top of page
1940 rochester.jpg


1947 jackie_robinson.jpg
1952 hansberry2.jpg



1960 castro.jpg



TIMELINE 1940-1969


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.



March on Washington Committee meets at the Hotel Theresa to plan a massive rally on the nation’s capital. Led by A. Philip Randolph, the committee demands the federal government act to end employment discrimination. 


Harlem teenage tennis sensation Althea Gibson wins the New York State girls’ singles title, after honing her skills at the Harlem River Tennis Courts, 150th Street and 7th Avenue. 



Six people are killed and 185 injured in Harlem race rioting in August. The disturbance is caused when a white policeman attempts to arrest a black woman in the company of a black soldier. 


Nineteen-year-old Sarah Vaughan wins the $100 first prize in the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night Contest singing “Body and Soul.”



Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.


Anna Lucasta opens on Broadway, transferring from the 135th Street-based American Negro Theatre. The play stars Hilda Simms and Canada Lee.



U.S. Justice Department sues the Mortgage Conference of New York, a coalition of banks, for discriminating against black and latino loan applicants. The suit claims that loan applicants in neighborhoods like Harlem are being denied loans.


Gloria Lynne wins first prize at the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night Contest.



Jackie Robinson, after two years of working out daily at the Harlem YMCA, plays his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, breaking the major league color barrier.


The Ruth Williams Dance Studio opens in Harlem. It is now located in the Hotel Theresa.



New York Giants baseball team signs Henry Thompson as the team’s first black player. Black Dodger pitcher Don Newcombe is named National League’s Rookie of the Year.



NYC Housing Authority plans construction of spartan, low-style, high-rise projects in low-income communities. In the 1950s, about one third of East Harlem is leveled to create the Wagner, Taft, and Jefferson complexes.


Harlem Writer’s Guild is founded by Rosa Guy, John Killens, Walter Christmas, and John Henrik Clarke.



Chicago-born Lorraine Hansberry joins the staff of Freedom, a Harlem-based newspaper founded by Paul Robeson.



Hulan Jack, the first African-American to hold a major office in a large American city, wins election as Manhattan Borough President. 


Ralph Ellison wins the National Book Award for Invisible Man.



Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia is honored with a ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan. Emperor Selassie also visits Harlem.



Malcolm X moves to Harlem.



Cicely Tyson stars in the Harlem YMCA’s Little Theatre production of Dark of the Moon, directed by Vinnette Carroll.


Elijah Muhammad appoints Malcolm X minister of Harlem’s Temple #7, later known as Masjid Malcom Shabazz on West 116th Street.


While autographing copies of Stride Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. is stabbed in the chest by Izola Curry, a black woman, at Blumstein Department Store on 125th Street.


The Savoy Ballroom at 596 Lenox Avenue is demolished to make way for the Esplanade Gardens housing complex.


James Allen opens Harlem’s Addicts Rehabilitation Center, New York’s oldest drug treatment facility.



Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, opens on Broadway, starring Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee, Diana Sands, and Claudia McNeil.


The Harlem YMCA production of Dark of the Moon moves downtown to the Equity Library Theatre. The play’s cast includes James Earl Jones, Isabel Sandford, and Cicely Tyson, with choreography by Alvin Ailey.



World and national leaders attending the United Nations’ General Assembly meeting venture uptown to visit Harlem. Among the dignitaries are Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev; Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro; President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana; Sam Nnujoma, leader of the South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO); and Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Castro and his delegates stay at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem.



The Harlem Neighborhood Association, Inc. receives $250,000 from the City of New York and $230,000 from the federal government to create Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU). The multifaceted program is designed to address the needs of black youth. 



Oliver Tambo, co-leader with Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress, visits Harlem.



On July 18, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) demands an end to police brutality, marching on a Harlem police station. CORE leaders are arrested, and central Harlem erupts in four days of rioting and racial unrest.  Harlem is not alone. Racial unrest occurs throughout cities in America, including Watts, Detroit, Chicago, and San Francisco.


Malcolm X assumes the name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz following his pilgrimage to Mecca, and creates the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), seeking to unite all African and African-descended people.


Jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor creates Jazzmobile, Inc.


Soprano Dorothy Maynor establishes The Harlem School of the Arts.


The New Heritage Theatre is founded by Roger Furman. 


J. Raymond Jones, the Harlem Fox, is elected New York Democratic Party County Leader, the first African American to head Tammany Hall. Jones’ strategies lead to a succession of victories for local black politicians.



On February 21, Malcolm X is assassinated while delivering a speech at a meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.


On February 23, State Senator and Harlemite Constance Baker Motley is elected by unanimous vote of the New York City Council to fill a one-year vacancy as Manhattan Borough President, the first black woman to hold the office.


Freedom National Bank is founded at 275 West 125th Street, with assets of over $10 million. Jackie Robinson is the first chairman of the board.


The Hart-Cellar Immigration Act opens an immigration flow from the Caribbean to the United States, with New York City as a major destination.


James Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, opens in New York. The Autobiography of Malcolm X is published, written with the assistance of Alex Haley. Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land is published.



Amiri Baraka launches the Black Arts Movement in Harlem.



Robert Macbeth and Ed Bullins organize the New Lafayette Theatre Company in Harlem, which was located on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, between 137th and 138th Streets.



On March 27, Martin Luther King, Jr. visits Harlem and Queens to raise support for a planned march on Washington, DC, as part of his Poor People’s Campaign. 


Crowds react to the April 4 assassination of Dr. King in Memphis, damaging property in Harlem, Queens, and Central Brooklyn, and triggering uprisings in more than 100 cities.


The Amsterdam News establishes an editorial policy that replaces the term “negro” with “African-American” and “Black.”


The Studio Museum in Harlem is founded to provide work and exhibition space for African American artists.


The Boys Choir of Harlem is founded by Walter J. Turnbull as the Ephesus Church Choir of Central Harlem. 


The National Black Theatre is founded by Barbara Ann Teer to satisfy the perceived lack of respect for black culture in American professional theater.



On May 4, former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Executive Secretary James Forman interrupts a Sunday Service at Riverside Church to  present the National Black Economic Development Conference’s “Black Manifesto.” The manifesto demands reparations of $500,000,000.


Minister Louis Farrakhan announces the opening of the University of Islam in Mosque No. 7 at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem.


New York native Arthur Mitchell founds the Dance Theatre of Harlem. 


Children’s Art Carnival is founded at 62 Hamilton Terrace.


The exhibition Harlem on My Mind opens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The  exhibit brings to light the highly acclaimed works of Harlem photographer James VanDerZee, whose studio, opened in 1917, was located at 109 West 135th Street, next to 135th Street Branch of the New York Public Library.

bottom of page