Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?

Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era

272 pages

July, 2015

ISBN: 9781479811274



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Shannon King is Associate Professor of History at The College of Wooster (OH).

All books by Shannon King

2015 Choice Outstanding Academic Title 
Winner of the Anna Julia Cooper/CLR James Award for Outstanding Book in Africana Studies presented by the National Council for Black Studies
The Harlem of the early twentieth century was more than just the stage upon which black intellectuals, poets and novelists, and painters and jazz musicians created the New Negro Renaissance. It was also a community of working people and black institutions who combated the daily and structural manifestations of racial, class, and gender inequality within Harlem and across the city.  
New Negro activists, such as Hubert Harrison and Frank Crosswaith, challenged local forms of economic and racial inequality. Insurgent stay-at-home black mothers took negligent landlords to court, complaining to magistrates about the absence of hot water and heat in their apartment buildings. Black men and women, propelling dishes, bricks, and other makeshift weapons from their apartment windows and their rooftops, retaliated against hostile policemen harassing blacks on the streets of Harlem. From the turn of the twentieth century to the Great Depression, black Harlemites mobilized around local issues—such as high rents, jobs, leisure, and police brutality—to make their neighborhood an autonomous black community. 
In Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?, Shannon King argues that Harlemite’s mobilization for community rights raised the black community’s racial consciousness and established Harlem’s political culture. By the end of the 1920s, Harlem had experienced a labor strike, a tenant campaign for affordable rents, and its first race riot. These public forms of protest and discontent represented the dress rehearsal for black mass mobilization in the 1930s and 1940s. By studying blacks' investment in community politics, King makes visible the hidden stirrings of a social movement deeply invested in a Black Harlem. 


  • "This is a fabulous study of Harlem, peeling back the layers of a place we thought we knew so well; no longer assuming but demonstrating precisely how the 'Negro Mecca' took shape within the crucible of angst and ambition. . . . A wonderful piece of urban and political history."

    —Davarian L. Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies, Trinity College

  • "Moving past grim depictions of Harlem as a ghetto or romantic views of Harlem as the Black Mecca, Shannon King captures the neighborhood's history from below. Harlem, he shows us, was a community born from struggles for justice. King has written a rich and telling account of how Harlem's activists fought for good jobs, challenged exploitative landlords, and resisted police and reformers who targeted 'vice.' Attentive to institutions and politics, to movement building and structural racism, to interracial conflict and intraracial divisions, this is a dynamic history of a community in formation."

    —Thomas J. Sugrue, author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North

  • “Historian King demonstrates in his excellent study that during the New Negro era, especially between WWI and the beginning of the Great Depression, blacks in Harlem vigorously fought for their community rights against tremendous odds of white discrimination….A must read for those interested in urban civil rights and race in the 20th-century US.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.”