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TIMELINE 1900-1939


More than one million African- Americans migrate from the south and Caribbean to northern states from 1900 to 1920. Many traveled to Chicago and Detroit, but most traveled to New York City—primarily to Harlem.  More than 300,000 men, women and children have arrived in Harlem by 1920.


James Weldon Johnson writes the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson.



Construction of the IRT subway connects upper Manhattan with downtown. Philip A. Payton, Jr. founds the Afro-American Realty Company and launches a drive to bring blacks to Harlem. Payton uses outdoor billboards to advertise, and is among the first to put ads in the elevated and subway trains. Most are for properties between 135th and 145th Street. 135th Street begins to develop as the organizational hub of Harlem’s African-American community.



The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is founded by W.E.B. DuBois to improve the status of blacks in America. The NAACP office is located at 224 West 135th Street.



White property owners (Harlem Property Owners Improvement Corporation) who sought the construction of twenty-four foot fences to “contain” the black community between 135th and 145th Street, propose the erection of high fences wherever black neighborhoods border whites. (In 1915 white owners argue that 130th Street should be the permanent “Negro-white” dividing line.)


Saint Philip’s Episcopal Church and Rectory begins construction at 214 West 134th Street.  Saint Philip’s is the first of Manhattan’s three oldest black churches to move to Harlem, soon followed by Mother Zion AME Methodist Church (1914) on West 137th St, and Abyssinian Baptist Church (1922) on West 138th St.


National Urban League is founded as an organization to help African-Americans secure equal employment and aid immigrant rural black Americans in the transition to urban life. The New York Urban League is now located at 202 West 136th Street.



Lafayette Theater at 2235 Seventh Avenue (at 131st Street) becomes the first Harlem theatre to desegregate. New owners encourage black patronage with signage: “Our Doors Are Open to All.” Prior owners allowed blacks to sit only in the balcony.


Madame C.J. Walker moves to Harlem and builds a townhouse at 108-110 West 136th Street, including a fully equipped beauty parlor.



Barron’s Exclusive Club opens at 2259 Seventh Avenue. One of Harlem’s earliest black-owned nightclubs, its performers include Ada “Bricktop” Smith and Elmer Snowdon’s Washingtonians, including pianist Duke Ellington.


Alice Leifer, mother of Barbara Horowitz, Community Works Director and creator of harlem is..., is born April 9th in Harlem and lives at 15 West 117th Street.



Marcus Garvey organizes the first American branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) at 235 West 131st Street, in Harlem, to advocate economic improvement and independence for African-Americans.


On July 27th, the Silent Protest Parade down Fifth Avenue is organized by the NAACP, churchmen and other civic leaders, to protest the violent events against African- Americans around the country.



James Reese Europe’s military band leads the decorated Harlem 369th Infantry Regiment up Fifth Avenue.


Fashionable but foreclosed houses on 138th and 139th Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues are sold to African-American buyers and become known as Striver’s Row, a reference to the aspirations of many black residents who had moved to the area.



In January the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution goes into effect, starting Prohibition throughout the U.S. Due largely to its effects, Harlem attracts many white visitors. Reputedly more than 500 speakeasies were located in Harlem. To downtowners in need of a drink, Lenox Avenue is popularly known as Heaven.


The night spots along West 133rd Street between Lenox and Seventh Avenue become known as Beale Street or Jungle Alley.  Several clubs serving illegal drinks line the street, including Pod’s and Jerry’s, Dickie Wells’, Mexico’s, The Nest, and Kaiser’s.


Dr. Louis T. Wright is hired by Harlem Hospital, becoming the facility’s first black doctor.


Harry Pace establishes the Pace Phonograph Corporation at 257 West 138th Street, producing best-selling music by African-Americans, know as race records, on his Black Swan label, the first African-American owned record label.


The Shuffle Inn opens at 2221 Seventh Avenue.  Originally named after the musical, Shuffle Along, it soon becomes Connie’s Inn.  Catering to a mostly white clientele, it features top black entertainers including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Earl  “Snakehips” Tucker.


The era known as the New Negro Renaissance, or Harlem Renaissance is ushered in by Harlem’s published authors, including Claude McKay (Harlem Shadows), Jean Toomer (Cane), Alaine Locke (The New Negro), Countee Cullen (Color), Zora Neale Hurston (Spunk), and Langston Hughes (The Negro Speaks of Rivers).



The Renaissance Ballroom and Casino is constructed at the corner of 138th Street and Seventh Avenue.  The Renny becomes one of Harlem’s most popular spots for banquets, dances and basketball games. The Renny is home to the New York Renaissance Big Five aka the Rens, who are generally regarded as America’s best basketball team of the 1920s and 1930s.


Paul Robeson graduates from Columbia Law School and performs  at the famed Cotton Club.



Owney Madden, a white mobster, takes over former boxer Jack Johnson’s nightclub at 644 Lenox Avenue (on the northeast corner of 142nd Street) and renames it The Cotton Club.  The popular club features black entertainers and bands led by Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway—and a whites-only customer policy. 


The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary convent opens in Harlem on 124th Street across from Marcus Garvey Park.



Opportunity, a publication of the National Urban League, holds its first literary awards dinner. Winners include Countee Cullen, Zora Neal Hurston, and Langston Hughes.


Small’s Paradise opens on the corner of 135th Street and Seventh Avenue. Its waiters sing and dance for a racially mixed clientele.



Carnegie Corporation purchases Arturo Schomburg’s collection for the New York Public Library, adding it to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints of the 135th Street Branch.


Carter G. Woodson founds Negro History Week, which later becomes Black History Month.


The Crisis magazine led, by editor W.E.B. DuBois, awards its first prizes in literature and art. Among the winners are Arna Bontemps’ poem, Nocturne at Bethesda, Countee Cullen’s poem, Thoughts in a Zoo, Aaron Douglas’ painting, African Chief, and a portrait by Hale Woodruff.


Harlem YWCA, Abyssinian Baptist Church, and 135th Street Branch Public Library host the Fourth Pan African Congress, attended by over 200 delegates from the United States, the West Indies, South America, Africa, Germany, and India.


The Harlem Experimental Theatre is formed.  Co-founders include Rose McClendon, Reginia M. Andrews, and Jessie Fauset.  Performances are held at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church and in the basement of the 135th Street library.



Dunbar Apartments are constructed at 2588 Seventh Avenue.  Named for poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, they are financed by John D. Rockefeller. The Dunbar becomes home to many notables, including W.E.B. DuBois, Countee Cullen, A. Philip Randolph, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Matthew Henson.


The Dunbar National Bank is founded at 135th Street and Seventh Avenue, under the leadership of John D. Rockefeller. African-Americans sit on the bank’s board of directors and the bank staff is predominantly black.


The Dark Tower opens at 108-110 West 136th Street. A’Lelia Walker transforms the mansion built by her mother, C.J. Walker, into a gathering place for Harlem writers and artists, and their downtown bohemian and European friends.



Louis Armstrong and his band, the Stompers, take up residency at Connie’s Inn. Duke Ellington leaves the Cotton Club and is replaced by Cab Calloway and his orchestra as the permanent club band.



Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. preaches his first sermon at Abyssinian Baptist Church, 138th Street between 7th and Lenox Avenues. Powell, Jr. is among the founders of the Harlem Citizen’s Committee for More and Better Jobs, which attempts to persuade Harlem merchants to hire black sales clerks.



The Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts opens at 163 West 143rd Street. Founded and owned by Augusta Savage, the studio attracts many young artists, including Norman Lewis, William Artis, and Ernest Crichlow.


Sixteen year old Billie Holiday and her mother Sadie move to 108 West 139th Street. Billie gets her first singing job at a club on Jungle Alley (133rd Street).


Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. leads the “Jobs for Negroes” movement, demanding more black doctors and nurses, and better health care at Harlem Hospital.



The Hurtig & Seaman Theatre at 253 West 125th Street, a former vaudeville and burlesque house with a white-only admissions policy, closes and re-opens as the Apollo Theatre— opening its doors to the black community.



A rampage (known later as the Harlem Riot of 1935) breaks out in response to a rumor that a black high school student was beaten to death by police for allegedly stealing a pocketknife at the S.H. Kress Five and Dime Store on 125th Street. More than one hundred blacks are arrested, three are killed, and thirty injured. Some 200 stores are destroyed, with property losses of over $2 million.


Repeal of the Volstead Act ends prohibition, ending the need for many uptown nightclubs and speakeasies that served liquor illegally. The Cotton Club moves to 48th Street in 1935.


Sixteen year old Ella Fitzgerald wins Apollo Theatre’s amateur night contest.


From his headquarters at 455 Lenox Avenue in Harlem, Father George Baker Divine boasts a national, interracial membership of over two million. Divine’s Peace Mission calls for an end to the “mistreatment of the Jews in Germany and all other countries.”



The Harlem River House opens as one of the first two federally funded housing projects in New York City, spanning West 151 Street to West 153 Street and Macombs Place to Harlem River Drive. Among the architects is John Louis Wilson, Jr., one of the first African-American architects registered in New York State.



The Flash Inn Restaurant is opened by Tony Merenda.  It is located at 107 Macombs Place, near 155th Street.



New York Rens win the first recognized national or “world” Professional Basketball Championship held in Chicago, beating  the Oshkosh All Stars 34-25.


Morgan and Marvin Smith open a photography studio at 141 West 125th Street. In 1940 M&M Smith move to 243 West 125th Street to a second floor studio next to the Apollo Theatre.


The Hotel Theresa, called the “Waldorf of Harlem” by Ebony magazine, ends its generally segregated policy. Built in 1913 at 2090 Seventh Avenue at 125th Street, the hotel contains the offices of A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement, and later, Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity. 


American Negro Theatre is founded by Abraham Hill in the basement of the new Schomburg library. Early members include Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and Roger Furman.

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