Are We Forgetting the Old Harlem?: Briefing of Harlem’s History

While my goal is to showcase gentrification of Harlem’s food scene, all aspects of gentrification in Harlem are important. The transformation has been ongoing in recent years, and is visible through the increase of middle class residents, construction of elaborate apartment complexes, and the rise of small businesses that cater to a wealthier clientele. As the “new Harlem” continues to develop, the “old Harlem” is fading away. Preserving the history of this New York City neighborhood is important – which is further explained in the following podcast featuring Arthur Lewin, a professor who specializes in Black and Latino Studies at Baruch College.

Professor Arthur Lewin at Baruch College speaks on his opinions of gentrification in Harlem:


“Harlem is the capital of Black America,” professor Lewin said. In the early 1900s thousands of African Americans migrated to Harlem to flee from the highly racist south of the United States. The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic cultural movement that took place in the 1920s. This movement drew in African American artists from all over country to speak up for the rights of black people. Famous authors, including Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, unleashed works of art that showcased the struggles and inequalities African Americans faced during this period. Activists, including W.E.B du Bois and Marcus Garvey, protested to achieve civil rights during this period as well. Jazz music was also a crucial part of the Harlem Renaissance, and Harlem actually became home to this genre of music during this era. Jazz music was played by a number of famous musicians, including Duke Ellington. When the Great Depression came about in the 1930s, Harlem was tremendously affected, like many other cities in America. People were laid off from their jobs, crime increased and this affected the purpose of the Harlem Renaissance. However, when the Civil Rights Movement took place, Harlem played an important role to many activists who participated in the movement.

Although gentrification is in full effect, and is changing the neighborhood, I believe it is important to know the history of Harlem because it birthed the culture of the neighborhood.