HISTORIC HARLEM – THE BLACK MECCA
This past week , I had a chance to travel to New York and explore Historic Harlem. Harlem was once known as the “Black Mecca” in America because of the millions of African Americans that migrated there after the civil war. Harlem was also the place where Malcolm X resided and practiced during the civil rights movement. During my quest I found many historic landmarks and cultural monuments. I had the chance to visit the Audubon Ballroom where Malcolm was assassinated. Check out some cool photos I captured during my visit and read more on Harlem by clicking the link below.
After the Civil War , Liberated African-Americans searched for a safe place to explore their new identities as free men and women. They found it in Harlem.
The end of the American Civil War in 1865 ushered in an era of increased education and employment opportunities for black Americans. This created the first black middle class in America, and its members began expecting the same lifestyle afforded to white Americans.
African-Americans began moving to Harlem en masse; between 1900 and 1920 the number of blacks in the New York City neighborhood doubled. By the time the planned subway system and roadways reached Harlem, many of the country’s best and brightest black advocates, artists, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals had situated themselves in Harlem. They brought with them not only the institutions and businesses necessary to support themselves, but a vast array of talents and ambitions. The area soon became known as “the Black Mecca” and “the capital of black America.”
During the early 1900s, the burgeoning African-American middle class began pushing a new political agenda that advocated racial equality. The epicenter of this movement was in New York, where three of the largest civil rights groups established their headquarters.
Black historian, sociologist, and Harvard scholar, W. E. B. Du Bois was at the forefront of the civil rights movement at this time. In 1905 Du Bois, in collaboration with a group of prominent African-American political activists and white civil rights workers, met in New York to discuss the challenges facing the black community. In 1909, the group founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to promote civil rights and fight African-American disenfranchisement.
Instead of using more direct political means to achieve their goals, African-American civil rights activists employed the artists and writers of their culture to work for the goals of civil rights and equality. Jazz music, African-American fine art, and black literature were all absorbed into mainstream culture, bringing attention to a previously disenfranchised segment of the American population. This blossoming of African-American culture in European-American society, particularly in the worlds of art and music, became known as The Harlem Renaissance.
As the 20s came to a close, so did white America’s infatuation with Harlem- and the artistic and intellectual movements surrounding it. The advent of The Great Depression also crushed the wild enthusiasm of “The Roaring 20s,” bringing an end to the decadence and indulgence that fueled the patronage of Harlem artists and their establishments.
The depression hit the African-American segment of the population hard; layoffs and housing foreclosures shut many blacks out of the American Dream that previously seemed so close at hand. The increased economic tension of the Depression caused black leaders to shift their focus from arts and culture to the financial and social issues of the time.
In addition, the strained relationship between the black community and the white shop-owners in Harlem finally tore the two groups apart in 1935. That alienation was expressed in the Harlem Riot of 1935, the nation’s first modem race riot. The resulting violence finally shattered the notion of Harlem as the “Mecca” for African-Americans, and broke the fleeting truce between white and black America.
While the Renaissance as a historical movement was over, the effects it had on modern society were far from finished. The artistic and political movements of the 20s would live on in American culture in the form of new musical expression, award-winning writing and, most importantly, the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s. These events, and the role Harlem would continue to play after the Renaissance, would change the American cultural landscape forever.