“People ask is there any link between the Irish and African Americans,” said Nik Quaife, the director of communications at New York’s Irish Arts Center. “In fact there’s a four-hour series of links. This is the fourth and possibly final installment in this particular series which is specifically about African Americans and the Irish in Harlem,” with Leni Sloane and Mick Moloney.
The Black and White and Green event on March 17th at the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, examines what bound these two immigrant communities together, and it seems that there was initially more rivalry than concord. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, Irish Americans and African Americans found themselves competing with each other for limited resources. Competition for jobs and housing created a rift between these two communities. But according to Brad Learmonth, director of programming at Harlem Stage Gatehouse, they had more in common than at first they realized.
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“Everything that we do is about enriching our understanding of our humanity and our interconnectivity. What we’re exploring here is a very rich history of two people who were thrown together in often the direst of circumstances: indentured servitude and slavery, or just need to get out of their homeland and come here because there’s nothing left there for the Irish,” said Learmonth. “That’s a rich history to explore. You begin to get a sense that this otherness belongs to us all and yet none because we’re basically the same although we belong to different cultures.”
The Irish Arts Center has a variety of events for St. Patricks’ Day week. Two Roads is at the Harlem Stage event is on Tuesday. Friday is Book Day. Mick Moloney has a concert at Symphony Space on Saturday and Sunday is Open House, a family friendly event including face painting, music, dance and harp playing demonstrations.
“This is an attempt to show New York that St. Patrick and the Irish don’t just celebrate by dressing in green and drinking,” said Quaife. “With the wealth of artists and writers that we’ve had over the years, we’re very lucky that as a small nation we’ve punched well above our rate for literary giants, including Joyce, Beckett, Wilde and Yeats.”
For those coming to the Harlem Stage event, Learmonth said, “You’re definitely going to be entertained by the dialogue. Anyone with an ounce of curiosity will come away from this saying, There’s so much information and we’ve only touched a tiny bit of it here.”
Photographs courtesy of Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations; and Erin Baiano