Harlem’s characteristics are distinctive because of African descendant’s great contributions to New York City. The origins of this unique section of Manhattan are significant because of the neighborhood’s transformation from Dutch to Irish to Jewish to Negro. Black people’s occupancy left a long-lasting effect on Harlem that was directly tied into the idea of the “New Negro” from 1895. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. wrote this in “The Trope of a New Negro and the Reconstruction of the Image of the Black”: “In marked contrast with their enslaved or disenfranchised ancestors, these New Negroes demanded that their rights as citizens be vouchsafed by law. (Gates, 136)” Black people were ready to be treated with the respect they deserved after all their contributions to society. “New Negroes” desired to adjust well into society by educating and refining themselves and using art to create Black excellence.

In the Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro under “The Making of Harlem” reading by James Weldon Johnson, he communicates the importance and origins of Harlem. According to Johnson’s reading, Harlem now stands for the Negro metropolis; Harlem provides hope to Black creators and innovators with major ambitions and talents. There’s a difference between Manhattan and Harlem once a person crosses over 110th Street heading uptown. This neighborhood is a city within New York City; it is located in the heart of Manhattan and, “occupies one of the most beautiful and helpful sections of the city.” (Johnson, 635) Harlem has the city’s nicest apartments, specifically brownstones, and beautiful streets named after influential Black leaders. I once used brownstones throughout Harlem for a visual poem assignment in a video journalism class. These classic buildings add unique character to the neighborhood, along with churches, civic and social centers, theaters and even art shows that are all infused with Harlem’s swagger.

Johnson indicates Harlem’s most unique characteristics: “it contains more Negroes to the square mile than any other spot on earth.” (Johnson, 635) This explains why and how Black people have bestowed the most to Harlem, making it an extremely memorable place. I personally enjoy living in Harlem for the conveniency of getting around, and for the history of Black art, especially the Renaissance era. Learning about its rich history inspires me as a multimedia journalist. I have and will continue to use Harlem as my artistic muse by creating works which positively enhances its legacy. Johnson effectively paints a vivid picture of Harlem in “The Making of Harlem” reading while providing detailed background and history from its businesses to its undeniable energy.

Countee Cullen’s poem, “Harlem Wine,” relates to the intro of Johnson’s “The Making of Harlem” in the first stanza that said, “This is not water running here, these thick rebellious streams/ that hurtle flesh and bone past fear/ Down alleyways of dreams. (Cullen, 660)” The beginning of this poem can be interpreted metaphorically as wine representing Black people, who aren’t “running water” or ordinary. The line, “down alleyways of dreams,” resonates with the hope and dreams of Black people in Harlem.  It can also resonate with literal alleyways that is a part of sections in the neighborhood. This poem is an outstanding example of Black excellence via Black art.  As Johnson expressed in, “The Making of Harlem,” this part of Manhattan is incomparable to any other place; “There is nothing just like it in any other city in the country, for there is no preparation for it. (Johnson, 635)”

Leave a Reply