Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, long known as a major African-American residential, cultural, and business center. A village independent of New York City until 1873, Harlem has been defined by a series of boom-and-bust cycles, with significant ethnic shifts accompanying each bust as waves of migrants moved through the city. Originally a farming village best known as the site of Revolutionary War battles, the development market in Harlem plummeted around 1850 and land was occupied by recent Irish immigrant squatters.
After the village was incorporated into New York City, more residents moved there. With the introduction of efficient public transit to lower Manhattan, development moved rapidly, in fact, too rapidly. As too many houses were built at once, the market cracked twice — first in the mid 1890s, and again in 1904. Late 19th-century immigrants and their descendants: Jews, Italians, and other ethnic groups, moved into the neighborhood in large numbers after the first crash.After 1904, black residents arrived en masse, with numbers fed by the Great Migration. It was this last group who would define the artistic riches of Harlem in public consciousness. In the 1920s and 1930s, the neighborhood was the locus of the “Harlem Renaissance”, an outpouring of artistic and professional works without precedent in the American black community. Music, art, theater and literature were all made in Harlem, and major artists were established in every genre.
Starting with the job losses of the Great Depression and especially after World War II with deindustrialization in New York, rates of crime and poverty increased significantly. Despite a persistent middle class, the neighborhood was strongly associated with these and other urban social ills for decades.
New York’s revival in the late 20th century has led to renewal in Harlem as well. By 1995, Harlem was experiencing social and economic gentrification. Though the percentage of residents who are black peaked in 1950, the area remains predominantly black.