chapter  7
34 Pages

From Harlem We Charge Up the Racial Mountain

It is easy to speak of the Harlem Renaissance as taking place in a location, Harlem, as if that was its only location. From the very moment in 1904 when the Afro-American Realty Company, led by Philip A. Payton, bought apartments at 13 West 131st Street, Harlem was destined to become identified with upward mobility because it was uptown from lower New York where the black community had been concentrated since colonial times-many successful blacks preferred to move to the larger, more spacious apartments of uptown. Harlem would also become the first cosmopolitan African gathering place in the Americas and its energy was fueled by the combination of the exposure of the World War I veterans to cultures outside the United States, the movement of Africans from Lower Manhattan to better housing conditions in Harlem, and the rise of New York City as a commercial capital of the world.1 Such dynamics produced a draw that was irresistible to any black person who had the ability “to get up and leave” Georgia or Kansas and make it to the most liberal, progressive, creative, artistic, and success-oriented African community in the world. Harlem attracted not just artists and poets, but preachers and gangsters, soldiers and farmers, and blacks from every part of the globe, many coming as sailors on ships that docked in New York harbor. So colorful was the city in the late 1920s and early 1930s that African Americans from other cities, particularly the East Coast cities of Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, found their way to the beautiful, stately streets of Harlem.