Whites meet Blacks in Harlem

Living as I do in a historic Harlem district I got interested in how the various ethnic groups interact – yes, manage to co-exist – and wrote a series of four stories about the changing character of Harlem for my newspaper last year. Here is the first installment.

Whites meet blacks in Harlem

Once, the neighborhood north of Central Park was a mecca for American blacks. Those days are no more. The better-off and the young – some white, others black – have moved in, new shops and restaurants have followed. The character of the neighborhood has changed radically.

By Martin Burcharth

In a school in Harlem the seven-year old white girl Olivia lovingly stretches her hand out to a black friend, as if it were a natural gesture.

Small children generally do not obsess about the color of others kids’ skin. But Olivia’s far older sister, Josey Wofford-Girand, has become just as used to hanging around black kids as her little sister. When the family vacations in Maine in summer, the first thing Josey notices is ”all those white folks”.

Why are there no black people here; that’s weird, she mumbles to herself.

Until 2010, Josey attended a school in the posh Tribeca district in south-Manhattan: “It was a big change to start going to school in Harlem, but I’ve never felt like an outsider, although some boys pointed fingers at my hair and said I should go home to Texas,” she remembers.

The family moved from Tribeca to Harlem in 2007.

”In the beginning I felt like Snow White. Now, I have also become color blind,” says Sally Wofford-Girand, mother of the two girls.

Clinton Headquarters

African American Harlem has changed character – both ethnically and economically – over the last 10-15 years. Once you had to look far and wide for a white person on Harlem’s main street, 125 street. Today, the area is teeming with well-dressed white and black business people, some young women look as if they were parading on fashionable Madison Avenue.

“Before President Bill Clinton settled in an the office on 125th street in 2001, one could walk around the neighborhood at lunch time and only rarely bump into a white person. That has completely changed,” says historian and filmmaker Christopher Moore, a senior researcher at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

Nowhere are people of different skin color and social class then tapped in the North West Harlem neighborhood of Sugar Hill, where the mixed married couple Jessica Martinez and William Nance bought a four-storey townhouse in 2011 and recently fulfilled their dream to build a patio in their backyard .

Jessica is white, Will is black. Both are graduates of college and employed in well-paying jobs in firms downtown. They live on a famous street, Hamilton Terrace, which is located in a listed historic district.

“The day we moved in, I knew it was the right street. Neighbors came up immediately and welcomed us. It occurs nowhere else in New York, “says Will.

Jessica adds: “Some black residents regret development. It sympathize with us. But it is an illusion to believe that the old Harlem will come back. ”

Return to the inner city

Until the 1990s, Harlem is still considered the black America’s mecca. The neighborhood north of Central Park had from the 1920s onwards been a haven for the country’s black population and a center of African-American art, music, literature and political activism.

The country was listening when Congress politicians from Harlem – as Adam Clayton Powell and Charlie Rangel (on re-election in November at the age of 82) – manifested.

Today, Harlem starting to look like other New York neighborhoods like SoHo, Tribeca, NoHo and the East Village, and on the other side of the East River – Brooklyn and Queens. All have in common that they have been gentrificeret – ie construction companies and nytilflytteres acquisition and renovation of buildings for residential and commercial use.

Like many other New York neighborhoods, Harlem has become a melting pot of diverse ethnic groups – blacks, Latinos, whites and Asians. A cool place where people with real jobs can afford to either buy one over Manhattan relatively inexpensive condominium and enable it or rent space in the newly renovated properties.

A similar demographic shift is taking place in the so-called black ghetto neighborhoods in other American cities. Everywhere in the U.S., it suddenly become attractive to the young and the well-heeled to settle in the inner city rather than the suburbs.


It has become fashionable to stay in the center near the cinemas, cafes, museums, concert halls and restaurants. Economically, it gives indentation sense. After the 2008 financial crisis, it has become more difficult for the average American to qualify for a mortgage. Renting an apartment is easier and relatively cheaper.

However, the downside of gentrification is just as easy to spot as the benefits.

“The less affluent and the colored population is displaced to the peripheral areas of big cities, where rents are lower, and living conditions – unfortunately – is just as bad as they used to be such. Harlem, “said Neil Smith, a professor of anthropology at the City University of New York Graduate Center. On the other hand, there are also older Harlem residents who benefit from the rapidly rising house prices and selling their apartments or architecturally beautiful townhouses for a nice sum of money for new entrants white, black, Latino or Asian pioneers. A well-maintained four-storey townhouse in Hamilton Heights with an area of ​​3-400 square meters sold easily for two million. dollar. Dilapidated buildings in the most expensive neighborhood around 125th street to be renovated from a to z, going for under a million. U.S. dollars and can be reconditioned bring three million. dollars or more.

Back to the South

The Canadian-born entrepreneur Glen Gauthier admits that the indentation of more affluent white, black and Asian families have had the unfortunate følgevirking that parts of Harlem’s indigenous black population is displaced.

“It is clear that the change is someone on. On the other hand, Harlem large, and one can hope that it is possible to find a balance, “says Gauthier, who holds the contracting firm Manhattanville Restoration. The company refurbishes currently five dilapidated buildings in Harlem.

“The renovation of the often dilapidated buildings is an important contribution to preserving Harlem’s architectural features, and it can help to fight crime. To have empty buildings on his street is not good for anyone, and renovation creates new jobs, “he said.

But unfortunately, says Gauthier, there are people in Harlem who “prefer to preserve the abandoned buildings rather than see an indentation of new white residents”.

Parts of Harlem’s black population did not feel displaced. They sell their apartment or house and go back to the place in the South, where they or their family originally came from.

“The lack of demographic data at our disposal, we were able to record a return journey to the South of older and middle-aged blacks from Harlem and the inner areas of large cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest – such as. Chicago, “says Neil Smith.

Historian Chris Moore suggests another motivating factor for emigration from the South – the relationship between whites and blacks has improved significantly in cities like Atlanta, “Until a few decades ago was great cities in the South still segregated. That has changed, which is an incentive for the better-off black middle class in New York and in other north state cities to return home to the South, “he said.

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1 Response to Whites meet Blacks in Harlem

  1. Pingback: Change has come « nuggetsinthehood

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