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Harlem in the 1920s (Summer 2012)
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Harlem in the 1920s (Summer 2012)

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  • 1. Prior to 19200 Post-Civil War: waves of South-to-North immigration 0 especially after Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)0 African Americans were already living in NYC: 0 Mid-1800s: SoHo area 0 Late 1800s: Greenwich Village 0 1890s: West 20s and 30s 0 1900s: West 50s, begin move into Harlem0 Harlem in 1900: 0 Overzealous housing development (for white workers) 0 Subway hasn’t fully arrived, especially on the east side 0 African-American migration begins on the east side, moves west 0 From 1900-1920, the number of blacks living in Harlem doubles
  • 2. Harlem in 1920 Online Resources0 The Harlem Renaissance: An Overview0 Digital Harlem
  • 3. Harlem in 19200 Demographics 0 1920: 152,467 people of African descent living in NYC. 39,233 born in NY State, 30,436 from outside US (primarily Caribbean), and 78,242 from other states (mostly Southern). 0 1920-1925: approx. 50,000 more arrive from the South 0 Quickly overcrowded: up to 3x as many people in the same space when compared to just a few decades prior0 “a race capital”: “Black Mecca”0 A space for… 0 new opportunity and improvement 0 intellectual and aesthetic expansion 0 cultural solidification
  • 4. Segregation in 1920s Harlem0 “Irrational distinctions” in terms of A Negro worker may not be a street or employment: subway conductor because of the possibility0 one-drop rule of public objection to contact but he may be0 “Passing” is a general cultural phenomenon— a ticket chopper. He may not be a money so is the rejection thereof changer in a subway station because0 “color lines within the color line” honesty is required yet he may be entrusted, 0 As whites discriminate against blacks by as a messenger, with thousands of dollars being unable to see them as real (can only daily. He may not sell goods over a counter see stereotypes), the same thing happens between lighter-skinned and darker-skinned but he may deliver the goods after they African Americans have been sold. He may be a porter in0 Women are doubly discriminated against: charge of a sleeping car without a 0 no positive healthy images in popular conductor, but never a conductor; he may culture—not considered society’s ideal of be a policeman but not a fireman; a beauty linotyper, but not a motion picture 0 still seen as sexually indiscriminate (the operator; a glass annealer, but not a glass legacy of slavery) blower; a deck hand, but not a sailor. 0 women of mixed heritage still seen as particularly sexually exotic (legacy of the “tragic mulatto” character of the 1800s)
  • 5. The “city within a city”0 safe haven0 “voluntary segregation”0 Harlem is a modern ghetto. True, that is a contradiction in terms, but prejudice has ringed this group around with invisible lines and bars. Within the bars you will find a small city, self-sufficient, complete in itself a riot of color and personality, a medley of song and tears, a canvas of browns and golds and flaming reds. And yet bound. (Eunice Hunton)
  • 6. African-American Policeman, Harlem Ca. 1915
  • 7. Open-Air Religious Meeting, Harlem Ca. 1915
  • 8. Harlem Streets Ca. 1920
  • 9. African Americans on Race in the 1920s0 Race as a global idea 0 West Indians had historically played a big role in cultural development 0 Cultural divide between Southern migrants and Caribbean immigrants 0 The question of Africa: how to relate to that land and its peoples0 Reestablishing an African-American past 0 Schomburg: “reclaimed background”0 How to fix the social and economic damage of slavery? 0 “Each one teach one” idea (starts during slavery, re: reading) 0 Being a breakthrough person, a “first,” doesn’t guarantee a sustained future for others (will there be a “second”?) 0 Booker T. Washington—industrial education/skills development 0 W.E.B. DuBois—“Talented Tenth”: (essay, 1903) 1 in 10 black men may become leaders. Should have a classical (not industrial) education in order to ensure that they do. 0 Marcus Garvey, “Back to Africa” movement. Reunite all people of African ancestry into one community with one absolute government0 Art, Music, Performance: a means of agitating for equality, progress (ex: Paul Robeson) 0 Bye & Bye (with Lawrence Brown; 1925) 0 Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (1933) 0 On playing Othello (1943)
  • 10. Jazz0 Divisive new sound 0 as culturally disruptive as Modernism was 0 musically fragmented, draws upon primitivism0 Prohibition + segregation results in some very strange combinations: 0 Cotton Club: African-American performers, white patrons 0 Going to jazz clubs in Harlem was the “hip” thing to do—“edgy”0 1st unique American musical sound for export 0 Roots in African-American folk culture, Creole culture of New Orleans, city sounds 0 Risqué, explicitly sexual 0 Rogers: Musically jazz has a great future. It is rapidly being sublimated.
  • 11. Theorizing JazzThe jazz spirit, being Jazz is a good barometer of freedom.primitive, demands more In its beginnings, the United Statesfrankness and sincerity. Just spawned certain ideals of freedomas it already has done in art and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and theand music, so eventually in music is so free that many peoplehuman relations and social say it is the only unhampered,manners, it will no doubt unhindered expression of completehave the effect of putting freedom yet produced in thismore reality in life by taking country.—Ellingtonsome of the needlessartificiality out. —Rogers Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club Orchestra, 1928: “The Mooche”