Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era

Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era

Shannon King

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9781479811274

Publisher: NYU Press

Abstract

The Harlem of the early twentieth century was more than just the stage upon which black intellectuals, poets and novelists, and painters and jazz musicians created the New Negro Renaissance. It was also a community of working people and black institutions who combated the daily and structural manifestations of racial, class, and gender inequality within Harlem and across the city. New Negro activists, such as Hubert Harrison and Frank Crosswaith, challenged local forms of economic and racial inequality. Insurgent stay-at-home black mothers took negligent landlords to court, complaining to magistrates about the absence of hot water and heat in their apartment buildings. Black men and women, propelling dishes, bricks, and other makeshift weapons from their apartment windows and their rooftops, retaliated against hostile policemen harassing blacks on the streets of Harlem. From the turn of the twentieth century to the Great Depression, black Harlemites mobilized around local issues—such as high rents, jobs, leisure, and police brutality—to make their neighborhood an autonomous black community. This book argues that Harlemites' mobilization for community rights raised the black community's racial consciousness and established Harlem's political culture. By the end of the 1920s, Harlem had experienced a labor strike, a tenant campaign for affordable rents, and its first race riot. These public forms of protest and discontent represented the dress rehearsal for black mass mobilization in the 1930s and 1940s. By studying blacks' investment in community politics, the book makes visible the hidden stirrings of a social movement deeply invested in a Black Harlem.