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date: 14 April 2021

Harlem, New Yorklocked

Political and cultural center of black America in the twentieth century, best known as the major site of the literary and artistic renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s.
  • Jim Mendelsohn


As slaves of the Dutch West India Company, Africans built the first wagon road into Harlem in the seventeenth century, and for the next two centuries, African slaves worked the Dutch, and then English, farms in Harlem. In 1790, during an early census, 115 slaves were listed for the Harlem Division, which accounted for about one-third the population of the area.

But the evolution of Harlem into the political and cultural capital of black America is a twentieth-century phenomenon. Once a wealthy suburb of New York City, Harlem real estate soared in value at the turn of the century, only to collapse beneath excessive speculation in 1904 and 1905. Those years coincided with the completion of the Lenox Avenue subway line to lower Manhattan. Philip Payton s Afro American Realty Company leased large numbers of Harlem apartment houses from white owners and rented them to ...

A version of this article originally appeared in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience.

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