Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America
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From Henry Hudson's first contact with native Harlemites, through Harlem's years as a colonial outpost on the edge of the known world, Gill traces the neighborhood's story, marshaling a tremendous wealth of detail and a host of fascinating figures from George Washington to Langston Hughes. Harlem was an agricultural center under British rule and the site of a key early battle in the Revolutionary War. Later, wealthy elites including Alexander Hamilton built great estates there for entertainment and respite from the epidemics ravaging downtown. In the nineteenth century, transportation urbanized Harlem and brought waves of immigrants from Germany, Italy, Ireland, and elsewhere. Harlem's mix of cultures, extraordinary wealth and extreme poverty was electrifying and explosive.
Extensively researched, impressively synthesized, eminently readable, and overflowing with captivating characters, Harlem is an ambitious, sweeping history, and an impressive achievement.
Hospital Department, pushing for new school construction, and promoting more black civil service workers, but these were isolated gestures. When nothing more than a simple case of boyhood shoplifting could spark a riot, nothing less than a social restructuring that took into account labor, housing, schools, and health care could prevent one. At least as far as Harlem was concerned, Mussolini could not have picked a worse time than October 1935 to invade and occupy Ethiopia, a country as close to
largest business. While Harlem’s Gang of Four was consolidating its power by advancing a compromise between the Du Boisian agenda of racial uplift and Booker T. Washington’s bootstrap capitalism, a new generation of activists was resurrecting race nationalism for the postcolonial age. The followers of Marcus Garvey were still active as the United African Nationalist Movement, still celebrating Marcus Garvey Day each August with demonstrations featuring signs reading “Are You Working?” and “What
black, Democratic or Republican, naturalized or native-born.” Those views seemed to have less currency as blacks became a significant political, cultural, and economic force. Starting in the mid-1890s white landlords whose appeals to “civic responsibility” went unheard used agreements known as covenants to prohibit white owners or buyers of white-occupied real estate from selling to “any negro, quadroon, or octoroon,” diction that suggests how deeply racial obsessions associated with the South
ran in the North. These agreements, which were legally binding—anyone who broke them could be sued by fellow signatories—resulted in what were known as covenant blocks, which remained white even as blacks moved in and dominated nearby streets. The arrival of the subway and the expiration of many racial housing covenants in 1904 doomed block-by-block resistance to the arrival of African-Americans. In 1905 the New York Herald was alarmed to report that West 133rd to West 135th streets between
trafficked at various times in fur, beer, and flour, as well as holding a variety of official positions from public magistrate to orphan master. He also worked every side of the trade in tobacco—from planter to dealer to inspector—which was by far the business with the biggest potential profits. Isaack de Forest apparently saw less opportunity in northern Manhattan than did the increasing numbers of investors downtown and across the seas, who believed that was where the future lay. Soon after