A new trolley on Lennox and 116th street in 1930. (Museum of the City of New York).


In the study of education, all 'moving parts' of a city, so to speak, are relevant to understanding how schools function in relation to the population they serve. Therefore, understanding how Harlem was built, organized, and constructed is vital to then understanding schools in Harlem and education at large. Especially considering the larger idea of desegregation, failures to integrate schools were directly related to (but in no way exclusively) logistical problems of integrating a neighborhood that was so heavily segregated. Since, schools cannot be studied separately from their environment and surroundings, one of the most important factors in further exploring education in Harlem is the urban development of Harlem. Harlem's development is extraordinarily unique; despite being a black "ghetto," its construction does not mirror other low-income, high-poverty areas and its long-held status as an oppressive area can be directly be traced back historically to people and policies.


Brief Historical Background

The creation of Harlem as a city--and its evolution into the "Black Mecca of the World"--has been well-documented in historical literature in the first four decades of twentieth century. In his seminal work, historian Gilbert Osofsky explained that Harlem in the last decades of the nineteenth century was a wealthy white area with lavish, newly constructed homes. Eventually, Osofsky argues, blacks were attracted to Harlem for essentially three reasons: first, descendants of black slaves were already (and sometimes unknowingly) in isolated spots of Harlem as well as the fact that the black population was growing everywhere in New York; second, the housing market attracted blacks to Harlem due to a housing bust in 1904-1905 where tenants were desperate to fill vacant lots; and three, which relates to the previous argument, Phillip A. Payton Jr. and the Afro-American Realty company played a big role in securing blacks’ settlement in Harlem.

Once Harlem became the Black Capital of the World, oppressive policies, severe racial discrimination, and run-down infrastructure became a staple of Harlem. By the mid-decades of the twentieth century, city planners continued to neglect Harlem’s infrastructure in the ways of parks and poor public housing, as well as made a conscious effort to keep blacks segregated from the rest of the city. More importantly, however, this narrative must be further examined in relation to schools and education in Harlem, specifically.


Foundational Questions

1) As previously mentioned, how did the urban development of Harlem affect (thinking broadly) the deplorable state of education in Harlem? Has the poor living conditions and infrastructure of Harlem been appropriately (as opposed to unfairly) attributed to poor education in the literature?

2) How does Harlem’s unique evolution from a wealthy, white area to a poor, black area make it distinct from other so-called “ghettos”?


Literature and Resources

Bercovici, Konrad. “The Black Blocks of Manhattan.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine 149, no. 893 (October 1, 1924): 613.
Frazier, E. Franklin. “Negro Harlem: An Ecological Study.” American Journal of Sociology 43, no. 1 (July 1, 1937): 72–88.

Bloom, Nicholas Dagen. Public Housing That Worked: New York in the Twentieth Century. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
Caro, Robert A. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Vintage Books, 1975.
Dávila, Arlene M, and ebrary, Inc. Barrio Dreams Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.
Dorfman, Brett. “Architecture and Urban Education Reform: The Significance of Harlem Public Schools, 1954-1970”, 2009. [dissertation]
Gutman, Marta. “Race, Place, and Play: Robert Moses and the WPA Swimming Pools in New York City.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 67, no. 4 (December 1, 2008): 532–561.
Guttentag, Marcia. “Children in Harlem’s Community Controlled Schools.” Journal of Social Issues 28, no. 4 (December 1972): 1–20.
Harbison, Thomas F. “Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution? Harlem’s Public Schools, 1914--1954”, 2011. [CUNY dissertation]
Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse. A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York After 1950. Princeton University Press, 2008.
Mattson, Kevin. “THE STRUGGLE FOR AN URBAN DEMOCRATIC PUBLIC: HARLEM IN THE 1920S.” New York History 76, no. 3 (July 1995): 291–318.
Osofsky, Gilbert. “A Decade of Urban Tragedy: How Harlem Became A Slum.” New York History, no. 46: 4 (1965:Oct): p. 330.
———. Harlem, the Making of a Ghetto: Negro New York, 1890-1930. Harper Torchbooks. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
Pinkney, Alphonso. Poverty and Politics in Harlem; Report on Project Uplift 1965. New Haven, Conn: College & University Press, 1970.
Sharman, Russell Leigh, and ebrary, Inc. The Tenants of East Harlem. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Taylor, Monique M. Harlem Between Heaven And Hell. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Zukin, Sharon. Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places. Oxford University Press, 2010.