods and services to Harlem’s Black residents but refused to hire them.

When White residents fled Harlem, much of the housing was eventually allowed to fall into disrepair. The city began to provide comparatively fewer resources for the neighborhood than it did for others. Black Harlemites were charged relatively high rents despite the aging and poorly maintained housing supply. Over time Black residents found themselves unable to buy properties in Harlem but also unable to move to other neighborhoods.

Early Civil Rights activists began to lead protests and boycotts against stores and other establishments that operated in the neighborhood but wouldn’t hire from within the neighborhood. Increasing tensions and frustrations resulted in riots in 1935 and 1943.

In 1941, A. Philip Randolph led a large scale rally at which he threatened a March on Washington if the government did not address employment discrimination and desegregate the military. President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an Executive Order leading to the cancellation of the march. But, many defense contractors continued to not employ Black workers.

During and after World War II, Harlem experienced another influx of Black Southerners in search of better economic and social opportunities. But, the additional increase in residents pushed housing to the brink. Houses were divided up and rented out as rooms while multiple families squeezed into apartments that were originally intended for single households. The 1950s saw the City further crowding low-income families into newly constructed but poorly planned public housing projects. Despite the enactment of fair housing laws, Black people remained crammed into Harlem and other specific neighborhoods around the city.

The 1960s-1990s

Hoping to escape the housing walls of Harlem closing in as more people arrived and economic opportunities flowed out, many of Harlem’s Black middle-income residents moved to other boroughs and the suburbs. This further destabilized the community as a greater percentage of those left behind were struggling financially.

Harlem managed to keep its title as the Black Mecca through the 1960s and early 1970s as R&B, soul, and funk artists paid homage by performing in its famed venues. Malcolm X lived in Harlem as a young man and led its Nation of Islam Mosque after his conversion to Islam. Black civil rights activists from around the country stopped by and sometimes stayed in the neighborhood when visiting New York City. A branch of the Black Panthers was established in the late 60s and several members became quite prominent figures in Black History.

Yet, Harlem’s Black culture and psyche would experience a sharp and steep decline. Beginning in the 1970s the community experienced a drastic increase in drugs, violence, and other indicators of the loss of hope. The owners of some buildings stopped paying their taxes and/or abandoned the properties which the city took over and left vacant. The 1980s crack epidemic further devastated the community and held it captive until the 1990s when things began to turn around.

Modern Harlem

Unfortunately, Harlem’s new economic renaissance was not a result of the Black community’s economic success nor were they the primary profiteers. Rather, pockets of the neighborhood experienced a rebirth when Bill Clinton set-up his post-presidency business office in Harlem. Seeing an opportunity, developers began to purchase and renovate previously abandoned and poorly maintained buildings. Rents and the prices of homes were relatively cheaper than other areas of Manhattan so more people began to move Uptown.

Many Black Harlem politicians did not push for programs to allow more Black Harlem residents to purchase properties during the neighborhood’s decline or its rebirth. Instead, they courted outside real estate developers and smoothed the path for them to begin projects in Harlem. With a wealthier clientele moving in, many long-time Harlem residents who did not own their homes began to find themselves priced out of the neighborhood.

For the greater part of the 1900s, Harlem’s Blackness made it a cultural icon in the world. It’s more easily accessible areas are being at risk of becoming a cookie-cutter cluster of expensive condos, co-ops, restaurants, and retail stores. Yet, the crowded projects are still there as are the economic imbalances that resulted in their creation.

The story of Harlem is still being written. But thus far, its history is a textbook case of the discrimination and subjugation of Black people. And within that stark reality, the ever-present importance of ownership and economic independence also exist.

Harlem Black History Sites

Abyssinian Baptist Church

Abyssinian Baptist Church
Abyssinian Baptist Church

Established in 1808, the Abyssinian Baptist Church was founded by a group of African-American and Ethiopean parishioners. The group had originally been members of the First Baptist Church of New York but struck out on their own after becoming fed up with the church’s segregated seating. The church took its name from Abyssinia, the historic name of Ethiopia and a nod to the Ethiopian members’ heritage.

The Gothic and Tudor Revival style building was completed at its current location on West 138th St between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard and Lenox Avenue in 1923. The congregation had previously worshipped at other locations around the city before eventually settling in Harlem.

Under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell Sr., the congregation grew substantially despite initially worshiping out of a tent. Powell Sr. oversaw the campaign that raised funds to build the current church through the collection of tithes. During this period the church came to be known for supporting and servicing the local community. The Abyssinian Baptist Church purchased a home for the aged, implemented an anti-prostitution campaign, and clothed and fed people during the Great Depression.

When Adam Clayton Powell Jr. assumed leadership he brought the church more firmly into the push for civil rights by organizing campaigns focused on economic and housing issues. In 1989, Abyssinian created a non-profit development arm which has played a huge role in revitalizing Harlem through its development and ownership of $500 million worth of local property.

Hotel Theresa

The Hotel Theresa
The Hotel Theresa

With construction complete, the Hotel Theresa opened for business in 1913. For the next 28 years, the hotel would operate as many of Manhattan’s other hotels, white-only with all-white staff. The building primarily consisted of apartments but also offered standard hotel accommodations.

When we think of segregation, most people think of the South. Yet, while artists could perform at venues throughout New York City, they were not allowed to stay in hotels or eat in the hotel restaurants.

In 1937, the Hotel Theresa was purchased by a Black businessman, Love B. Woods, who had spent several years trying to purchase the building. Despite several hundred thousand people living in Harlem, there was no other commercial hotel in the vicinity. By 1940, guests of all races were allowed to stay at the hotel and the staff and management were predominantly Black.

From 1940 through the 1960s, several Black notables stayed, lived, or rented office space at the Hotel Theresa. In 1960, when Fidel Castro visited New York to address the United Nations he received a relatively cold welcome from Midtown Manhattan. Castro caused quite a stir when he moved his group’s accommodations to the Hotel Theresa. Harlem and the hotel made the international news for warmly welcoming Castro and the dignitaries who ventured uptown to visit him.

It’s believed that the hotel fell into disrepair by the late 1960s. In addition, by that time, the hotel’s Black clientele would have been allowed to stay at hotels elsewhere in the city. The Hotel Theresa was fully converted to an office building in the 1970s and is now a landmark.

Mother AME Zion Church

Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church
Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church

Founded in 1796, Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church is the oldest African American church in New York. The original Zion Church congregation was formed by a group of Black members who left the John Street Methodist Church. The John Street Church was abolitionist but practiced segregation like many other predominantly White churches at the time.

Zion Church formed the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Conference denomination after parting ways with the White Methodist Episcopal Church. As the founder of the AME Conference, Zion Church came to be referred to as “Mother AME” or “Mother Zion” and officially changed its name to Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1948.

Mother AME played an active role in the Underground Railroad, helping Frederick Douglass and others escape from slavery. Sojourner Truth was a member of the church and spoke from the pulpit about the evils of slavery. Mother AME was referred to by some as “Freedom Church” given its advocacy for the abolishment of slavery. Over the years, Mother Zion has continued to be socially active and serves as a spiritual and cultural center in Harlem.

St. Nicholas Historic District (Strivers Row)

Built on W138th and W139th Streets between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevards the brick facade row homes were built with White upper-crust Manhattan residents in mind. David H. King Jr. speculated on building the homes and lost them to foreclosure during an economic downturn in the 1890s. With few interested White buyers and refusing to sell to Black buyers, King could not sell the homes.

Equitable Life Assurance Society gained ownership of the development but was also unwilling to sell to Black buyers so the homes remained mostly unoccupied for about 27 years. The homes were finally made available for purchase by Black buyers in 1919 at a price tag of $8,000 each.

Originally named the “King Model Houses” the development came to be known as “Strivers Row”. Middle-class Black professionals were the primary buyers of the homes. The name Strivers Row was intended as an insult towards the upwardly mobile Black families who “strived” to live in the homes. In a bit of irony, the neighborhood attracted many Black professionals and was home to several notable artists during the Harlem Renaissance.

The onslaught of the Great Depression and economic decline resulted in many Black residents leaving the area. The facades and exterior footprints were maintained but interiors of several of the homes were converted into rooming houses. Strivers Row began a slow turnaround with the rehabilitation of the rest of Harlem.

Harlem Hospital Center

Harlem Hospital Center
Harlem Hospital Center

Harlem Hospital Center was founded in 1887 and was originally housed in a Victorian mansion located at E120th St and the East River. At the time, the hospital only had 54 beds as its purpose was to serve as a holding facility for patients that would be transferred to other larger nearby hospitals. Harlem Hospital opened during the period when Harlem was transitioning from a rural to urban community and its population was increasing as people moved further Uptown from New York City (NYC).

Needing additional space to accommodate the growing community the City began purchasing land in 1900 for a larger hospital site. In 1907, Harlem Hospital relocated to its current location on Lenox Avenue between 136th Street and 137th Street. During this time period, African-Americans also began relocating from other parts of NYC and from the South following World War I.

Since its founding, the hospital’s medical staff had been exclusively White. Black Harlem residents were allowed to receive care at Harlem Hospital but were treated poorly by the staff in comparison to other races and ethnic groups. A push began for the hospital to hire Black medical staff to better address the needs of the community. But, in keeping with Harlem’s resistance to the arrival of Black residents, medical staff at the hospital also pushed back against the hiring of Black staff members.

When Harlem Hospital finally hired a group of Black nurses in 1917 many White nurses quit in protest. Two years later the hospital hired it’s the first Black doctor who was also the first Black doctor at any New York City hospital, Dr. Louis T. Wright. As was the case when the first Black nurses were hired, several doctors quit. Dr. Wright was initially hired into the lowest MD position at the hospital and was openly antagonized by his White colleagues.

The hospital continued to expand as Harlem’s population grew and became increasingly Black. In 1923, Harlem Hospital established a Black training school for nurses which was later restructured to accept all qualified candidates. A few additional Black doctors were hired in the early 1920s but not in any meaningful amount until almost the end of the decade.

In 1958, Dr. Aubre Maynard performed a life-saving operation on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after he was attacked by a mentally unstable woman. Over the years, several notable Black medical professionals such as Dr. Patricia E. Bath, Dr. Muriel Petioni, and Goldie Brangman, CRNA have trained and/or practiced at the hospital. Among other specialties, the hospital is now a Level 1 Trauma Center and houses a Burn Unit that specializes in preventing a unique type of scarring that affects the Black community.

Harlem YMCA

Harlem YMCA
Harlem YMCA

Despite “Christian” being included in Young Men’s Christian Association’s (YMCA) name, the YMCA operated with an official segregation policy from it’s founding in 1851 through 1946. Black men and boys were not allowed to use the facilities at White YMCAs but were allowed to establish their own centers. The original Harlem branch of the YMCA was completed in 1919 but was ultimately incapable of accommodating Harlem’s growing Black population.

In 1932, a larger building was constructed across the street from the original site at 180 West 135th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. The new building was designed to house and serve 4,000 men and 1,000 boys. The lower levels housed space and resources for eating, recreation, and socializing. Harlem had few hotels at the time and most hotels throughout the city were Whites Only. Living spaces were located on the upper floors of the Harlem YMCA to provide single and/or traveling Black men and boys with accommodations.

Malcolm Little (later Malcolm X) stayed at the Harlem YMCA when he arrived in New York City. Other notable figures such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Jackie Robinson, Paul Robeson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. either lived or stayed at the Harlem YMCA. The YMCA was desegregated in 1946 but the Harlem “Y” continued to primarily serve Harlem’s Black community. The Harlem YMCA is still in operation and has also been serving girls and women since 1955.

Sylvia’s Restaurant

Sylvia's Restaurant
Sylvia’s Restaurant

Hailing from Hemingway, South Carolina, Sylvia Woods relocated with her husband Herbert to Harlem. Woods spent ten years working as a waitress at Johnson’s Luncheonette and was offered the opportunity to purchase the business when the owner decided to sell. Short on cash, Woods asked her mother, Julia Pressley, to mortgage her farm to assist with the purchase of the business.

In 1962, Sylvia’s Restaurant opened its doors with 6 booths and 15 stools, just enough seating for 35 customers. The restaurant served soul food and customers began flocking to the small luncheonette for its fried chicken, catfish, collard greens, mac and cheese, and a bevy of desserts among other down-home favorites. Sylvia’s became the place for not just locals to grab a meal but also celebrities and politicians visiting the city.

As times changed and neighboring establishments relocated or went out of business, Sylvia’s expanded into adjacent buildings growing to 450 seats. The company is still 100 percent family-owned and is now headed by Woods’ son. In addition to the restaurant, the Sylvia’s brand also includes a catering company, prepared foods, and cookbooks.

The Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater

The Apollo Theater changed its name once and owners multiple times during the first 20 years of its history. Built in 1913, the building was originally named Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater and operated under that name until a 1933 campaign against burlesque resulted in its closure.

As with many clubs and venues at the time, Black people were not allowed to enter or perform at the theater. But, that changed when it re-opened in 1934 as the 125th Street Apollo Theater. The theater’s new owners, Sidney Cohen (the first owner) and Morris Sussman, shifted focus to Harlem’s growing Black population and not only welcomed Black performers but also began hiring Black stagehands.

Most notably, in 1934 the Apollo also launched what would become its iconic “Amateur Night”. Traditionally held on Wednesday nights from 11PM to midnight, amateurs would be allowed to perform for the Apollo’s famously “vocal” audience. Those who failed to please the audience would be booed and sometimes pulled offstage with a hook by a tap dancing Howard “Sandman” Sims.

The Apollo eventually became the place to make your name as a rising Black performer. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Apollo grew in prominence as legendary jazz bands performed on its stage. Young Harlemites such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, and Pearl Bailey won Amateur Night which launched their careers.

As musical tastes shifted in the 1950s and 1960s to R&B and Soul, performers working their way up through the Chitlin’ Circuit dreamed of playing the Apollo. Artists such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight, and the Jackson 5 performed at the Apollo early in their careers and made several return visits.

Unfortunately, the number of shows at the Apollo declined in the 1970s when larger mainstream venues began to accommodate Black performers. The theater struggled through changes in management and several unprofitable years. The Apollo Theater was designated a landmark in 1983, was renovated and reopened in 1985, and was acquired by New York State in 1991. The venue is now managed by a private non-profit which presents concerts as well as a variety of performing arts and community programs.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) opened its doors in July of 1905. It was one of the city’s 65 library branches that were established as a result of a multi-million dollar donation from Andrew Carnegie.

In 1920, when Ernestine Rose became the librarian at the branch, she integrated its staff by adding Catherine Allen Latimer, Roberta Bosley, and Sadie Peterson Delaney to its roster. The NYPL had not employed any Black librarians until 1920 when Latimer was hired. As additional Black librarians were hired by NYPL, many of them were sent to work at the 135th Street branch as it was the only location that employed Black librarians.

During the 1920s, the 135th Street branch came to play an increasingly important role in Harlem’s Black community. The library collaborated with local schools and community organizations to encourage library patrons to read regularly. Harlem’s first Black art exhibit was organized by the branch and its success led to it becoming an annual event. The branch became also a meeting place and resource for artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

Arturo Alfonso Schomburg immigrated to New York City from Puerto Rico and settled in Harlem in 1891. Schomburg had developed a passion for researching Black history as a child after a teacher stated that Black people had no history. He continued his studies through college and maintained it as a side interest while he worked various jobs to provide for his family. Along the way, Schomburg amassed a formidable collection of books, manuscripts, etchings, paintings, and pamphlets relating to Black literature and culture.

Within three years of Rose becoming branch librarian and the Black women joining the branch, the community was clamoring for more books by or about Black people. Open to sharing his collection with the public, Schomburg began negotiating a sale with the library. In 1925, the 135th Street branch successfully completed the purchase of Schomburg’s collection and it became the NYPL’s Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints.

Schomburg continued to add to the collection and served as its curator from 1932 until he passed away in 1938. Two years later The Division of Negro Literature, History, and Prints was renamed the Schomburg Collection of Negro History and Literature in his honor. In the 1970s, the original building at 103 West 135th Street was renovated and a second site was developed on Lenox Avenue between 135th Street and 136th Street. During this period the library was named one of the NYPL’s four research libraries and was listed in the National Registry of Historic Places.

The Schomburg Center and the Schomburg Collection have continued to grow over the years. In addition to its research and library facilities, the Center now houses exhibition galleries, a theater, and an auditorium. The Schomburg Collection has grown to become the leading library for Black studies and owns numerous first edition and rare books as well as photographs and multimedia.


Harlem 1640-1928

  1. D’Orazio, Benard. 2016. “City’s First Railroad, the New-York and Harlem Line, Began Downtown.” City’s First Railroad, the New-York and Harlem Line, Began Downtown | Tribeca Trib Online. May 19, 2016.
  2. Dolkart, Andrew. n.d. “The Architecture and Development of Harlem (Excerpt).” Columbia250. Columbia University. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  3. “Harlem History.” n.d. Harlem World Magazine. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  4. Taylor, Monique M. 2008. “Harlem.” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 2008.

Harlem Renaissance

  1. “Harlem Renaissance.” 2009. A&E Television Networks. October 29, 2009.
  2. Hutchinson, George. 2019. “Harlem Renaissance.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. June 21, 2019.
  3. “List of People from Harlem.” 2019. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. August 9, 2019.–1945).

The Great Depression

  1. “Amistad Digital Resource.” n.d. Amistad Digital Resource: The Great Depression. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  2. “Great Depression History.” 2009. A&E Television Networks. October 29, 2009.
  3. Klein, Christopher. 2018. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” A&E Television Networks. April 18, 2018.
  4. Lynch, Hollis. n.d. “African American Life during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  5. “Race During the Great Depression – American Memory Timeline- Classroom Presentation: Teacher Resources.” n.d. Library of Congress. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  6. Rotondi, Jessica Pearce. 2019. “Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women.” A&E Television Networks. March 11, 2019.


  1. Dolkart, Andrew S., and Gretchen S. Sorin. n.d. “The Architecture and Development of Harlem.” Columbia 250. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  3. Nonko, Emily. 2016. “Redlining: How One Racist, Depression-Era Policy Still Shapes New York Real Estate.” Brick Underground. December 29, 2016.

Post World War II

  1. “1940-1959.” 2017. BlackNYers. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 2017.
  2. “Harlem, New York.” 2019. September 16, 2019.

Modern Harlem

  1. Adams, Michael Henry. 2016. “The End of Black Harlem.” The New York Times. The New York Times. May 27, 2016.
  2. Gørrild, Marie, Sharon Obialo, and Nienke Venema. n.d. “Gentrification and Displacement in Harlem: How the Harlem Community Lost Its Voice En Route to Progress.” Humanity in Action. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  3. Williams, Keith. 2015. “Tracing 350 Years of Harlem’s Ever-Shifting Boundaries.” Curbed NY. Curbed NY. August 20, 2015.

Abyssinian Baptist Church

  1. 2019. 2019.
  2. “History.” n.d. Abyssinian Baptist Church. Accessed October 1, 2019.
  3. Mack, Felicia. 2019. “Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York City, New York (1808- ) • BlackPast.” BlackPast. August 8, 2019.
  4. Williams, Timothy. 2008. “Powerful Harlem Church Is Also a Powerful Harlem Developer.” The New York Times. The New York Times. August 18, 2008.

Hotel Theresa

  1. McCallister, Jared. 2018. “Harlem Gave Warm Welcome to Cuba’s Fidel Castro Staying at Hotel Theresa in 1960 .” New York Daily News. April 8, 2018.
  2. Turkel, Stan. n.d. “Hotel Theresa: the Waldorf of Harlem.” The Most Famous Hotels in the World. Accessed September 12, 2019.

Mother AME Zion Church

  1. Mack, Felicia. 2019. “Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, New York City (1796- ).” BlackPast. January 14, 2019.
  2. “Mother A.M.E. Zion Church.” n.d. Frommer’s. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  3. Smith, Gregory Robeson. n.d. “Search Harlem One Stop.” Harlem One Stop. Harlem One Stop, Inc. Accessed September 12, 2019.

St. Nicholas Historic District (Strivers Row)

  1. Cohen, Marjorie. 2016. “Strivers’ Row Is One of Harlem’s Most Interesting and Historic Enclaves. It’s Pretty, Too.” Brick Underground. March 1, 2016.
  2. “Striver’s Row: A Glimpse into Harlem’s Past and Future.” n.d. Dixon Leasing. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  3. “Strivers Row.” n.d. Harlem World Magazine. Accessed September 12, 2019.
  4. Turner, Kim. 2019. “Strivers’ Row: A Harlem Micro-Hood for the Upper Crust.” February 21, 2019.

Harlem Hospital Center

  1. “Harlem Hospital Center.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, June 15, 2019.
  2. “History.” NYC Health HospitalsHarlem. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  3. “History of Harlem Hospital Center.” History of Harlem Hospital Center, 2004.

Harlem YMCA

  1. “Harlem YMCA.” NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  2. “Harlem YMCA Founded.” African American Registry. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  3. Waldman, Benjamin. “A Forgotten Harlem Renaissance Mural Inside the Harlem YMCA.” Untapped Cities, February 29, 2016.

Sylvia’s Restaurant

  1. “News.” 2017. Sylvia’s Restaurant. August 3, 2017.
  2. “Old Soul: Using Its Storied Past, Sylvia’s Leads Harlem Toward a Vibrant Future.” n.d. Village Voice. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  3. Sandoval, Edgar, Michael J. Feeney, and Helen Kennedy. 2012. “Harlem’s ‘Queen of Soul Food’ Sylvia Woods Dies at 86 .” July 19, 2012.

Apollo Theater

  1. “Apollo History.” n.d. Apollo Theater. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  2. “Apollo Theater.” 2019. September 11, 2019.
  3. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. n.d. “Apollo Theater.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  4. Kaubisch, Barret. 2008. “The Apollo Theatre (1913- ).” BlackPast. January 22, 2008.
  5. Soteriou, Helen. 2014. “Why Is the Harlem Apollo Theater so Important?” BBC News. BBC. June 15, 2014.

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

  1. “About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” n.d. The New York Public Library. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  2. “Arturo Alfonso Schomburg.” 2019. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. September 24, 2019.
  3. “Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” n.d. Slavery and Remembrance. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Accessed September 30, 2019.
  4. “Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” 2019. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. September 29, 2019.

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