Harlem in Manhattan NY


See Also:

Harlem - Upper Manhattan

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.

Diverse Neighborhood

Harlem has been home to a variety of ethnic groups, black and white, since the turn of the twentieth century. As the ethnic landscape has changed, cultural and religious buildings have been reshaped to serve the evolving populations. Harlem has been called a state of mind, but it is also a real place, remembered in oral histories, described in photographs, and evaluated by scholars. Harlem's new residents are strikingly diverse: straight and gay, black and white, Asian and European. They’re here for the neighborhood’s history and the immaculate houses on Strivers Row—plus fixer-upper brownstones that cost 20 percent of what they would a mile to the south.

Crime in Harlem

Not surprisingly, as a neighborhood with a long history of marginalization and economic deprivation, Harlem has long been associated with crime.

In the 1920s, the Jewish and Italian mafia played a major role in running the whites-only nightclubs in the neighborhood and the speakeasies that catered to a white audience. Mobster Dutch Schultz controlled all liquor production and distribution in Harlem in the 1920s.

Rather than compete with the established mobs, black gangsters concentrated on the "policy racket," also called the Numbers game, or "bolita" in Spanish Harlem. This was gambling scheme similar to a lottery that could be played, illegally, from countless locations around Harlem. According to Francis Ianni, "By 1925 there were thirty black policy banks in Harlem, several of them large enough to collect bets in an area of twenty city blocks and across three or four avenues."

By the early 1950s, the total money at play amounted to billions of dollars, and the police force had been thoroughly corrupted by bribes from numbers bosses. These bosses became financial powerhouses, providing capital for loans for those who could not qualify for them from traditional financial institutions, and investing in legitimate businesses and real estate. Remarkably, one of the powerful early numbers bosses was a woman, Madame Stephanie St. Clair.

The popularity of playing the numbers waned with the introduction of the New York State lottery, which has higher payouts and is legal, but the practice continues on a smaller scale among those who prefer the numbers tradition or who prefer to trust their local numbers bank over the state.

1940 statistics show about 100 murders per year in Harlem, "but rape is very rare." By 1950, essentially all of the whites had left Harlem and by 1960, the black middle class had gone. At the same time, control of organized crime shifted from Jewish and Italian syndicates to local black, Puerto Rican, and Cuban groups that were somewhat less formally organized. At the time of the 1964 riots, the drug addiction rate in Harlem was ten times higher than the New York City average, and twelve times higher than the United States as a whole. Of the 30,000 drug addicts then estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem. Property crime was pervasive, and the murder rate was six times higher than New York's average. Half of the children in Harlem grew up with one parent, or none, and lack of supervision contributed to juvenile delinquency; between 1953 and 1962, the crime rate among young people increased throughout New York City, but was consistently 50% higher in Harlem than in New York City as a whole.

Injecting heroin grew in popularity in Harlem through the 1950s and 1960s, though the use of this drug then leveled off. In the 1980s, use of crack cocaine became widespread, which produced collateral crime as addicts stole to finance their purchasing of additional drugs, and as dealers fought for the right to sell in particular regions, or over deals gone bad.

In 1981, 6,500 robberies were reported in Harlem. The number dropped to 4,800 in 1990, perhaps due to an increase in the number of police assigned to the neighborhood. Over the next ten years, with the end of the "crack wars" and with the initiation of aggressive policing under mayor Rudolph Giuliani, crime in Harlem plummeted. In 2000, 1,700 robberies were reported. There have been similar changes in all categories of crimes tracked by the New York City Police Department. In the 32nd Precinct, for example, in Central Harlem, between 1993 and 2004, the murder rate dropped 68%, the rape rate dropped 70%, the robbery rate dropped 60%, burglary dropped 81%, and the total number of crime complaints dropped 62%.

New Start for Harlem

After years of false starts, Harlem began to see rapid gentrification in the late 1990s. This was driven by changing federal and city policies, including fierce crime-fighting and a concerted effort to develop the retail corridor on 125th Street. Starting in 1994, the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone funneled money into new developments. Finally, wealthier New Yorkers, having gentrified every other part of Manhattan and much of Brooklyn, had nowhere else to go. The number of housing units in Harlem increased 14% between 1990 and 2000[28] and the rate of increase has been much more rapid in recent years. Property values in Central Harlem increased nearly 300% during the 1990s, while the rest of the City saw only a 12% increase. Even empty shells of buildings in the neighborhood were, as of 2007, routinely selling for nearly $1,000,000 each. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has rented office space at 55 West 125th Street since completing his second term in the White House in 2001.

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