The original settlers of Harlem were the Wecksquaesgeek Indians, who raised corn and tobacco, and called their land Quinnahung, or Planting Neck.
The Weckquaesgeek tribe, was a subset of the Wappani Wappani, or the Wappinger, they were a group of Native Americans whose territory in the 17th century spread along the eastern side of the Hudson River from Dutchess County south to Manhattan and east into parts of Connecticut. Although the European understanding of “tribes” did not generally apply for most of the Wappingers’ history, they were most closely related to the Lenape and Mahicans, all speaking the Algonquian languages.
The Weckquaesgeek, who were not pleased by the May 24, 1626 barter exchange between Peter Minuit and the Canarsee Native Americans of Brooklyn for the possession of Manhattan. By 1643, the two groups went to war.
It is reported that they “sold” the island of Manhattan to Dutch traders for $24 worth of beads on May 24th, 1626 to the Dutch West India Trading Company and later owned by the Van Cortlandt family. According to Wecksquaesgek Indian, Bobbie Hawkfeather, the last full-blooded Weckquaesgeek. His people got the better end of the deal.
Manhattan got its name from the Indians, who called the place Manna-hatta, which meant “hilly island.” In south Harlem is Carnegie Hill is among the hilliest parts. The village of the 60 or so Weckquaesgeek Indians who settled here is now buried beneath the pavement around Park Avenue and 98th Street. The Dutch and English were slow to settle this area (and quick to draw the Weckquaesgeeks into conflict) because the area was “too hilly for farming.”
The history of the Weckquaesgeek Indians lives today. Broadway generally acknowledged having followed the old Weckquaesgeek Indians trail that ran the thirteen-mile length of Manhattan. Early settlers called it the Bloomingdale Road. Going north the original trail crossed the then shallow Spuyten Duyvil Creek into what today is Marble Hill. At low tide, a traveler could cross the Spuyten Duyvil Creek on foot. Records show that Indians referred to the crossing as “The Wading Place.” Future generations would see a ferry crossing and eventually the King’s Bridge.
The Weckquaesgeek’s called the Harlem River the Muscoota, which means a River among the green sedge (grassy plants which have solid stems). Cromwell’s Creek, formerly known by the Indian name Mentipathe, flowed into the Harlem River near where Yankee Stadium is located, after following a course along what are now River and Jerome Avenues. Local colonists renamed this creek for James Cromwell, who owned a mill on the water.
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Before the arrival of European settlers, the area that would become Harlem (originally Haarlem) was inhabited by the Manhattans, a native tribe, who along with other Native Americans, most likely Lenape occupied the area on a semi-nomadic basis. As many as several hundred farmed the Harlem flatlands. The first European settlement in the area was by Hendrick (Henry) de Forest, Isaac de Forest, his brother, and their sister Rachel de Forest, Franco-Dutch immigrants in 1637. in 1639 Jochem Pietersen Kuyter established the homestead named Zedendaal, or Blessed Valley, stretched along the Harlem River from about the present 127th Street to 140th Street. Early European settlers were forced to flee to New Amsterdam in lower Manhattan whenever hostilities with the natives heated up, and the native population gradually decreased amidst conflict with the Dutch. The settlement was named Nieuw Haarlem (New Haarlem), after the Dutch city of Haarlem, and was formally incorporated in 1660 under the leadership of Peter Stuyvesant. The Indian trail to Harlem’s lush bottomland meadows was rebuilt by black laborers of the Dutch West India Company and eventually developed into the Boston Post Road.
There had been other proposals presented to create a legally binding proposition for an approved of town named Harlem, in 1658, a committee of electeds and landowners agreed upon document that laid out boundaries and laws to make Harlem an official town in Manhattan, New York.
In 1664, the English took control of the New Netherland colony, and English colonial Governor Richard Nicolls established the “Harlem Line” as the southern border patent line of the village of Nieuw Haarlem (later, the village of Harlem) running westward from near modern East 74th Street, at the East River. The British also tried to change the name of the community to “Lancaster,” but the name never stuck,and eventually settled down to the Anglicized Harlem. The Dutch took control of the area again for one year in 1673. The village grew very slowly until the middle 18th century, and it became a resort of sorts for the rich of New York City. Only the Morris-Jumel Mansion survives from this period.
Harlem played an important role in the American Revolution. The British had established their base of operations in lower Manhattan, and George Washington fortified the area around Harlem to oppose them. From Harlem, he could control the land routes to the north, as well as traffic on the Harlem River. The New York Provincial Congress met in White Plains, as did the convention drafting the constitution for New York State. On September 16, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights, sometimes referred to as the Battle of Harlem or Battle of Harlem Plain, was fought in western Harlem around the Hollow Way (now West 125th Street), with conflicts on Morningside Heights to the south and Harlem Heights to the north. The American troops were outnumbered, 5000 to 2000, and were ill-equipped compared to their opponents, but outflanked the British and forced them to retreat to the area around what is now West 106th Street. It was Washington’s first American victory. Later that year, the British would avenge this defeat by chasing Washington and his troops north, then turning back and burning Harlem to the ground.
In 1765, Harlem was a small agricultural town not far from New York City.
Rebuilding took decades, and infrastructure was improved much more slowly than was happening in New York City proper. The village remained largely rural through the early 19th century and, though the “grid system” of streets, designed downtown, was formally extended to Harlem in 1811, it does not seem that anybody expected it would mean much. The 1811 report that accompanied the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 noted that it was “improbable that (for centuries to come) the grounds north of the Harlem Flat will be covered with houses.”
Though undeveloped, the area was not poor. Harlem was “a synonym for elegant living through a good part of the nineteenth century.” The village remained largely farmland estates, such as [Conrad] Van Keulen’s Hook, orig. Otterspoor, bordered north of the Mill Creek (now 108th St., orig. Montagne Creek at 109th St.), which flowed into Harlem Lake, to the farm of Morris Randall, northwest on the Harlem River, and westward to the Peter Benson, or Mill Farm. This former bowery [of land] was subdivided into twenty-two equal plots, of about 6 to 8 acres (32,000 m2) each, of which portions later owned by Abraham Storm, including thirty-one acres (east of Fifth Avenue between 110th & 125th St.) were sold by Storm’s widow Catherine in 1795 to James Roosevelt (great-grandfather of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1760–1847). This branch of the Roosevelt family subsequently moved to the town of Hyde Park, but several of Roosevelt’s children remain interred in Harlem.
As late as 1820, the community had dwindled to 91 families, a church, a school, and a library. Wealthy farmers, known as “patroons”, maintained these country estates largely on the heights overlooking the Hudson River. Service connecting the outlays of Harlem with the rest of the City of New York (on the southern tip of the island of Manhattan) was done via steamboat on the East River, an hour-and-a-half passage, sometimes interrupted when the river froze in winter, or else by stagecoach along the Boston Post Road, which descended from McGown’s Pass (now in Central Park) and skirted the salt marshes around 110th Street, to pass through Harlem.
The New York and Harlem Railroad (now Metro North) was incorporated in 1831 to better link the city with Harlem and Westchester County, starting at a depot at East 23rd Street, and extending 127 miles (204 km) north to a railroad junction in Columbia County at Chatham, New York by 1851. Charles Henry Hall, a wealthy lawyer and land speculator, recognized the changes that this railroad would make possible in Harlem and began a successful program of infrastructure development, building out streets, gas lines, sewer lines, and other facilities needed for urban life. Piers were also built, enabling Harlem to become an industrial suburb serving New York City. The rapid development of infrastructure enabled some to become wealthy, and the area became important to politicians, many of whom lived in Harlem. New York mayors Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence and Daniel Tiemann both lived in Harlem in this period. For many in New York City, Harlem was at this time regarded as a sort of country retreat. The village had a population of poorer residents as well, including blacks, who came north to work in factories or to take advantage of relatively low rents.
Between 1850 and 1870, many large estates, including Hamilton Grange, the estate of Alexander Hamilton, were auctioned off as the fertile soil was depleted and crop yields fell. Some of the land became occupied by Irish squatters, whose presence further depressed property values.
During the American Civil War, Harlem saw draft riots, along with the rest of the city, but the neighborhood was a significant beneficiary of the economic boom that followed the end of the war, starting in 1868. The neighborhood continued to serve as a refuge for New Yorkers, but increasingly those coming north were poor and Jewish or Italian. Factories, homes, churches, and retail buildings were built at great speed. The Panic of 1873 caused Harlem property values to drop 80% and gave the City of New York the opportunity to annex the troubled community as far north as 155th Street.
Recovery came soon, and row houses (as distinct from the previous generation’s free-standing houses) were being constructed in large numbers by 1876. Development accelerated in part in anticipation of elevated railroads, which were extended to Harlem in 1880. With the construction of the “els,” urbanized development occurred very rapidly. Developers anticipated that the planned Lexington Avenue subway would ease transportation to lower Manhattan. Fearing that new housing regulations would be enacted in 1901, they rushed to complete as many new buildings as possible before these came into force. Early entrepreneurs had grandiose schemes for Harlem: Polowas played at the original Polo Grounds (photo above), later to become home of the New York Giants baseball team. Oscar Hammerstein I opened the Harlem Opera House on East 125th Street in 1889. By 1893, even row houses did not suffice to meet the growing population, and large-scale apartment buildings were the norm. In that year, Harlem Monthly Magazine wrote that “it is evident to the most superficial observer that the centre of fashion, wealth, culture, and intelligence, must, in the near future, be found in the ancient and honorable village of Harlem.”
However, also in that year, the construction glut and a delay in the building of the subway led to a fall in real estate prices which attracted immigrant Eastern Europe Jews and Italians to Harlem in accelerating numbers. There had been a Jewish community of 12 in Harlem in 1869 that grew to a peak of almost 200,000 in about 1915. Presaging their resistance to the arrival of blacks, existing landowners tried to stop Jews from moving into the neighborhood. At least one rental sign declared “Keine Juden und Keine Hunde” (No Jews and no dogs). Italians began to arrive in Harlem only a few years after the Jews did. By 1900 there were 150,000 Italians in Harlem. Both groups moved particularly into East Harlem.
The Jewish population of Harlem embraced the City College of New York, which moved to Harlem in 1907. In the years after the move, 90% of the school’s students were Jewish, and many of the school’s most distinguished graduates date from this period. Both the Jewish and Italian Mafia emerged in East Harlem and soon expanded their operations to the entire neighborhood. West 116th Street between Lenox and 8th Avenue became a vice district. The neighborhood also became a major center for more conventional entertainment, with 125th Street as a particular center for musical theater, vaudeville, and moving pictures.
The Jewish presence in Harlem was ephemeral, and by 1930, only 5,000 Jews remained. As they left, their apartments in East Harlem were increasingly filled by Puerto Ricans, who were arriving in large numbers by 1913. Italian Harlem lasted longer, and traces of the community lasted into the 1970s in the area around Pleasant Avenue.
These buildings on west 135th Street were among the first in Harlem to be occupied entirely by blacks: in 1921, #135 becomes the home to Young’s Book Exchange, the first Afrocentric Bookstore in Harlem.
Black people have been present in Harlem continually since the 1630s, and as the neighborhood modernized in the late 19th century, they could be found especially in the area around 125th Street and “Negro tenements” on West 130th Street. By 1900, tens of thousands lived in Harlem. The mass migration of blacks into the area began in 1904, due to another real estate crash, the worsening of conditions for blacks elsewhere in the city, and the leadership of black real estate entrepreneurs including Phillip Payton, Jr. After the collapse of the 1890s, new speculation and construction started up again in 1903 and the resulting glut of housing led to a crash in values in 1904 and 1905 that eclipsed the late-19th century slowdown. Landlords could not find white renters for their properties, so Philip Payton stepped in to bring blacks. His company, the Afro-American Realty Company, has been credited with the migration of blacks from their previous neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, San Juan Hill (now the site of Lincoln Center), Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village and Hell’s Kitchen in the west 40s and 50s. The move to northern Manhattan was driven in part by fears that anti-black riots such as those that had occurred in the Tenderloin in 1900 and in San Juan Hill in 1905 might recur. In addition, a number of tenements that had been occupied by blacks in the west 30s were destroyed at this time to make way for the construction of the original Penn Station.
In 1907, black churches began to move uptown. Several congregations built grand new church buildings, including St Philip’s on West 134th Street just west of Seventh Avenue (the wealthiest church in Harlem), the Abyssinian Baptist Church on West 138th Street and St Mark’s Methodist Church on Edgecombe Avenue. More often churches purchased buildings from white congregations of Christians and Jews whose members had left the neighborhood, including Metropolitan Baptist Church on West 128th and Seventh Avenue, St James Presbyterian Church on West 141st Street, and Mt Olivet Baptist Church on Lenox Avenue. Only the Catholic Church retained its churches in Harlem, with white priests presiding over parishes that retained significant numbers of whites until the 1930s.
The early 20th-century Great Migration of blacks to northern industrial cities was fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South, seek better jobs and education for their children, and escape a culture of lynching violence. During World War I, expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs, thinly staffed after the draft began to take young men. So many blacks came that it “threaten[ed] the very existence of some of the leading industries of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Alabama.” Many settled in Harlem. By 1920, central Harlem was 32.43% black. The 1930 census revealed that 70.18% of Central Harlem’s residents were black and lived as far south as Central Park, at 110th Street. The expansion was fueled primarily by an influx of blacks from the southern U.S. states, especially Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, who took trains up the East Coast. There were also numerous immigrants from the West Indies. As blacks moved in, white residents left. Between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighborhood and 87,417 blacks arrived.
Between 1907 and 1915, some white residents of Harlem resisted the neighborhood’s change, especially once the swelling black population pressed west of Lenox Avenue, which served as an informal color line until the early 1920s. Some made pacts not to sell to or rent to blacks. Others tried to buy property and evict black tenants, but the Afro-American Realty Company retaliated by buying other property and evicting whites. They also attempted to convince banks to deny mortgages to black buyers, but soon gave up.
In 1910, Central Harlem was about 10% black. By 1930, it had reached 70%.
Soon after blacks began to move into Harlem, the community became known as “the spiritual home of the Negro protest movement.” The NAACP became active in Harlem in 1910 and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1916. The NAACP chapter there soon grew to be the largest in the country. Activist A. Philip Randolph lived in Harlem and published the radical magazine The Messenger starting in 1917. It was from Harlem that he organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.W. E. B. Du Bois lived and published in Harlem in the 1920s, as did James Weldon Johnson and Marcus Garvey.
Harlem is a large neighborhood within the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. Since the 1920s, Harlem has been known as a major African-American residential, cultural and business center. Originally a Dutch village, formally organized in 1658, it is named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands. Harlem’s history has been defined by a series of economic boom-and-bust cycles, with significant population shifts accompanying each cycle.
Black residents began to arrive en masse in 1905, with numbers fed by the Great Migration. In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem were the focus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic work without precedent in the American black community. However, with job losses in the time of the Great Depression and the deindustrialization of New York City after World War II, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly.
Since New York City’s revival in the late 20th century, Harlem has been experiencing social and economic gentrification. However, Harlem still suffers from many social problems. Large portions of the population receive a form of income support from the government—with West, Central, and East Harlem respectively at 34.9%, 43.3%, and 46.5% of the population.
Harlem’s black population peaked in the 1950s, but the neighborhood is still predominantly black.
Map of Harlem; this map has excluded Morningside Heights as a part of Harlem
Harlem is located in Upper Manhattan—often referred to as Uptown by locals—and stretches from the East River west to the Hudson River between 155 Street, where it meets Washington Heights, to a ragged border along the south.
Central Harlem—Manhattan Community Board No. 10—is bounded by Fifth Avenue on the east, Central Park on the south, Morningside Park, Saint Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenues on the west and the Harlem River on the north. A chain of three large linear parks; Morningside, St. Nicholas and Jackie Robinson are situated on steeply rising banks and form most of the district’s western boundary. On the east, Fifth Avenue and Marcus Garvey Park, also known as Mount Morris Park, separate this area from East Harlem.
The West Harlem neighborhoods of Morningside Heights, Manhattanville, and Hamilton Heights comprise Manhattan Community Board No. 9. The area is bounded by Cathedral Parkway (110th Street) on the South; 155th Street on the North; Manhattan/Morningside Ave/St. Nicholas/Bradhurst/Edgecome Avenues on the East; and the Hudson River on the west. Morningside Heights is located in the southernmost section of West Harlem. Manhattanville begins at roughly 123rd Street and extends northward to 135th Street. The northernmost section of West Harlem is Hamilton Heights.
East Harlem, within Manhattan Community Board 11, is bounded by East 96th Street on the south, East 142nd Street on the north, Fifth Avenue on the west and the Harlem River on the east.
The New York City Police Department patrols five precincts located within Harlem. The areas of West Harlem are served by the 30th Precinct, the areas of Central Harlem are served by the 28th and 32nd Precincts, and the areas of East Harlem are served by the 23rd and 25th Precincts.
Harlem is represented by New York’s 13th congressional district, the New York State Senate’s 30th district, the New York State Assembly’s 68th and 70th districts, and the New York City Council’s 7th, 8th, and 9th districts.
Founded in the 17th century as a Dutch military outpost named Nieuw Haarlem, Harlem became successively a farming village, a revolutionary battlefield, an industrial suburb, a commuter town, an American ghetto, and a world-renowned center of African-American culture.
Black Harlem has always been religious. The area is home to over 400 churches. Major Christian denominations include Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists (generally African Methodist Episcopalian, or “AME”), Episcopalians, and Roman Catholic. The Abyssinian Baptist Church has been a particularly potent organization, long influential because of its large congregation, and recently wealthy because its extensive real estate holdings. The Allah School in Mecca also lies in Harlem, which is the headquarter of The Nation of Gods and Earths, better known as the Five Percenters. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established a chapel at 128th Street in 2005.
Many of the area’s churches are “storefront churches”, which operate in an empty store, or a basement, or a converted brownstone townhouse. These congregations may have fewer than 30–50 members each, but there are hundreds of them. Others are old, large, and designated landmarks. Especially in the years before World War II, Harlem produced popular Christian charismatic “cult” leaders, including George Wilson Becton and Father Divine. Mosques in Harlem include the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque No. 7 (formerly Mosque No. 7 Nation of Islam, and the location of the 1972 Harlem Mosque incident), the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood and Masjid Aqsa. Judaism, too, maintains a presence in Harlem through the Old Broadway Synagogue. A non-mainstream synagogue of black Jews known as Commandment Keepers, was based in a synagogue at 1 West 123rd Street until 2008.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Central and West Harlem was the focus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic work without precedent in the American black community.
Though Harlem musicians and writers are particularly well-remembered, the community has also hosted numerous actors and theater companies, including the New Heritage Repertory Theater, National Black Theater, Lafayette Players, Harlem Suitcase Theater, The Negro Playwrights, American Negro Theater, and the Rose McClendon Players.
The Apollo Theater opened on 125th Street on January 26, 1934, in a former burlesque house. The Savoy Ballroom, on Lenox Avenue, was a renowned venue for swing dancing and was immortalized in a popular song of the era, “Stompin’ At The Savoy”. In the 1920s and 1930s, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues in central Harlem, over 125 entertainment places operated, including speakeasies, cellars, lounges, cafes, taverns, supper clubs, rib joints, theaters, dance halls, and bars and grills. Some jazz venues, including most famously the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played, and Connie’s Inn, were restricted to whites only. Others were integrated, including the Renaissance Ballroom and the Savoy Ballroom.
In 1936, Orson Welles produced his famous black Macbeth at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Grand theaters from the late 19th and early 20th centuries were torn down or converted to churches. Harlem lacked any permanent performance space until the creation of the Gatehouse Theater in an old Croton aqueduct building on 135th Street in 2006.
Since 1965, the community has been home to the Harlem Boys Choir, a famous touring choir and education program for young boys, most of whom are black. The Girls Choir of Harlem was founded in 1989.
Harlem is also home to the largest African-American Day Parade which celebrates the culture of African diaspora in America. The parade was started up in the spring of 1969 with Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as the Grand Marshal of the first celebration.
Arthur Mitchell, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, established Dance Theatre of Harlem as a school and company of classical ballet and theater training in the late 1960s. The company has toured nationally and internationally. Generations of theater artists have gotten a start at the school.
Manhattan’s contributions to hip-hop stems largely from artists with Harlem roots such as Kurtis Blow, Big L, Cam’ron, Immortal Technique, A$AP Rocky (above), Mase, and P. Diddy. Harlem is also the birthplace of popular hip-hop dances such as the Harlem shake, toe wop, and Chicken Noodle Soup.
Harlem is currently experiencing a gourmet renaissance with new dining hotspots popping up uptown around Frederick Douglass Boulevard.
Harlem suffers from unemployment rates higher than the New York average (generally more than twice as high)and high mortality rates as well. In both cases, the numbers for men have been consistently worse than the numbers for women. Unemployment and poverty in the neighborhood resisted private and governmental initiatives to ameliorate them. During the Great Depression, unemployment in Harlem went past twenty percent and people were being evicted from their homes.In the 1960s, uneducated blacks could find jobs more easily than educated ones could, confounding efforts to improve the lives of people who lived in the neighborhood through education. Land owners took advantage of the neighborhood and offered apartments to the lower class families for cheaper rent but in lower class conditions. As of 1999, 179,000 housing units were available for the citizens of Harlem. Housing activists in Harlem state that, even after residents were given vouchers for the Section 8 housing that was being placed, many were not able to live there and had to find homes elsewhere or become homeless. Infant mortality was 124 per thousand in 1928. By 1940, infant mortality in Harlem was 5% (one infant in 20 would die), and the death rate from disease generally was twice that of the rest of New York. Tuberculosis was the main killer, and four times as prevalent among Harlem citizens than among the rest of New York’s population.
A 1990 study reported that 15-year-old women in Harlem had a 65% chance of surviving to age 65, about the same as women in India. Men in Harlem, on the other hand, had a 37% chance of surviving to age 65, about the same as men in Angola. Infectious diseases and diseases of the circulatory system were to blame, with a variety of contributing factors, including consumption of the deep-fried foods traditional to the South, which may contribute to heart disease.
In the early 20th century, Harlem was a stronghold of the Italian Mafia. As the ethnic composition of the neighborhood changed, black criminals began to organize themselves similarly. However, rather than compete with the established mobs, gangs concentrated on the “policy racket,” also called the Numbers game, or bolita in Spanish Harlem. This was a gambling scheme similar to a lottery that could be played, illegally, from countless locations around Harlem. According to Francis Ianni, “By 1925 there were thirty black policy banks in Harlem, several of them large enough to collect bets in an area of twenty city blocks and across three or four avenues.”
By the early 1950s, the total money at play amounted to billions of dollars, and the police force had been thoroughly corrupted by bribes from numbers bosses. These bosses became financial powerhouses, providing capital for loans for those who could not qualify for them from traditional financial institutions, and investing in legitimate businesses and real estate. One of the powerful early numbers bosses was a woman, Madame Stephanie St. Clair.
The popularity of playing the numbers waned with the introduction of the state lottery, which has higher payouts and is legal. The practice continues on a smaller scale among those who prefer the numbers tradition or who prefer to trust their local numbers bank to the state.
Statistics from 1940 show about 100 murders per year in Harlem, “but rape is very rare.” By 1950, essentially all of the whites had left Harlem and by 1960, much of the black middle class had departed. At the same time, control of organized crime shifted from Jewish and Italian syndicates to local black, Puerto Rican, and Cuban groups that were somewhat less formally organized. At the time of the 1964 riots, the drug addiction rate in Harlem was ten times higher than the New York City average and twelve times higher than the United States as a whole. Of the 30,000 drug addicts then estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem. Property crime was pervasive, and the murder rate was six times higher than New York’s average. Half of the children in Harlem grew up with one parent or none, and lack of supervision contributed to juvenile delinquency; between 1953 and 1962, the crime rate among young people increased throughout New York City, but was consistently 50% higher in Harlem than in New York City as a whole.
Injecting heroin grew in popularity in Harlem through the 1950s and 1960s, through the use of this drug then leveled off. In the 1980s, use of crack cocaine became widespread, which produced collateral crime as addicts stole to finance their purchasing of additional drugs, and as dealers fought for the right to sell in particular regions, or over deals have gone bad.
With the end of the “crack wars” in the mid-1990s and with the initiation of aggressive policing under mayor Rudolph Giuliani, crime in Harlem plummeted. In 1981, 6,500 robberies were reported in Harlem. The number dropped to 4,800 in 1990, perhaps due to an increase in the number of police assigned to the neighborhood. By 2000, only 1,700 robberies were reported. There have been similar changes in all categories of crimes tracked by the New York City Police Department. In the 32nd Precinct, which services Central Harlem above 127th Street, for example, between 1990 and 2008, the murder rate dropped 80%, the rape rate dropped 58%, the robbery rate dropped 73%, burglary dropped 86%, and the total number of crime complaints dropped 73%.
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