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Harlem

Harlem, residential and business section of upper Manhattan, New York City, bounded roughly by 110th St., the East River and Harlem River, 168th St., Amsterdam Ave., and Morningside Park. The Dutch settlement of Nieuw Haarlem was established by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658. To the W of Harlem, near the present site of Columbia Univ., British and Continental forces fought (Sept. 16, 1776) the Battle of Harlem Heights. Harlem remained rural until the 19th cent. when improved transportation facilities linked it with lower Manhattan. It then became a fashionable residential section of New York City. By the turn of the century Harlem had a large Jewish population; starting around 1910 Harlem became the scene of increasing African-American migration from the South. It soon became the largest and most influential African-American community in the nation, one of the centers of innovation in jazz, and the home of such Harlem Renaissance authors as Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston. In East Harlem, a largely Italian neighborhood—the home of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia—many Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic-Americans settled after World War II. Seventh Ave. at 125th Street is generally considered the heart of Harlem; Lenox Ave., once internationally known for its entertainment spots, is now mainly lined with housing developments. Harlem is the site of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, headed for many years by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and the Apollo theater, noted for performances by African-American musicians and entertainers. An extensive scholarly collection is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (part of the New York Public Library), which is adjacent to the Countee Cullen branch of the Library. Harlem today is a depressed economic area with considerable unemployment; much of its housing is substandard. There has been some gentrification and a return of middle-class blacks to the neighborhood.

See G. Osofsky, Harlem (1966); J. S. Gurock, When Harlem Was Jewish (1979); C. L. Greenberg, Or Does It Explode: Black Harlem in the Thirties (1991).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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