Harlem Nightlife in the 1930s
In 1900, when the city extended the subway all the way uptown to Harlem, new housing was built there. For once, though, there wasn’t a big need for housing in Manhattan, and the new buildings stayed empty. Then a black man
approached the building owners with an idea: Why not rent to the black families, who wanted to move from the rundown housing they lived in downtown? It was in this way that Harlem became a largely black neighborhood.
The news soon spread that in Harlem blacks had better opportunities for housing and education. Many blacks came to Harlem from the south of the United States and even from the islands of the Caribbean.
The 1920s were Harlem’s great years, especially in the arts. Top jazz musicians were heard regularly—Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and many others. Authors like Fangs – ton Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston began to write specifically about their experience as blacks.
Hariem had a very active club scene. Whites from downtown came to Harlem and partied until the early hours of the morning. Ironically, some of these clubs, including the famous Cotton Club, didn’t allow blacks as customers. But people who lived in Harlem had parties of their own. At these parties, 50 cents bought lots of food and all-night piano playing. The music was probably better than anywhere else, as famous musicians came and "challenged" each other.
The depression of the 1930s hit Harlem hard. With a bad economy and ongoing discrimination, many blacks were unable to earn a living. The neighborhood became poorer,
The Apollo Theater today
and many middle-class blacks left. Harlem has never really recovered. Yet it has kept its special feel and remains a center for black culture. You can see this if you go on a tour of Harlem.
A tour might take you to churches where you can hear gospel music, to restaurants that serve soul food (food cooked in the way of blacks of the South), and to Harlem nightclubs to hear jazz. A club event you shouldn’t miss is the Apollo Theater’s Talent Night: Here, amateurs take their chances performing before an audience that is known for its enthusiastic applause and its equally enthusiastic boos!
Read the article and discuss the questions.
• Has crime increased in the cities of your country? What do you think should be done to fight crime?
• Some New Yorkers want to stay in New York; others want to leave. What is your opinion? Would you want to live in New York? Why or why not?
You have some friends who are stopping in New York for 24 hours on their way to San Francisco. Since you are more familiar with New York, they ask you what they should do there. Write a one-day itinerary for your friends Trade itineraries with a partner. Take turns roleplaying the person going to New York and the person giving advice. Discuss and explain the itinerary you have prepared.