Harlem is a neighborhood in New York City’s Upper Manhattan. It is roughly bounded on the west by Frederick Douglass Boulevard, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Morningside Park; on the north by the Harlem River and 155th Street; on the east by Fifth Avenue; and on the south by Central Park North. The greater Harlem area extends west to the Hudson River, north to 155th Street, east to the East River, and south to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Central Park, and East 96th Street.
It was originally a Dutch village that was formally organized in 1658 and is named after the Dutch city of Haarlem. Harlem’s history has been defined by a series of economic boom-and-bust cycles, each with significant population shifts. In the nineteenth century, Harlem was primarily occupied by Jewish and Italian Americans, but African-American residents began to arrive in large numbers during the Great Migration in the twentieth century. Central and West Harlem were the epicenters of the Harlem Renaissance, a major African American cultural movement, in the 1920s and 1930s. With job losses during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the deindustrialization of New York City following World War II, crime and poverty rates rose dramatically. Crime rates fell significantly in the twenty-first century, and Harlem began to gentrify.
The New York City Subway and local bus routes serve the area. It is home to several public elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as Columbia University and the City College of New York.
Harlem is located in the 13th congressional district of New York. It is also located in the 7th, 8th, and 9th districts of the New York City Council.
Manhattan Community District 10 includes Central Harlem. The New York City Police Department’s 28th and 32nd Precincts patrol it. Manhattan Community Districts 9 and 11, as well as several additional police precincts, are also part of the greater Harlem area. Four New York City Fire Department companies provide fire services.
Before European settlers arrived, the Manhattans, a native tribe, lived in the area that would become Harlem (originally Haarlem), along with other Native Americans, most likely Lenape, on a semi-nomadic basis. The Harlem flatlands were farmed by hundreds of people. A few settlements were established between 1637 and 1639. Under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant, Harlem was formally incorporated in 1660. During the American Revolution, the British burned down Harlem. Harlem grew more slowly than the rest of Manhattan during the late 18th century, so it took a long time to rebuild. Beginning in 1868, Harlem experienced an economic boom following the American Civil War. The neighborhood remained a haven for New Yorkers, but those heading north were increasingly poor, Jewish, or Italian. Harlem’s economic growth was aided by the New York and Harlem Railroad, as well as the Interborough Rapid Transit and elevated railway lines, which connected Harlem to lower and midtown Manhattan.
During this time, the Jewish and Italian populations declined, while the black and Puerto Rican populations increased. The desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South, seek better jobs and education for their children, and escape a culture of lynching violence fueled the early-20th century Great Migration of black people to northern industrial cities; during World War I, expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs, which had become thinly staffed after the draft began to take young men. Central Harlem had a black population of about 10% in 1910. By 1930, it had risen to 70%. Beginning around the end of World War I, Harlem became associated with the New Negro movement, and then with the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic outpouring that included poetry, novels, theater, and the visual arts. There were so many black people that it “threaten[ed] the very existence of some of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama’s leading industries.” Many of them settled in Harlem. Central Harlem was 32.43 percent black by 1920. According to the 1930 census, 70.18 percent of central Harlem’s residents were black, and they lived as far south as Central Park, at 110th Street.
However, by the 1930s, the neighborhood had been severely impacted by job losses as a result of the Great Depression. In the early 1930s, 25% of Harlemites were unemployed, and employment prospects for Harlemites remained bleak for decades. Employment among black New Yorkers has decreased as other ethnic groups have taken over some traditionally black businesses, such as domestic service and some types of manual labor. Major industries abandoned New York City entirely, particularly after 1950. Several riots occurred during this time period, including those in 1935 and 1943.