In comparison with the European urban heritage, which stretches back roughly 5500 years, the American transformation from village to city was achieved in an amazingly short space of time. From the eighteenth century on, Americans experienced the painful yet rewarding metamorphosis of an agrarian nation becoming an urban industrial giant that left few of her political, economic, and social institutions untouched, be they the farm, the factory, or the family. In 1790, for example, only a little over 4 percent of the American population lived in cities; today 70 percent of Americans live in urban areas. Richard Hofstadter summed it up well: “The United States was born in the country and has moved to the city (Handlin 3).”
The rough, harsh and crowded lives of the Harlem slums and discrimination against Negroes are just a few of the many results of the urbanization of America. Negroes moved to the city, away from their farm lives, to work in factories as America industrialized. With all the Negroes and other immigrants coming to Industrialized parts of America Negro communities, such as Harlem, were formed. With the slums came discrimination for the Negro migrants. The white people, who had occupied industrial cities first, saw Negroes as lesser beings. They believed that it was okay for them to be treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. This was the belief that parents of white children wanted them to have. It was documented that children who intermingled with Negroes at some public schools saw them to be okay and decent, but the...
parents of these children discouraged this kind of thinking and told their children that they had had the wrong attitude towards Negroes. As a result of blacks in some public schools, many white children were sent to private schools. This was just the beginning of discrimination towards black people during the Urbanization of America.
The following quotation suggests the whites superiority over the inferior Negroes:
I have no prejudice against the colored people. I have always had colored servants and nurse girls for my children and I like them. I have never known them to be dishonest. My husband employs seven colored men and his experience has been the same as mine. I don’t care to live next door to a colored family or across the street and if they do come to this side of Raymond, I certainly will move out.
The Negroes were further discriminated due to the fact that the white people said that the value of their property would decrease if they had Negro neighbors. Neighbors in a white community would stand together in the sense that they all agreed that they would not sell their homes to a Negro for their own selfish sakes. This is another reason why Harlem slums grew and yet another example of discrimination towards the Negroes.
The creation of a Negro community within one large and solid geographic area was unique in city history. New York had never been what realtors call an “open city”, a city in which Negroes lived wherever they chose, but the former Negro sections were traditionally only a few blocks i
length, often spread across the island and generally interspersed with residences of white working-class families. Harlem, however, was a Negro world unto itself. A scattered handful of “marooned white familiesstubbornly remained” in the Negro section, a Unites States census-taker recorded, but the mid-belly of Harlem was predominantly Negro by 1920 (Frazier 53).
And the ghetto rapidly expanded. Between the First World War and the Great Depression, Harlem underwent radical changes. Practically all the older white residents had moved away; the Russian Jewish and Italian sections of Harlem, founded a short generation earlier, were rapidly being depopulated; and Negro Harlem, within the space of ten years, became the most “incredible slum” in the entire city. In 1920 James Weldon Johnson was able to predict a glowing future for this Negro community: “have you ever stopped to think what the future Harlem will be?” he wrote. “It will be the greatest Negro City in the world. And what fine part of New York City has come into possession of” (Johnson 345)! By the late 1920’s, however, Harlem’s former “high-class” homes offered, in the words of a housing expert, “the best laboratory for slum clearancein the entire city.” “Harlem conditions,” a New York Times reporter concluded, are “simply deplorable”(Nail 134).
The Harlem slum was the product of a few major urban developments. One of the most important was the deluge of Negro migration to New York City then. The Negro press, now largely dependent on the migrant community for support, changed its former critical attitude of migration to one openly advocating urban settlement (Handlin 245). If one is looking for a dramatic turning point in the history of the urbanization of the Negro, a race changing from farm life to city life, it was certainly within the time period of the 1910-1920. Between this time period the Negro population of the city increased 66 percent (91,709-152,467); from 1920 to 1930, it expanded 115 percent (152,467-327,706). In the latter year less than 25 percent of New York City’s Negro population was born in New York State. There were more Negroes in the city in than the combined Negro populations of Birmingham, Memphis and St. Louis. Similar population increases occurred in urban areas throughout the country.
Negro migration drew on areas of the South that had previously sent few people to New York City. The seaboard states of the Upper south, especially Virginia and the Carolinas, continued to be the main sources of New York’s Migrant Negro population. But people from Georgia and Florida and other Deep South states, formerly under-represented, also came in greater numbers: “Harlem became the symbol of liberty and the Promised Land to Negroes everywhere,” the Reverend Dr. Powell wrote (Hanlin 245). In 1930, some 55,000 foreign-born Negroes added to the growing diversity of the city’s Negro population.
Working Mothers had little time to care for their children. Youngsters “with keys tied around their necks on a ribbon” wandered around the streets until families came home at night. Substantial portions were products of broken home, families without a male head. One Harlem school principal testified that 699 of his 1,600 pupils came from families
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