Constructing Belonging: Class, Race, and Harlem's Professional Workers

By Sabiyha | Go to book overview
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Preface

DUBBED THE “NEGRO MECCA” AFTER THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, Harlem is a community always in flux. African Americans have come to predominate in Central and West Harlem where a series of upper-Manhattan neighborhoods span an area bounded by 110th Street, south and 155th Street, north. East to west, Harlem is sandwiched between Latino “El Barrio” or East Harlem and the Hudson River. Its evolution into a community that, now, exemplifies things urban, black, American and changing was a process set into motion more than a century ago. Today, Central and West Harlem are home to Asians, Latinos, Euro-Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans. Demographic shifts and diversity are common parts of Harlem’s social history and this includes socioeconomic heterogeneity.

Black urban life has been characterized by the formation of communities where persons from a variety of income levels reside. When not immediate neighbors, the poor and working class could be found living at opposite ends of the block or on adjacent tracts. In Harlem there were a few notable exceptions to this pattern. The Sugar Hill neighborhood in West Harlem sloped between Edgecombe and Amsterdam Avenues (Anderson 1991). This area was previously occupied by upper middle class Jews, Germans, and Irish but almost uniformly associated with the black elite. The Hill had such well-known residents as Ralph Ellison, Duke Ellington, and, in subsequent decades, Walter White and Thurgood Marshall (Anderson 1981). Now viewed as part of the Hamilton Heights neighborhood, this area is no longer the upper class enclave it was prior to the 1940s. However it does have the highest percentage of resident homeowners in Harlem, and some of these are Euro-Americans. During the annual Hamilton Heights house tour, I met black and white property owners. This

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