ORAL HISTORIES SERVED AS THE RICHEST SOURCE OF INFORMATION I collected while engaged in field research in Harlem. Everyone I spoke with had a captivating story and although each person had a unique and, in a few cases, even unusual experience to share, a wide range of individuals touched upon similar themes in conveying their pasts and those of their kin. Familial experiences with migration, poverty, and racism were among the commonalities discussed by the Harlemites I met regardless of gender, class, age, or place of origin.
Equally significant, oral histories reveal the lines along which fragmentation occurs within the African American population in general, and the black PMW in particular. One way to begin to negotiate the boundary between what people do and do not share experientially is to reconstitute their pasts. Delving into the past experiences of kin groups also tells us about the significance of socioeconomic positioning for shaping lives and perceptions. Historical information also better situates us to speculate about the extent to which behaviors, ideas, and experiences are consistent with old patterns or altogether new.
Exploring the circumstances and perspectives that led PMW to call Harlem home was a useful way for me to initiate discussions with project participants. These findings, and the information I gathered from the oral histories, allowed me to delineate conceptual sub-groupings among participants based on specific shared characteristics. These categories are produced by a simultaneously splintering and cross cutting experiential process that readers will have a better sense of as these histories are perused.