A Mecca for African-American culture and life for more than a century, Harlem started out as Nieuw Haarlem, a prosperous Dutch
farming settlement. By the turn of the 20th century, black New Yorkers started moving uptown into Harlem's apartment buildings and town
The neighborhood prospered and by the 1920s, Harlem had become the most famous black community in the United States,
perhaps in the whole world.
The Harlem Renaissance, generally regarded as occuring between 1919 and 1929, was Harlem's golden era,
when local writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and Ralph Ellison achieved literary recognition.
Depression hit hard here, but happily, today the neighborhood is well on the way to new glory days: Young people and families are
moving into the newly restored brownstone and limestone buildings, and the combination of architectural treasures, crackling vitality
(even Bill Clinton chose Harlem for his post-presidential office!), great music and culture, and honest-to-goodness, lip-smacking soul food
make Harlem a must-see destination.
Harlem is safe to explore on your own but there are a number of tour companies that will happily
show you around.
Harlem's main thoroughfare is 125th Street.
The Apollo Theatre, a concert venue for luminaries as well as a rite of passage for rising
musicians, is on 125th Street.
Count Basie, Bessie Smith, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Aretha Franklin have all played
here and past winners of its weekly, wild and crazy amateur night include Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and the Jackson
The high-energy production Harlem Song, which rejoices in the astonishing creativity of Harlem from the 1920s to today, openend here in June
The Studio Museum of Harlem
is one of the community's showplaces, housing a large collection of sculpture, paintings, and photographs
and specializing in African American artists and artists of African descent.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
(part of the
New York Public Library's Division of Negro History) on Lenox Avenue, is an eye-popping literary treasure trove, comprising more than
5,000,000 books, documents, and photographs recording black history and more than 400 Black newspapers and 1,000 periodicals from
around the world.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem
, a world-class dance company, founded by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, is
celebrating over 30 triumphant years.
The Harlem Week/Harlem Jazz & Music Festival
is an annual summer festival with food tasting, art exhibits, concerts, seminars, music,
street entertainment, sporting events, and an auto show.
And don't miss the
The Greater Harlem Historic Bike Tour
in early August.
The Urban World Film Festival
takes place in August every year.
More things to do and see in Harlem
As Langston Hughes put it, "there is so much to see in Harlem," and among other wonderful things to explore here are Hamilton Grange,
the country estate of Alexander Hamilton;Riverbank State Park
, with its wonderful carousel and a spectacular view of the George
the beautiful architecture ofCity College (CUNY)
; the lovely Row houses of Hamilton Heights
(often called Sugar Hill)
that have been home to Count Basie, Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall, and boxing great Sugar Ray Robinson.
And Striver's Row (a
reference to the upward mobility of the doctors, lawyers and other middle-class professionals who purchased homes here) on 138th and
139th Streets, an elegant row of early 20th-century town houses designed by famous period architects such as Sanford White.
Gospel Any day
is a good one to come uptown, but Sundays are, for many, the best time to hear gospel singing at churches like the Gothic-style
Abyssinian Baptist (where the charismatic Adam Clayton Powell once preached), Canaan Baptist, Salem United Methodist, and
Visitors of all races and religions are given a warm welcome (remember to please dress appropriately for church).
The New York Gospel Matinee is also a possibility.