chapter  2
When ‘Poems Became Placards’
Black Protest in 1930s New York City
WithOliver Ayers
Pages 40

Chapter Two focuses on civil rights protests in New York City during the 1930s, zeroing in on the focal point of black political life in Harlem in northern Manhattan. The chapter considers the legacies of the Harlem Renaissance and traces a series of high profile protests during the Great Depression, including the Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work movement in 1934 and the bus strike coalition in 1941. Those on the radical left assumed a visible role in several protests, but there was an enduringly diverse spectrum of opinion that spanned the black church, the Communist and Socialist Parties, members of the NAACP and nationalist offshoots of the Garvey movement. The ability of a cross section of community support to sustain pressure on officials, whether from management, labour or government, was a defining feature of the most successful protests. Often, when the spotlight faded, however, coordinated campaigns ran aground, and disagreements on lines of personality and politics resurfaced.