Term Paper: Harlem During 1920-1960

Pages: 25 (8300 words)  ·  Style: Chicago  ·  Bibliography Sources: 14  ·  Topic: Black Studies  ·  Buy This Paper

Harlem During 1920-1960

The United States is considered for centuries now the "land of all opportunities." Throughout time, it has attracted millions of people from around the world in search for a better future and for new ground for personal affirmation. However, behind the glamour and excitement of the "American dream" there lie numerous unsuccessful stories that come to point out the different perspectives of a certain reality.

The struggles that have marked the history of Harlem can be considered relevant examples in this sense. This part of the city of New York has shared the image of a troubled existence, that of the Black Americans that erected it, and of the millions of immigrants who found shelter in the slums and overcrowded streets of Harlem. Its mere existence points out the difficulties of race segregation, of social injustice, of political indifference and atomization. Nonetheless, in order to have an accurate image of the real meaning of what Harlem represents, it is important to take into account its history, from its very creation in the 19th century, through its most significant periods, especially the 1960s, which marked a turning point in the history and evolution of the Black American community, not only in Harlem, but throughout America.

Introduction

The present paper will underline the major issues surrounding the controversial perspectives on Harlem. There are various opinions on the actual role the New York district played in the evolution of the city and of the general mentality related to the African-American community. On the one hand, there are some who had labeled Harlem as being a cancer in the heart of a city and a large-scale laboratory experiment in the race problem. On the other hand however, there are voices who credit Harlem as being the cultural and intellectual capital of the black race, a place used by some of the most colorful and dynamic personalities in the black world as a vantage point, a platform and proving ground for their ideas and ambitions. Both perspectives have their own independent argumentative schemes; however, while the former relies on a rather observatory experience, using the basic images offered by the poor living conditions, the miserable state of houses, the latter takes into account the need and desire of the African-American population to strive for the improvement of their human condition, as well as an affirmation of their political, economic, and cultural identity.

Due to the complexity of the issue at hand, there are different matters which should be tackled in order to have a clear view on the overall assessment of the true identity of Harlem up to the 1960s. In this sense, the paper will try to present the history of Harlem, while pointing out certain specific and worth mentioning aspects. Thus, there are some questions whose answers may shed light on the issue and which will constitute the framework of the paper.

Firstly, there needs to be a presentation of the general views on Harlem: negative and positive impact on the city of New York. Secondly, what were the advancements of Black Americans through their own efforts and their own particular means by excluding all white liberals and promoting Black Nationalism? The advancements must be seen in terms of social, economic, political, and cultural achievements.

Also, attention should be given to why was Harlem the meeting point of all emancipation desires of the Black Americans in the 1920 and 1940. At the same time, who were actually the main figures of the actions that gave Harlem its fame and what was actually the need for such manifestations? Finally, from the perspective of the literature that was born during this time and in reference to this place, what created the need for beautifying the Harlem and all that it represented?

Another important part of the history of Harlem is the period of the Black Rights movement. In this sense, questions arise on the importance of this initiative for America but for Harlem in particular. In this sense, why was there a need for a radical stand for civil rights for the Black population? Were there new voices to speak out for the Black community? Finally, taking into account the desperate desire for a better life, what were the social, cultural, and political achievements of the Black community in this period?

Overall, to fully understand Harlem, one must examine the history of African-American settlement in New York. At the same time, particular attention should be given to the elements which actually make up Harlem and the people it represents.

A cancer in the heart of a city or the cultural and intellectual capital of the black race

The word "Harlem" is practically synonymous with "change." Few, if any, American city underwent as many social and cultural changes as did Harlem from 1920 through 1960. Harlem has been called many things: from the cultural and intellectual capital of the black race; to "a cancer in the heart of a city;" and a large-scale laboratory experiment in the race problem. From this perspective, some of the most colorful and dynamic personalities in the black world have used Harlem as a vantage point, a platform proving ground for their ideas and ambitions. These ideas and ambitions led to the belief that the advancement of black Americans especially, Harlemites, through their efforts and actions excluding all white liberals combined with nationalism encouraged and supported key social, political, and cultural African-American voices of change. Their revolutionary attitudes in turn led to changes that were considered by the white opponents to be uncontrollable and therefore to have a negative impact on the structure and essence of their city.

Due to the considerable differences in style and attitudes, the population of Harlem was often considered to be inferior to the rest of the New Yorkers. This opinion was widely spread and was seen as officially accepted. In this sense Heilbroner admits that We tend to think of Harlem as a kind of city within a city -- a thousand acres of concentrated misery...We would do much better to think of it as an underdeveloped country, transplanted by some cruel joke of geography to the midst of the richest city in the world. And the difference is not merely one of metaphor. What is at stake is the way in which we think about Harlem's plight, the way we analyze the roots of its poverty, the way we can best plan for its rescue.

Therefore, the perspective was one of exclusion, which presented this part of the city as a plight hence a distinct issue to be dealt with. However, in order to actually grasp the meaning of this approach, it is important to point out the main orientation points of its history.

On the other hand, there are opinions which credit Harlem for bringing together people with the same mentalities and desires to change the present and influence the future of the Black American population in New York and therefore dedicated their philosophical thought to the struggle for intellectual and cultural emancipation of the African-Americans. In this sense, W.E.B. Du Bois argued in 1903 for the start of the education of black American men who would eventually end up empowering the entire black race. In his "Talented tenth" he demands that action be taken against the oppression of the black Americans because for three long centuries this people lynched Negroes who dared to be brave, raped black women who dared to be virtuous, crushed dark-hued youth who dared to be ambitious, and encouraged and made to flourish servility and lewdness and apathy. But not even this was able to crush all manhood and chastity and aspiration from black folk. A saving remnant continually survives and persists, continually aspires, continually shows itself in thrift and ability and character. Exceptional it is to be sure, but this is its chiefest promise; it shows the capability of Negro blood

In this respect, the author goes further and underlines the need for education and unity among the black community by pointing out its exceptionality

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races (...)

From this perspective, Harlem was seen by the blacks as a haven for their struggle against the cultural and intellectual atrocities of the white majority in the city.

History of Harlem

Although Harlem is nowadays considered to be a symbol of the African-American presence in New York, it was not always this way. At the end of the 19th century, the area which represents today's Harlem was inhabited by various numbers of ethnic and racial groups, as well as people from different social backgrounds. Therefore, due to the fact that New York had become one… [END OF PREVIEW]

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