The Soul Of Black Folks Still Lives In Harlem. Here are 10 brilliant things to do in Harlem, NY if you love culture and history.
If you’ve never been to Harlem, NY you’re missing something special, especially if you enjoy art, culture and black history. Harlem is a large neighborhood in the Upper Manhattan portion of NYC. There are 3 main districts in Harlem: West Harlem, Central Harlem, and East Harlem better known as Spanish Harlem.
For African Americans Harlem has a legacy unlike any other place. It is the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, the greatest art & cultural revolution in America that was lead by African Americans. Also, since the 1920’s many famous artist, musicians, writers, politicians, businessmen, and entertainers have claimed Harlem as home.
Did you know Paul Robeson, W.E. Dubois, Billie Holiday, Marcus Garvey, Count Basie, Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Harry Belafonte, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and many others lived here?
Did you know there are more parks, squares and streets named after African Americans in Harlem than any other US city? Makes sense to me.
A Brief History:
Harlem was settled in 1626 by Dutch immigrants and the labor of African slaves brought to America. “Haarlem” as it was originally named, became a coveted neighborhood in the 1800s. Harlem was primarily caucasin before the stock market crash that lead to the great depression. By the 1930’s the neighborhood had changed from all white to two-thirds African American. That’s when Harlem became a mecca for black folks, especially black music, literature and arts.
Since the 1990’s Central Harlem has experienced an economic gentrification. Today, Harlem is a bustling commercial and residential district that’s becoming increasingly multi-cultural. As you walk through the streets of Harlem today, you can still see signs and commemorations of African American history everywhere but the landscape of Harlem is changing.
My personal interest and love for Harlem came from studying artist and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and visiting Harlem often when I lived in New York. I couldn’t possibly list all the reasons to visit Harlem but I hope I’ll peak your interest enoough that you’ll want to visit.
Here’s a few of my favorite places to visit or experience in Central Harlem:
1. The Studio Museum in Harlem and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture are great places to begin a visit. Both centers offer changing exhibits and important permanents collection of Art and Cultural relevant to Harlem and African American History.
2. The St. Nicholas Historic District This neighborhood is so tranquil and filled with a mix of traditional New York Brownstones and newer townhomes. It’s a beautiful example of the urban renewal that’s happening in Harlem.
3. Strivers Row This historic street is beautiful yet unassuming given it’s legacy. Stirver’s Row became “the address of ambition” when blacks were allowed to buy homes there in the 1920’s. It attracted black professionals and some of it’s famous residents have included W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson and Eubie Blake. Today, it’s still as elegant as before. The cost for building the neighborhood back in 1891-93 is estimated at $1.5 million dollars in total. Today, that would be over $35 million dollars.
Three architects built the homes that became Striver’s Row inspired by Neo-Italian and Georgian Architectural style.
4. Abyssinian Baptist Church is less than two blocks from Striver’s Row. This glorious and stately church was founded in 1808 by Ethiopians who weren’t allowed to worship freely at church because of segregation. Abyssinian is an active investor of it’s community. The church owns the entire block including a large apartment building that serves as a homeless shelter, and a to be developed building that will hold a family life center. There were lines of tourist waiting around the corner to visit the Sunday church service.
5. Visit the Astor Row neighborhood on West 130th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues. It’s a small, renovated neighborhood where homes have sold in the $2 million range.
6. Walk through a college campus . Both CUNY, City College of NY and Columbia University are in Harlem. CUNY is a fantastic campus with grand buildings and housed on 36 acres in a park. Columbia University is in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Harlem.
7. Watch street basketball at it’s best at Rucker Park. This is the place to gain street credit if you dare. Warning, this isn’t a normal pick up game, they are serious here! Holcombe Rucker, a Harlem teacher founded Rucker Park in 1950 to help poor kids stay off the streets and use basketball to go to college. Some of the NBA players who honed their skills at Rucker Park before they were famous are Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dr. J, Connie Hawkins, Kenny Anderson, and Ron Artest. Note: Rucker Park is not exactly in Central Harlem but I had to include it.
They say “Reputations could be made, but dreams could be destroyed at Rucker Park.”
8. Enjoy a Soul Food meal. There are good options everywhere, sit down or buffet style. Funny, it was the first time my son saw pigs feet.
9. Do A Lttle Shopping there are a lot of stores with unique items. My son couldn’t take his eyes off some of the sneakers at the House of Hoops. While he shopped with my husband, I came outside and snapped a picture of this mural.
10. Take a tour guided by the locals – try Harlem Heritage Tours they’ll make it an unforgetable experience.
If you’re really interested in learning more there are some excellent travel and history books about Harlem. You may want to purchase the book by the NY Landmark Conservatory, Touring Historic Harlem. Also, you can learn more at these online resources: www.welcometoharlem.com , or www.heritagetours.com.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Harlem but more importantly I hope you will visit Harlem.
I can’t wait to go back, there’s so much more to discover!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this encore post from July, 2014