Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Harlem: Return to 1935

Harlem's ethnic makeup in 1935

I've always been fascinated with Harlem. I attended school there, and my first journalistic effort, for a long-dead weekly, was an article on the remaining Italian community in Harlem. So I was fascinated by an article in the New York Times today on how central Harlem is becoming multiethnic.

What I liked about this article is that it acknowledges what people sometimes forget, which is that Harlem has a long tradition of being multiethnic.:

Andrew A. Beveridge, a sociologist at Queens College, said, “Harlem has become as it was in the early 1930s — a predominantly black neighborhood, but with other groups living there as well.”
That's right, and I'm surprised the Times didn't reprint the map it ran back in 1935, showing the ethnic residency patterns in Harlem at the time. As you can see, a good part of central Harlem was non-black, and at the time all of East Harlem was white and Hispanic. My father's family used to live around Lexington Avenue in East Harlem during and after World War I.

People frequently forget how New York's ethnic character has shifted dramatically through the years. Not many people know that Greenwich Village, especially the area around Minetta Lane, used to be the biggest black neighborhood in New York long before Harlem.

© 2010 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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