NYC history: How long has Harlem been poor? How long predominantly Afr. American?

I’m curious about this because I’ve lately been reading about and listening to Ragtime music. It seems that Scott Joplin, to paraphrase Rudi Blesh in They All Played Ragtime, was living in New York around 1910, and followed the general migration of African Americans uptown. What should I conclude about Joplin’s financial circumstances by the fact that he moved there? I do know that money was a problem for him in those days as he was trying to get his opera Treemonisha produced. But how was Harlem perceived as a place to live in those days?

Adding to my confusion is the cover page to the sheet music for an 1897 rag by Tom Turpin, Harlem Rag. It shows ragged clothing hanging on lines between buildings. The implication of poverty is strong. But what is the real history of Harlem?

Here’s some history of Harlem. It says that from about 1880 to 1910 Harlem was New York’s most fashionable neighborhood. The real estate market collapsed about 1910, and blacks began to move in. Seems like that fits for Joplin being poor at the time.

However, 1897 doesn’t seem to fit the timeline for Harlem being associated with poverty. Was the illustration actually published in 1897? Maybe it’s a later printing, and the illustration was chosen to fit the later perception of Harlem.

In 1897, the United States was slowly emerging from a major depression, second in severity only to the Great Depression. Perhaps this is of some help to you.

Is it being taken over? For instance when I moved into Logan Square in Chicago it was pretty bad. But 8 years later the Yuppies moved in and it is SO MUCH better. (of course there are still bad parts). As I understand it in the early 60s Lincoln Park in Chicago was bad. While Humboldt Park in Chicago was nice. Quite the opposite today.

One item: the OP seems to not have heard of East/“Spanish” Harlem, which was Italian into (I believe) the 1950’s, and has since been Puerto Rican.

Just as poor as regular Harlem, however.

No, no, I’ve heard of Spanish Harlem, but I didn’t think it was really relevant to my question. One other question I do have though, so I don’t have to wait for a map to load, is: Is Harlem really just north of Central Park? The link above suggests that it is. I always imagined it was way up at the north end of Manhattan.

The very tip of the north end of Manhattan is a neighborhood known as Inwood, and just below that is Washington Heights.

Harlem’s boundaries are somewhat argueable (especially depending on how you regard East Harlem), but it does start (roughly) at 110th St. I forget what the northern limit of it is, and there is also a western limit (after which you enter the Upper West Side).

I recall reading from Ralph Ellison (Afro-American author) that Harlem in the 1930’s was a pretty swinging place-lots of nightclubs and jazz joints. That movie (“THE COTTON CLUB” was based upon that period in harlem). At any rate, rents in Harlem were actually above NYC average until the mid-1950’s, when the influx of mostly poor black sharecroppers from the South moved in.
This marked the decline of Harlem, and it got ptretty bad from then on.

Spanish Harlem

  • Artist: Ben E. King
  • peak Billboard position # 10 in 1961
  • also charted in 1966 by King Curtis at # 89
  • also charted in 1971 by Aretha Franklin at # 2
  • Words and Music by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector
    There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
    A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
    It is a special one, it’s never seen the sun
    It only comes out when the moon is on the run
    And all the stars are gleaming
    It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete
    But soft and sweet and dreamin’

There is a rose in Spanish Harlem
A red rose up in Spanish Harlem
With eyes as black as coal that look down in my soul
And starts a fire there and then I lose control
I have to beg your pardon
I’m going to pick that rose and watch her as she grows in my garden

<instrumental interlude>

I’m going to pick that rose and watch her as she grows in my garden

(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)
La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la
(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)
La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la
(There is a rose in Spanish Harlem)

The northern sections of New Jersey on the Hudson River have some very expensive mansions. I remember reading somewhere that the owners didn’t want their “colored” servants living in the same state, but wanted them nearby. The solution was to house them across the Hudson in Harlem. While it’s probably not the whole reason, it’s part of it.

I went on a walking tour of Harlem when I visited New York. There’s some seriously beautiful architecture up there and it doesn’t take an enormous leap of the imagination to see it as a fashionable neighbourhood for the well-heeled in the latter part of the 19th Century.

Isn’t the Cloisters area (Ft. Tryton park) considered Harlem, or at least close?

Indeed. Harlem is sometimes referred to (mostly by real estate agents looking to embellish the truth) as Central Park North.