Accessibility links

THIS IS AMERICA - January 6, 2002: Harlem - 2003-01-03


(THEME)

VOICE ONE:

It was home to the great jazz performers Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, poet Langston Hughes, and civil rights activist Malcolm X. I’m Mary Tillotson.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. We tell about the area of New York City known as Harlem in our report today on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.

VOICE ONE:

Harlem is a community in the northern part of Manhattan in New York City. Harlem is known throughout the world as the center of African American culture. African American writers, musicians, artists and performers settled there during the nineteen-twenties and nineteen-thirties. This period of artistic expression is known as the Harlem Renaissance. Renaissance means re-birth.

Later, however, Harlem experienced increased crime and difficult economic conditions. Now the community is in the process of great improvements. Many people are calling it Harlem’s Second Renaissance.

VOICE TWO:

The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce promotes economic development in the community. Lloyd Williams is director of the organization. Mister Williams says that the recent re-birth of the community is very different from the Harlem Renaissance of the nineteen-twenties. He says this Renaissance is about housing and economic development.

Harlem’s economy is growing at a fast rate. Workers are rebuilding houses that are falling apart or were simply forgotten. Businesses are being built on almost every main street in Harlem’s major business center.

Recent reports show crime rates have decreased sharply. Many people had once moved away because of crime and poor conditions. Now people are coming back to live in Harlem. Real estate agents say it costs less to live in Harlem than in most other areas of Manhattan. People like Harlem because of its lower prices, the interesting details on the houses, the large beautiful parks, and its many cultural events. Former President Bill Clinton opened an office in Harlem in two-thousand-one.

VOICE ONE:

One of Harlem’s greatest economic improvements is the opening of a huge shopping and entertainment center. It is called Harlem USA. It opened in two-thousand-one. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone provided financial loans for Harlem USA. Five-hundred-fifty-million dollars was spent on Harlem USA and several other projects to renew the community.

For many years nationally known businesses would not open stores in Harlem. The opening of Harlem USA has changed that.Many people of Harlem are happy that national businesses finally recognize that their community should have the same fine stores as other communities.

However, activists are worried about the small businesses that have remained in Harlem through the difficult times. These businesses are said to be the spirit of Harlem. Yet, they have not been offered loans to help their businesses. The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone says an increase in shoppers and visitors to the area will help the small businesses.

VOICE TWO:

Long before there was Harlem USA, Harlem was just farmland. Dutch people settled in Harlem in sixteen-fifty-eight. They named it after a city in the Netherlands.

In eighteen-thirty-seven the New York and Harlem Railroad Company completed a railroad link from Harlem to lower Manhattan. Rich immigrant families became interested in living in Harlem. Newly developed, high-priced homes were being built on the land.

Harlem had become one of the finest areas of the city for white people. This changed in nineteen-oh-one, when a black real estate agent named Philip Payton influenced white landowners to rent their property to black families. Harlem quickly became the largest African American community in the United States.

(MUSIC: “DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM"/Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald)

VOICE ONE:

Musician Duke Ellington and singer Ella Fitzgerald were among many blacks who became well known during the Harlem Renaissance. White people began to note the sudden increase of black culture that was happening there.

The rich writings of James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neal Hurston and others are as important to the Harlem Renaissance as the music of that time. Here is a recording of poet Langston Hughes reading his poem “I Too.”

(LANGSTON HUGHES)

VOICE TWO:

Harlem continues to be known throughout the world for its importance in the arts. For example, the Dance Theater of Harlem was founded in nineteen-sixty-nine by former New York City Ballet dancer Arthur Mitchell. Mister Mitchell says he wanted to provide new chances for young people in the mostly black and Hispanic community following the murder of civil rights leader Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior. The Dance Theater of Harlem has performed throughout the United States and in many other countries.

VOICE ONE:

Another artistic treasure is the Boys Choir of Harlem. Its founder and musical director is Walter Turnbull. In nineteen-sixty-eight twenty boys came to a Harlem church to form a singing group or choir. Over the years the choir has grown in size and skill. Now there are two-hundred-fifty members. The group has received international praise for performances of classical music, gospel and spirituals, show tunes, jazz and popular songs. Listen as the Boys Choir of Harlem sing “Heroes.”

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

The famous Apollo Theater in Harlem opened in nineteen-fourteen. From the nineteen-thirties to the nineteen-seventies, the Apollo was the center of black entertainment in New York City and northeastern America. Musicians, singers, dancers and people who told funny stories performed there.

People traveled from different parts of the United States to compete at the Apollo Theater’s famous Amateur Night. Amateur Night is a competition for nonprofessional performers. Some winners later became well known performers. Past winners of the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night competition include Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Sarah Vaughn and the Jackson Five.

VOICE ONE:

The Apollo Theater has recently received some needed repairs. The theater is producing great performances again. A show called “Harlem Song” told the history of Harlem through music, dance, and historic pictures. Here is a song from the show. It is called “One Word.”

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Today Harlem is still a mostly African American community. However, people of other ethnic groups live there too. Irish, Italian, Dominican, Haitian, Puerto Rican, West African, and other people live side by side.

Harlem is a community that has seen the worst of economic times. Yet its citizens maintain a welcoming spirit. Harlem is one of the most popular places for visitors to New York City.

While Harlem is proud of its rich history as the center of African American culture, the community moves toward the future. Experts say Harlem has much to look forward to in its Second Renaissance.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

This program was written and produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Mary Tillotson.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program THIS IS AMERICA.

XS
SM
MD
LG