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 

Demonstrates how Harlemite’s dynamic fight for their rights and neighborhood raised the black community’s racial consciousness and established Harlem’s legendary political culture 

In Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?, Shannon King vividly uncovers early twentieth century Harlem as an intersection between the black intellectuals and artists who created the New Negro Renaissance and the working class who found fought daily to combat institutionalized racism  and gender discrimination in both Harlem and across the city.  

New Negro activists, such as Hubert Harrison and Frank Crosswaith, challenged local forms of economic and racial inequality in attempts to breakdown the structural manifestations that upheld them. 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 demonstrates how, against all odds, the Harlemite’s dynamic fight for their rights and neighborhood raised the black community’s racial consciousness and established Harlem’s legendary political culture. By the end of the 1920s, Harlem had experience 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' immense investment in community politics, King makes visible the hidden stirrings of a social movement deeply invested in a Black Harlem. Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway? Is a vibrant story of the shaping of a community during a pivotal time in American History.


  • "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.”


  • Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway? Community Politics and Grassroots Activism during the New Negro Era is a synthetic masterpiece, drawing on a wide array of primary and secondary literature to produce a grassroots picture of black Harlem’s genesis from 1900 to 1930.”

    —David Huyssen, American Historical Review

  • “A fine-grained account of community politics, Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway? is a welcome alternative to accounts of the New Negro era that focus only on the arts and prominent leaders. . . . Through meticulous research and vivid storytelling, King argues that the activism associated with later eras had roots in battles for Harlem tenants rights’, workers’ rights, and consumers’ rights, and for freedom from overzealous reformers and policing based on white stereotypes rather than concern for the community’s safety.” 

    —James Davis, The Journal of American History

  • “Highly attuned to the intraracial politics of class and gender that contested the meanings of “ community rights,” Whose Harlem Is This, Anyway?  . . . This excellent, highly original work adds a new dimension to the study of black neighbourhood politics in the early decades of the twentieth century through its exploration of “ community rights” thought and activism.”

    —Daniel Matlin, Journal of American Studies

  • “Through this book, labor educators can explore the historical roots of present-day issues such as the racial wealth gap and the Black Lives Matter movement, and can examine how grassroots activism around community issues confronted racism.”

    —Will Cooley, Labor Studies Journal