Harlem and the Black Renaissance.   Posted by Keeper of Harlem.Group: 0
Keeper of Harlem
 GM, 5 posts
Mon 28 Jun 2021
at 17:18
Harlem and the Black Renaissance
[This is freely adapted from the first chapter of Harlem Unbound by Curtis Spivey.]

Few called it a Renaissance at first. If it was called anything at first, it was the New Negro Movement. For many black men and women, the name was nothing more or less than hope.

They fled the terror of Jim Crow and the poverty of the West Indies for a place to set down roots and bloom in peace. They bought their own grocery stores, laundries, cigar shops, newsstands, bookstores, nightclubs, and restaurants. Harlem was, for a time, the blackest place on the planet, and a common saying was, “Negroes wanted to go to Harlem the way the dead wanted to go to Heaven.”

To be black in America during that time was to live with fear as a constant companion, with the idea that behind any polite white face was judgment and the power to wreak ruin upon your livelihood. Fear that meeting a white person with anything less than compliance, assumed inferiority, and the joking and evasiveness of the shuck and jive would bring doom upon their lives. Thus, the Great Migration of blacks from the Deep South and the West Indies.

To be Negro in Harlem in the 1920s, at the height of the Renaissance, was to have dignity. It was a place where you could stand straight and strut like a lion, where you didn’t have to append “sir” to the end of your sentence unless you felt it fine and proper. Where you didn’t have to play the fool to let white folks relax into complacent contempt, where you didn’t have to smile to disarm them. Where you could see a play by Negro playwrights with Negro actors, pick up a volume of Negro poetry speaking loud to Negro yearnings and Negro anger, go to a club and hear the thump and sass and horns of music that was yours. To be Negro in Harlem was to be part of something larger, something
Black. What white society denied them elsewhere, they could find in Harlem. Later on, people would
call it a Renaissance, but when they called anything at all at the time, they called it hope. But before Harlem was a symbol, it was a city.

The island of Manhattan, one of the five boroughs of New York City is bounded by the East, Hudson, and Harlem Rivers. In the early 1920s, New York is a center point of migration, making New York City the world’s most populous city by 1925. An economic boom after the Great War has created more opportunities as the city grows into surrounding farmland, while in the late 1920s, Lower Manhattan begins growing into the sky. The Chrysler and Empire State buildings will be completed in the 1930s.

Harlem falls between 96th and 155th streets to the south and north, and the Harlem River and Hudson River on the east and west. Within Harlem, two grand boulevards run north-south through the neighborhood: Seventh and Lenox Avenues. The neighborhood extends south to Central Park.

Elevated train tracks run above crowded streets, bringing in the service from Lower Manhattan to 129th Street in Harlem, and along Third Avenue from the Bronx to the north across the Harlem River. With increased demand from a booming population of residents, the “Els” make the rattle and grind of trains a common background pulse in the city.

Because there is a pre-existing black population in the neighborhood, Harlem becomes the popular stop for the newly arrived black immigrants. Many new to the city come as part of the first Great Migration of those fleeing Jim Crow, riots and lynchings in the South in search of better opportunities in the wake of the Great War. A secondary stream comes from the Caribbean islands, making Jamaican and Haitian accents common throughout the area.

Between 1900 and 1920, the black population in central Harlem tripled, taking advantage of the economic opportunity created by a demand for workers during the war. The changing demographics are not welcomed by white residents, leading to attempts a few years before the start of the war to resist the influx. Financial, political, and journalistic pressure sought to establish Lenox Avenue as an informal color line. By the 1920s, this effort has failed under pressure from the Afro-American Realty Company and the opportunities presented by a thriving and growing population. By 1930, Harlem is 70 percent black as far south as Central Park.
Keeper of Harlem
 GM, 6 posts
Mon 28 Jun 2021
at 17:19
Harlem Neighborhoods
As a rule of thumb, the higher the street number in Harlem, the higher-class type of establishment or housing you can expect to find. As a result, the northern edges of the neighborhood are also the wealthier areas, where the black elite live. A spectrum from major clubs on the north end on down to speakeasies and greasy meal carts toward the south, where a penny buys you a bowl of soup that might’ve touched meat in a previous incarnation.

Sugar Hill
On Harlem’s northernmost end, in a narrow strip from 145th to 155th Streets and between Amsterdam and Edgecombe Avenues, Sugar Hill is home to the region’s most celebrated African-Americans. By Harlem standards, if you can live in Sugar Hill, you’re living the sweet life.

Sugar Hill sits on an elevated patch of ground, allowing the blocks of row houses and spacious apartments a commanding view of the rest of Harlem to the south and Colonial Park to the east. Apartments and row houses alike were built on speculation before the Great War for middle- and upper middle-class white residents, and feature large windows, decorated flooring, wrought-iron fire escapes, and intricate details. The buildings are set close to the street, giving just enough room for a stoop above a raised basement; they also include conveniences such as elevators and their operators, as well as doormen guarding the door to keep out those who don’t belong.

These massive buildings give physical weight to the wealth of their residents, forming solid blocks of brick and stone divided by shared walls and backed up to access alleys. Central courtyards are common to six- and seven-floor apartment buildings, providing light and air to the interiors of apartments that may take up a full quarter of each floor.

The neighborhood is experiencing the pressure of a changing population in Harlem. The last bastion of majority white residents, Sugar Hill is nevertheless undergoing a slow transition, as black professionals take up residence and white families abandon the area. Lawyers, ministers, doctors, civic leaders, businessmen, successful musicians, and artists make Sugar Hill their home. Those walking these streets may spot famous residents, such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, or W. E. B. Du Bois, stepping into and out of their ornate townhouses.

The Valley
To the south and east of Sugar Hill, between 130th and 140th Streets and particularly east of Seventh Avenue, one enters an area called “the Valley” or the “Harlem Plain.” The Valley swells with life, laughter, and music. The buildings here are smaller and were built on speculation, intended for white middle- and lower-class residents. The apartments here are generally tenement buildings and walk-ups above shopfronts and small businesses.

Unfortunately, with the construction of the El and the Lenox Avenue IRT subway line, the area was overlooked by new residents (who moved further north); thus, there were many empty apartments in the Valley. The worried owners were approached by Philip A. Payton and the Afro-American Realty Company, who proposed moving black families into these apartments in 1904; Payton’s plan was not merely meant to uplift the race, but to line his pockets by charging the black families a higher rent than their white counterparts.

These unoccupied apartments become the heart of migration to Harlem, quickly filling with new residents from the South and the Caribbean. The apartments are small, though city regulations at the time insisted on fire escapes and air shafts to provide light and air to residents, making the newer buildings far more livable than the older tenement housing to the south. Still, in the summer, these residences are sweat-filled hotboxes, driving most occupants to socialize on fire escapes and stoops and the streets for a breath of cooler air.

Despite their relatively new-built stature, the apartments in the Valley are soon overpopulated. The residents often sublease their spaces illegally to family and friends in order to make rent. The financial uncertainty makes for a transient population unable to put down reliable roots. Taking on additional lodgers is another common way to make rent, but this practice increases the issues of overpopulation in an already dense part of Harlem. As a result, illnesses (such as the influenza) can spread quickly through the Valley. Many families are a single injury or major illness away from being unable to make rent and, consequently, children are often called to work from a young age in order to make ends meet.

Since child labor is legal, and parents are otherwise faced with homelessness, many children quickly find work in the various garment factories and sweatshops of New York. In many cases, families only manage to make it to the end of the month with all members contributing fully. Another solution to combat mercilessly high costs is a “rent party.” A large party—with a cover charge of a quarter or half dollar—is held by the tenant, who profits from the cover in order to make the week’s rent. These parties typically feature food, drink, and live music for attendees. Parties are advertised by word of mouth or by passing out flyers. While the landlords rarely care where their tenants get their money, rent parties can get loud. Parties that are too free with the alcohol can also attract police attention, resulting in costly “fees” (bribes), the risk of arrest, or worse.

Women set up hair-dressing and beauty businesses in their living rooms, and conversation floats out to the street below. Children shoot marbles and run numbers, and the occasional elderly veteran of the Civil War may be found telling war stories. Look here along the main streets (and on 135th) for
the kind of business that keeps a neighborhood going, not just fancy hot spots. Instead, here are cafés where one can get a solid meal with recognizable meat for a reasonable price, as well as find a cramped tailor’s shop, a boxing studio, a series of churches, and the YMCA.

Strivers’ Row is a series of row houses on 138th and 139th Streets known to be some of the finest homes and apartments in New York; they were intended for upper-middle-class whites but sit empty until 1920 when the owners finally agreed to sell to blacks. The houses quickly attract up-and-coming professionals, the “strivers” the area becomes known for.

The Golden Edge, 110th Street
The southernmost “Golden Edge” (along 110th Street) gains its desirability from its position facing Central Park. Here, members of the African-American professional class live in neat rowhomes, seemingly with their backs to the neighborhood; however, the neighborhood opens its arms to them, providing services their money might not be able to buy in the same establishments as their white peers.

The residents of the Golden Edge are doctors, lawyers, and successful show-biz sorts. The residents of the richly appointed apartments are a healthy mix of black newcomers and Eastern-European Jewish residents. It is these families, then, whom one encounters making the long streetcar or El ride north to 135th Street.
Keeper of Harlem
 GM, 7 posts
Mon 28 Jun 2021
at 17:20
Harlem Personalities
[These are just some of the many notables that made up the Harlem Renaissance.]
William Edward Burghardt “W. E. B.” Du Bois
Now in his fifties, Du Bois co-founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1910 and moved to Harlem to take a position as the organization’s Director of Publicity and Research. He also founded the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis, to discuss “the causes and impact of racism.” The magazine featured literary works as well and published many authors promoting the sentiment of black excellence.
His support of socialist beliefs was based on a pragmatic understanding of society: He believed the fight for full civil rights and increased representation would be led and won by a black intellectual elite, a group he referred to as the Talented Tenth, and that education was key to developing these potential leaders.
The NAACP provided financial support for legal efforts to overturn Jim Crow statutes that legalized segregation and expand the federal courts’ oversight of state criminal justice systems. The organization raised awareness of black needs and circumstances through The Crisis and documented cases of lynching and racial violence. As editor of The Crisis during the Great War, Du Bois influenced thousands of blacks to look past their harsh treatment and aid the war effort.

Marcus Garvey
Growing up up in Jamaica under British rule, where fewer than 20,000 Whites ruled over a population of nearly 800,000 Black and mixed race people, this domination of color and power led Garvey to found the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Jamaica in 1914 before he was 30. He
toured the U.S. in 1916, lecturing and fundraising, outspoken about the lack of proper black leadership in America and took it upon himself to improve the situation, moving the UNIA’s base
from Jamaica to Harlem. By 1919, the UNIA was 4 million members strong throughout the world, with branches in the U.S., South America, Central America, and the West Indies.
In the same year, Garvey’s most ambitious business venture, the Black Star Shipping Line, is started to ship goods and provide easy and low-cost passage for Marcus Garvey’s “Back-to-Africa” movement.
Garvey took a hard line against the Communist Party, believing communism to be more beneficial for whites while blocking the successes of blacks entirely. In his view, the Communist Party was full of white men who wanted to manipulate black opinion to their own benefit and control. He shared similar views on socialists as well, believing that separation was the only choice that would secure a future for black people.
He also founded the Negro Factories Corps, which produces commodities and provides jobs for thousands of blacks, as well as launching the most successful weekly newspaper of his entire publishing career, Negro World, which runs until 1933. Negro World serves as the voice for the UNIA and publishes poetry and articles of international interest to black readers.
Garvey was a charismatic leader who appealed to many of the West Indies immigrants in Harlem, as well as black veterans of the Great War. He believed in and pushed for the development of Liberia, which had been founded in Africa in the 19th century by the American Colonization Society as a colony for free blacks from the United States. Garvey’s plan was to build colleges and an industrial base in the region but a backlash from European interests ended these plans and the work was abandoned in the mid-1920s.
What started as a philosophical disagreement regarding the tactics employed by the NAACP and the UNIA quickly became a personal division between W. E. B. Du Bois and Garvey. The two men exchange pointed and vicious attacks in public, both verbal and written, and disliked one another
intensely. Garvey viewed Du Bois as a collaborator in the oppression of blacks, while Du Bois saw Garvey’s separatism as a concession to white supremacy, a view he felt was reinforced by the Ku Klux Klan’s open support of Garvey’s Back-to-Africa movement. Tensions escalated when Garvey
accused Du Bois of paying to have the Black Star Line sabotaged, leading to many black leaders asking for Garvey to be investigated for fraudulent business transactions. The resultant investigation resulted in Garvey’s arrest and conviction, with Garvey acting as his own defense in court.
After his conviction, Garvey accused Jewish interests of sabotaging his case. Following a five-year prison term, he was deported to Jamaica in 1927.
While Garvey was in prison, his wife Amy took over the day-to-day running of the UNIA, something she was well prepared to do as she was already involved in speechwriting and planning for the group.

Thomas T. Fortune
Born into slavery in Florida, Fortune experienced the racial violence of the Ku Klux Klan under the guise of politics. He would become a crusading writer and editor, moving to New York in 1881 to create a new publication, The New York Globe; which would become one of the most influential black
newspapers in the U.S. For two decades, Fortune rallied his paper and investigative skills, uncompromising in a quest to uncover injustices toward African-Americans, with a strong eye towards the Southern States’ treatment of blacks. In 1887, Fortune organized the National Afro-American
League to provide a defense to the black community against lynching, riots, and white terrorism.
Illness and a rift with Booker T. Washington sidelined Fortune’s career in 1907 but in 1923, Marcus Garvey made 67-year-old Fortune the editor of Negro World.

Ruth Logan Roberts
Daughter of suffragist Adella Hunt Logan, Roberts was born in 1891, graduating from the Sargent School of Physical Education in 1911. Her field of study was physical therapy, and she worked at the Tuskegee Institute, where she began her suffrage work in 1913.
With her husband, Eugene Percy Roberts, Roberts moved to New York in 1917, where she served on multiple boards as director of the national and local YMCA. She served on the New York State Board of Social Welfare and hosted regular salons in her home at 130 West 130th Street in Harlem. Such salons hosted many powerful players in the Renaissance, ranging from those in politics to artists and
other movers and shakers.

A’Lelia Walker a.k.a. Lelia McWilliams
The only child of the self-made millionaire Madam C. J. Walker, at 25 A’Lelia Walker aided her mother in founding the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in 1906, opening and running the New York branch. Following her mother’s death in 1919, A’Lelia became the president of the company but soon began to lose interest in running the business. Instead, she immersed herself in Harlem’s social life, nightlife, and the budding Renaissance movement.
A’Lelia Walker lived in Golden Edge, overlooking Central Park, near Lenox Avenue. Her position of wealth as a patron of the arts placed her in a position to play hostess to many of the best and brightest of Harlem. Exposure to classical music in her youth led her to seek out jazz and
experimental musicians to play at her elegant parties. In the late 1920s, she converts a floor of her townhouse into the “Dark Tower”—named after Countee Cullen’s magazine column—a permanent salon where visitors can freely share thoughts, creativity, and forbidden interests in privacy. While
those familiar with her mother’s charity work may have looked askance at her daughter’s “frivolous” use of money for such social gatherings, without the patronage provided by the Dark Tower, many writers and musicians would not have had opportunities to connect and be heard.
Walker’s salon was integrated, though as hostess she was aware of the racial dynamics at play. She was known to play with those lines—on one occasion, serving white guests bathtub gin and chitterlings, while her black guests enjoyed champagne and caviar. Similarly, she was known to be accepting of gay and lesbian performances and guests, providing a safe place fostering personal and artistic relationships—an attitude that contributed to her scandalous reputation among Harlem’s more conservative elite.
As a result, the Dark Tower was more than a nightclub: visitors came and went at all times of day, by invitation of Mrs. Walker. At any one time, one could find famous writers in attendance including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson among others.

Noble Sissle
Originally from Indiana, Sissle joins the 369th Infantry Regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters—in 1918 at age 31 and served under bandmaster James Europe in the regimental band. Leaving the army as a Second Lieutenant after the Great War, he joined Europe’s civilian band that featured many of the members of the 369th band and performed Vaudevillian music with Eubie Blake as the Dixie Duo. In May of 1919, Noble found himself leading Europe’s band after a disgruntled band member murdered the original bandleader. In the 1920s, Sissle and Blake together run Europe’s band, while working on a musical they hope to produce one day, the ground breaking Shuffle Along (1921), the first musical composed by blacks, featuring an all-black cast and direction.

Willie “The Lion” Smith
By the age of 12, native New Yorker Willie Smith was already playing ragtime piano saloons,
dance halls, and anywhere else he could. Not only skilled at the piano, he also began dancing while playing to gain extra tips. By age 14, he was known for “stride piano,” a rhythmic piano technique using the left hand, giving rise to musical battles between two pianists going head to head, with one of their jobs on the line. If the challenger beat the style of the house pianist, the house pianist got cut
and the new player had the gig until bested.
At the age of 19, Smith enlisted in the armed forces in 1917 and went to fight on the front lines in France. Fearless in battle, he earned his nickname, “Lion.” With the close of the Great War, the Lion returned to the U.S. One of the greatest piano players of all time, in the 1920s he could be found bouncing around Harlem looking for gigs.

Paul Robeson
Paul Robeson is the epitome of a Renaissance Man; athlete, singer, actor, and civil rights activist. By age 17, Robeson had earned a scholarship to Rutgers University, becoming the third African-American to attend. He excelled academically, became known for his debating skills, and won more than 15 letters in four different sports. He capped these achievements off by joining Phi Beta
Kappa and becoming class valedictorian in 1920.
Robeson played pro football, graduating from Columbia Law School in 1923. Despite many years of study, his practice of law only lasted a few months, his career crushed by the unbridled racism at his firm. His wife Eslanda, whom he married in college, supported the family. The pair frequented events at the Schomburg Center, spurring Robeson to begin his transition to the stage. In 1925, Robeson tackled The Emperor Jones and stared in Oscar Micheaux’s film Body and Soul, skyrocketing him
forward in a successful career of singing and acting.

Josephine Baker (1906–1975),
Performer, Spy, and Activist
One of the headline performers at the Plantation Club and called the highest-paid chorus girl in vaudeville, Josephine Baker rose to stardom in Harlem. With a talent for introducing comedy into her dance routines, her performances on Broadway gave her opportunities that few dancers before her had known. Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences. Her success in Harlem launched an international career, seeing her later move to Paris.

Nora “The Mamma Who Can’t Behave” Holt
Born Lena Douglas, Nora Holt became the first African-American woman with a master’s degree in the U.S. Her recognition from the Chicago Musical College was one of many successes, which included working as a music critic for numerous black publications, primarily The Chicago Defender.
Thereafter, she began publishing her own magazine, Music and Poetry, from her foundation, the National Association of Negro Musicians. During her fourth marriage to an elderly and wealthy businessman, she changed her first name to Nora and took his last name. When George Holt passed, Nora inherited a fortune in Liberty Life Insurance Company stock.
Holt’s personal life was notorious. She had numerous lovers, both single and married. She frequented the Harlem nightclub scene and could be found working or relaxing about town, usually surrounded by her entourage.

Benjamin Rucker a.k.a. Black Herman
Rucker was a stage magician and illusionist, and one of the best. His illusions included the Asrah Levitation, rabbits from hats, and a buried alive act that involved his apparent interment for three
days before his “revival” for the rest of his show. His stage banter included a strong separatist and political message, influenced by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey. His performances saw the casting out of demons from a planted collaborator in the audience and “psychic” cold-reading of marks. The advice, oils, amulets, roots, herbs, and other tools used during his show were, of course, offered for sale afterward to his audience.
Offstage, Rucker was a Freemason and an Elk, and was deeply involved in his community, establishing scholarships and performing for free to fundraise for churches. His book, Secrets of Magic, Mystery, and Legerdemain was sold at all of his shows as an autobiography, and also included a guide to simple illusions, astrology advice, and a scattering of hoodoo folk-magic practices.

Samuel J. Battle, First Black NYC Police Officer
White officers’ policing black communities dealt out an often-brutal justice for any crime, real or perceived, and police departments of the era were rife with corruption. The New York Police Department was entirely white until 1911, when Samuel Battle was officially accepted to the force as the city’s first black officer. Battle was a member of the NAACP and enjoyed the full support of
Harlem’s ministers and newspaper editors, who had hopes that an integrated force would temper police violence against blacks in New York City.
As the first black officer, Battle endured the abuse of white citizens and police officers. Treated on the one hand as a threat, and on the other as an amusement, he patiently commanded respect from those around him—though he rarely received it. He was assigned to Harlem as the need for policing increased with the expanding population. He became something of a celebrity, meeting the elite of Harlem and integrating himself into the community.

Mary Edward Chinn, M.D.
The first black woman to graduate from Bellevue Hospital Medical College, Chinn was also the first to intern at Harlem Hospital—she attended ambulance calls during her internship. Her time with the ambulance crews sent her into some of the poorest and most violent areas of Harlem in response to medical emergencies, stabbings, and other injuries. After her internship, she refused practicing privileges, and instead set up a private practice in Sugar Hill to tend to patients, as well as seeing patients at Edgecombe Sanitarium. Without admitting privileges, her patients often had to endure surgery at their homes wherein Chinn had to improvise an operating room. The grinding poverty and
desperate conditions in Harlem led her to carry a gun when answering calls. Eventually, Chinn pursued a master’s degree in public health. While practicing in Harlem, her patients included white folk (from her time at Harlem Hospital), the families of other black doctors, and the wives of a small
population of Mohawk steelworkers.
Keeper of Harlem
 GM, 8 posts
Mon 28 Jun 2021
at 17:21
Harlem Locations
[These are just a few of the establishments on Harlem's streets.]

The grand Hotel Theresa can be found at the corner of 7th Avenue and 125th Street—Seventh Avenue is Harlem’s widest street, a graceful boulevard with a median planted with trees. Thirteen stories tall, Hotel Theresa is mostly an apartment hotel providing long-term lodgings for residents
and comfortable temporary lodgings for celebrities. Because the hotel occasionally hosts noteworthy guests, all of the major newspapers of Harlem—the News, the Age, and the Courier—have a reporter assigned to cover activities there. In addition, the Pittsburgh Courier’s Harlem offices are directly across the street from the hotel. The Amsterdam News offices are at 2271 Seventh Avenue, and the New York Age is at 230 West 135th Street.

While the Theresa caters to the rich and wealthy of Harlem, Hotel Olga (697 Lenox Avenue and 145th Street) is open to all, as the establishment is not segregated and is open for tourists and other travelers, as well as longer-term residents.

At the corner of 5th Avenue and 110th Street (on the far end of the Golden Edge) is the soapbox corner known as Trotsky Square, in front of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association building. This corner is one of the most popular locations for public speech-making and political meetings. Every day passersby can take a moment to listen to Harlem’s political leaders speak on matters of class and race. The location is not a coincidence, many of the Jewish families in the Golden Edge recently immigrated from Eastern Europe and are sympathetic to socialist and communist politics.

Just below Sugar Hill is The Cotton Club, 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue, was the Club Deluxe until 1923, when Irish gangster and bootlegger Owney Madden bought it. He renames the 600-seat establishment the
Cotton Club, turning it into the outlet for Madden’s No. 1 Beer. He bans non-whites from the audience and proceeds to spotlight the most talented African-American performers in the country.
For the performers, the Cotton Club offers a higher paycheck than most establishments, as well as the opportunity to star in live radio shows that might launch their careers. To actually catch up with the talent, you’d do better to find them next door at 646 Lenox, where they let off steam in the basement cabaret after the show.

Prince Hall Masonic Temple is on 155th Street. Built in 1925, it provides meeting locations first for the William McKinley Freemasons Lodge, and then later for other fraternal groups in Harlem, ncluding the Prince Hall Freemasons.

The public Harlem Hospital, including an ambulance station and nurses’ home, occupies the block between 136th and 137th Streets on the east side of Lenox Avenue. Although two-thirds of its patients are African-American, and it has begun hiring African-American doctors and training African-American nurses, the hospital’s leadership and staff remain mostly white.

Because Harlem Hospital refuses to hire black doctors, a group of seven doctors comes together to form their own clinic, becoming Edgecombe Sanitarium, on the corner of 137th Street and Edgecombe Avenue. The sanitarium is a small surgical center that also offers treatment for tuberculosis sufferers, estimated at 3 percent of Harlem’s population, well above the city average.

Wiley Wilson Sanitarium (138th Street and 7th Avenue) offers hospital services to the residents of Strivers’ Row and the Valley. The small hospital includes a surgical center. The founder, Dr. Wiley Wilson, is the ex-husband of cosmetics millionaire A’Lelia Walker.

[Note that neither of these 'sanitariums' are dedicated exclusively to mental health care.]

The White Rose Mission (262 West 136th Street) was co-founded by Maritcha Lyons, a Brooklyn teacher, and Victoria Matthews, an activist and former enslaved person. The Mission offers young, single women with no local contacts a safe place to sleep, simple meals, job placement, and training. There’s a small library and lectures by Hubert Harrison—former Socialist, former head editor of Marcus Garvey’s Negro World, and “dean” of the “Outdoor University”—to provide more educational opportunities for residents and dues-paying members. Mission volunteers meet ships and trains to offer services to newcomers.

At 596 Lenox Avenue, the elegant Savoy Ballroom opens in 1926 under the management of Charles Buchanan, an African-American businessman, and financed by white entrepreneur Jay Faggen and Jewish businessman Moe Gale. The ballroom, which extends the length of an entire city block (between 140th and 141st Streets), appears even bigger thanks to its trick of mirrored walls. At one end of the ballroom, talented young dancers develop new moves, such as the Lindy Hop (formerly the Texas Tommy). At the other, the Savoy Hostesses teach more traditional dancing forms, and partner unaccompanied gentlemen for a mere 25 cents per dance. The ballroom stays open every night of the week, glittering and pulsing with what Langston Hughes called “the Heartbeat of Harlem.” New dances quickly become the craze, and the Charleston becomes wildly popular.

The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a movement for black economic and political power, founded by Marcus Garvey in 1914, has its offices at 54–56 West 135th Street with the offices of the Black Star Press.

St. Philip’s Protestant Episcopal Church (on 134th Street just west of Seventh Avenue) is the wealthiest and largest church in Harlem. This grand edifice was designed by Vertner W. Tandy and George W. Foster, who were among the first registered black architects of New York and New Jersey. The church is a center of both spiritual and social support for the African-American community.
It is far from the only church in Harlem—more than a hundred churches are active, though many of them are small enough to meet in residences and storefronts. Most white churches in Harlem are Catholic, while a smaller number of synagogues cater to the Jewish community.

Across the street from the Abyssinian Baptist Church (on 138th Street) lies the Renaissance Ballroom & Casino. One of the few entirely black-owned and operated social venues in Harlem, this complex includes stores, a theater, a ballroom, and a casino. The ballroom serves two purposes: dancing and basketball; squeaky shoes and ball early in the evening are followed by dancing until late at night.

Numerous young black writers frequent the Hobby Horse bookstore (on 136th Street), drinking coffee, writing, and debating ideas.

At 135th and Lenox stands the modest (1919) building for the Harlem branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association offering community, culture, and edification to “develop healthy body, mind, and spirit" in young men. Unlike unintegrated YMCAs around the city or the nation, the Harlem branch serves as a haven for African-American men, providing athletic equipment, rooms to rent by the night or month, and spaces where men can express themselves and encounter others. Here, a traveler from Vermont, newly arrived to the city and looking to make his future, might sit down to a communal meal next to an elderly man born into slavery in Alabama who has lived here (and in the previous “Colored Men’s Branch”) since it opened. You never know who you’ll meet at the YMCA.

Between 135th and 136th Streets on Lenox Avenue resides the New York Public Library Harlem Branch. The library opened its doors in 1905 with 10,000 books. A white woman, Ernestine Rose, becomes the chief librarian and integrates the formerly all-white staff in 1920. She focuses on integrated reading programs for the community and schools and hosts the library’s first African-American art exhibit, which becomes an annual event. The library branch quickly becomes a focal
point for the budding Harlem Renaissance.

On the western edge of Harlem can be found St. Nicholas Park, extending from 141st Street to 128th Street, with a playground along 129th. It lies on craggy and rough terrain, and the southernmost area of the park is known as the “Point of Rocks,” having served as a military campground for General Washington’s men during the Revolutionary War. The “Point” looms over surrounding buildings in winter when it’s not covered with greenery.

On the other side of St. Nicholas Park is the College of the City of New York, a free public institution of higher education. The college was founded on the principle of educating all who qualified solely on academic merit, admitting students both rich and poor, so long as they were men (women are not admitted until 1930). The college welcomes all; black, Jewish, or Irish, it doesn’t matter.

The Dark Tower (at 108–110 West 136th Street and Lenox Avenue) was built in 1913 for A’Lelia Walker. The Stanford White-designed Neo-Georgian brick and limestone townhouse was her residence until she moved to an apartment on Edgecombe Avenue a few years ago. Remodeled by Vertner Woodson Tandy (one of the first African-American architects), Lelia College of Beauty Culture classes are held in the basement, while the Walker Hair Parlor operates out of the first floor.
The upper levels of the mansion are dedicated to a library, The Dark Tower itself, and living quarters.
The mansion’s name takes inspiration from Countee Cullen’s poem of the same name (published in Opportunity magazine), and the place is dedicated to a creative salon, providing opportunities for writers and musicians to attend readings and performances every evening. Exquisite rosewood furniture fills the salon, as well as a gold-painted grand piano and a sky-blue Victrola, while two poems are mounted on the walls: “From the Dark Tower” by Cullen, and parts of “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes. Membership to The Dark Tower isn’t free—the invitation to join states there is a one-dollar annual fee. The costs associated with a visit vary (15 cents to check a coat and 50 cents for a sandwich, etc) to help defray the cost of staff and refreshments.

A little to the south and west of Sugar Hill, Jungle Alley encompasses numerous joints where you can catch up-and-coming African-American talent, from Smalls Paradise and Connie’s Inn to “Club Hot-Cha” (included on a 1932 map with a mysterious “Ask for Clarence”) and the Lafayette Theatre. More than 125 establishments of various repute fill Jungle Alley with a wide array of entertainment. By day, this is a diverse area, with African-American, Jewish, Latino, and Italian families (and more) going about their business; many who live in the five-story apartment buildings that flank the clubs. Despite the daytime appearance, when walking through the alley at night, there is a far greater chance of running into white folk (from all around town) than in most other parts of Harlem. Such visitors are generally accompanied by the police who come out to make sure the white folks don’t feel threatened. While club curfew is 3:00 a.m., some of the clubs on 133rd have greased the right palms to stay open later, and late-night audiences tend to be local.
Such establishments come and go quickly! Clubs here are subject to the fickle demands of the restaurant and entertainment business, while also dealing with the corruption and bribery rampant during Prohibition. Almost all of the establishments are basement operations tucked into the bottom-most floors of buildings, with a shop above and apartments above that. It makes for a tight environment, and a dangerous one should the police decide to mount a raid. Many of the speaks have tunnels to allow the alcohol and bartender (at least) to slip out the back while the police break their way in through the front door.

At 133rd Street stands Harry Hansberry’s Clam House, a long and narrow nightclub tucked in between other far less notorious clubs. Gladys Bentley headlines, performing in tails and a top hat with a chorus line in drag. Her rich alto and obscene, improvised lyrics lend an energy to an evening’s entertainment that is hard to find anywhere else. While the club has a reputation for gay activity, the patrons still practice discretion—even in the relatively flexible nightclub scene of Harlem, police entrapment can and does occur. A block farther along on 133rd Street, Pod’s and Jerry’s Catagonia Club is always hopping with Willie “The Lion” Smith and “Little Jazzbo” blowing the roof off the joint. A few steps away is the Band Box Club, known for its spontaneous jam sessions at the bar.

The Lafayette Theatre (known to locals as the “House Beautiful”) at 132nd Street and Seventh Avenue became desegregated in 1913, allowing black theatergoers to join the white audience in the orchestra seats, instead of being restricted to the balcony. Here, African-American audiences can attend performances of the black Lafayette Players. The venue specializes in presenting mainstream Broadway shows, primarily by white playwrights, with an emphasis on the equal quality of black acting rather than spotlighting the works of African-American writers. The theater hosts live bands when between plays and musicals, and saw the New York City debut of a 24-year-old Duke Ellington. The theater went through two management changes in the 1920s, leading to more comedy and vaudeville rather than serious drama.

The Frogs Clubhouse (at 111 West 132nd Street) is just a block down from the Golden Edge. The Frogs are a charity organization originally formed to support the efforts of black actors and other performers locked out of white theater networks. Later, the organization expands to include other professionals outside of the theater. The Frogs were led by Bert Williams, a vaudeville comedian popular enough to be considered a superstar. The Frogs continued after he unexpectedly passed due to pneumonia. Every August the club holds a charity event called “The Frolic of the Frogs” featuring comedy routines, dances, and charity raffles—all for a cover of fifty cents at the door.

On Fifth Avenue and 132nd Street, Edmond’s Cellar, owned by Edmond “Mule” Johnson, is a basement cabaret frequently featuring Ethel Waters with a three-piece band. The crowd is composed of drug dealers, prostitutes, cross-dressers, and gamblers. The club is known for its so-called “pansy” entertainment.

The Corner (at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue) is a frequent hangout for musicians—it is literally a quiet corner to discuss, play tunes, and forge professional relationships.

Connie’s Inn (at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue) is owned by bootleggers—the three Immerman brothers—and specializes in African-American performers. Although the audience is segregated, unlike the Cotton Club, Connie’s also opens after hours to African-American audiences from the neighborhood; in the small hours of the morning, performers improvise sets, rising talents showcase their chops, and the people of Harlem enjoy their own music. Connie’s Inn is also a front for a silent partner, Dutch Schultz the Bronx mobster uses the club to sell smuggled alcohol. Directly above Connie’s, The Barbecue boasts the first jukebox in all of Harlem and the best ribs.

Between the Lafayette Theatre and Connie’s Inn, one might pause to touch the Tree of Hope—a large chestnut tree whose roots force up the sidewalk. Out of work or aspiring black performers touch the tree for luck when headed to a gig, kiss it when finding work, or more practically, gather around it to talk about possible gigs and form new acts.

Lottie Joplin, the wife of Scott Joplin (famed composer, pianist, and “King of Ragtime Writers”), runs Joplin Boarding House (at 163 West 131st Street.) Lottie opens the boarding house in 1920 to provide housing for entertainers; some of the current residents include Ferdinand “Jelly Roll”
Morton and Eubie Blake.

The Nest nightclub is at 169 West and 133rd, its main floor is filled with the Barbecue Club, but the basement is a private club with paying members that neatly avoids Prohibition. The owners, Mal Frazier and John Carey, make sure their bribes keep trouble away. The club’s cook is Tillie Fripp, who makes a killer ham and eggs; Tillie later opens her own place, becoming an anchor for the entire
row serving the hungover or soon-to-be-hungover party crowd. The shows at the Nest feature loud and fast dance music and scantily dressed girls, while similar entertainment goes with the illegal drinking and gambling (over pool tables) in the back. Like most pool halls, this one is full of cigarette smoke and hustlers looking to make a quick buck off an easy mark.

At the edge of this neighborhood (on 135th Street near Fifth Avenue) is the Sugar Cane Club, a cabaret venue featuring jazz performances late into the night, well after the curfew, and both white and black patrons. During Prohibition, the club functions as a speakeasy as well as a nightclub. Despite being small, it’s popular enough to attract some of the best musicians and has enough patrons to allow Ed Smalls to open a second club: Smalls’ Paradise. Smalls is one of the few black nightclub owners in Harlem, and he keeps all of his clubs integrated. In addition to the stage performers, Small’s Paradise features dancing waiters and roller-skating waitstaff; there is even a breakfast dance for the late-night crowd willing to stay till the sun comes up.

Barron’s Exclusive Club reigns supreme before Prohibition, introducing black talent to white audiences before the Cotton Club. Barron Wilkins, the owner, is a local politician who finances black
boxers and baseball teams. This private club regularly sees politicians, artists, athletes, and stars.

A sprawling brownstone of 6,008 square feet at 278 West 113th Street is the Houdini House. Houdini can frequently be found in this lavishly furnished home that includes a sunken tub to practice his underwater escapes and a library stocked with thousands of books, which surrounds his office.