Little Senegal in the Big Apple: Harlem’s West African heart

Harlem, New York (CNN) — At the heart of West Harlem, West Africa is buzzing.

Nestled inside one of the world’s most diverse cities, over the years the thriving neighborhood of Harlem has become the hub of New York’s African American community.

At the start of the 20th century, throngs of African Americans migrated from the southern United States into the big city, lured by the jobs and opportunities of urban life.

But in the last 30 years or so, another group of people decided to call Harlem home. Scores of immigrants from several francophone West African countries moved to the borough to start a new life. At the center of it all, a vibrant Senegalese community has created a new home away from home, adding their culture, fashion and tastes to Harlem’s diverse mix.

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East Harlem – Harlem Travel Guide – iPhone, iPad, iPod

Sizzling hot Latino people, music, culture and cuisine

The East Harlem community stretches for 2.2 square miles from FDR Drive to Fifth Avenue between East 96th to East 142nd Streets. Also included in East Harlem are Randall’s and Ward’s Islands in the East River, opposite the stretch from 103rd to 125th Streets that is accessible by the RFK Bridge (Triborough Bridge) and a foot bridge at 103rd Street. Known as El Barrio (“the neighborhood”) or Spanish Harlem, this historically working-class area is home to one of the largest predominantly Latino communities in New York City. The area was formerly known as Italian Harlem and still harbors a small Italian American population along Pleasant Avenue. However, since the 1950s it has been dominated by residents of Puerto Rican descent, sometimes called Nuyoricans. Puerto Rican immigration after the First World War established an enclave at the western portion of Italian Harlem (around 110th Street and Lexington Avenue). The area slowly grew to encompass all of Italian Harlem as they moved out and Hispanics moved in during another wave of immigration after the Second World War. Many more African Americans also moved to East Harlem after World War II, and have remained. Other area residents are made up of a diverse tapestry of ethnic groups including Latinos from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Central and South America, Blacks and Africans from the Caribbean and West Africa, Turks from Eastern Europe, and Chinese.

As early as 1938 and then after World War II, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) razed buildings in neighborhoods, block by block, to make way for twenty-four high-rise public housing projects. The neighborhood contains the highest geographical concentration of low-income public housing projects in the United States, approximately 1.5 square miles. Many residents felt that whatever the inadequacy of their housing, they could not stand by and watch the wholesale demolition of homes and neighborhoods. They were joined by others who, ineligible for public housing, were faced with the threat of homelessness. Together, they organized protests and blocked additional destruction of property. The last large-scale housing project in East Harlem was completed in 1965. Such activism gave rise to political groups like the Young Lords, which came to prominence in 1969 when they used confrontational tactics to bring services and attention to the residents of East Harlem. Some of the Young Lords alumni include journalists Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, Geraldo Rivera, and Pablo Guzmán.

Historically, 116th Street (Luis Muñoz Marín Blvd., named for the first elected governor of Puerto Rico, who lived in East Harlem before returning to Puerto Rico in 1940 and ushered in Commonwealth status to the island) has been the primary business hub of Spanish Harlem. From Lexington to First Avenues the street is lined with businesses selling food, clothing, and other specialty and ethnically specific goods. East 116th Street terminates at FDR Drive, East River Plaza, a retail mall that opened in 2009 with large commercial tenants—Costco, Target, Best Buy, and Marshalls. Along Park Avenue between East 111th and 116th Streets is the famous La Marqueta, an enclosed market that once housed 500 mostly Puerto Rican merchants who presided over stalls in five buildings under the elevated Metro-North tracks selling fresh tropical produce, meats, fish, and dairy products. Once the spiritual heart of East Harlem, La Marqueta was a vibrant regional center for Spanish food and groceries during the 1950s and 1960s. But a long decline began in the 1970s, and today, despite repeated efforts at revitalization, the old atmosphere has all but disappeared. East Harlem’s commercial and business district has expanded to encompass Third Avenue between 112th and 124th Streets.

The cultural crossroads of East Harlem is located from 104th to 108th Streets between Fifth and Madison Avenues. In addition to El Museo del Barrio and the Museum of the City of New York, other organizations that strengthen East Harlem’s cultural identity include the artist collective Taller Boricua, the Afro-Dominican folklore group Palo Monte, Los Pleneros de la 21 (a performing ensemble which preserves the Afro-Puerto Rican traditions of the Bomba and Plena), and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theater (which presents and produces bilingual professional theater and offers artistic development through its Raúl Juliá Training Unit to emerging and established artists). The Harbor Conservatory for the Performing Arts, home to the Raices Latin Music Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, serves as a focus for theatre, dance, and musical performance in the neighborhood; it also hosts the annual competition to award the Charlie Palmieri Memorial Piano Scholarship, which was established in Palmieri’s memory by Tito Puente for the benefit of intermediate and advanced young (aged twelve to twenty-five) pianists’ study of Latin-style piano.

Of the three Harlem areas, Spanish Harlem is recognized most in popular songs, including Ben E. King’s R&B song “Spanish Harlem,” The Mamas & the Papas’ song “Spanish Harlem,” Louie Ramirez’s Latin soul song “Lucy’s Spanish Harlem,” and Bob Dylan’s song “Spanish Harlem Incident.” It was also mentioned in Elton John’s song “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” and Carlos Santana’s song “Maria Maria.” Spanish Harlem has given birth to everything from sixties-era boogaloo to mind-bending salsa and many grooves in between. It inspired the formation of Oscar Hernandez’s Grammy Award–winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra. The feature film Vote For Me! takes place in current-day Spanish Harlem, and was written and directed by former New York State Assemblyman Nelson Antonio Denis. The area is also the setting for the J. D. Robb book Salvation in Death, the twenty-seventh book in the popular “in Death” crime series.

East Harlem is also home to one of the few major television studios north of midtown, Metropolis (106th St. and Park Ave.), where shows like BET’s 106 & Park and Chappelle’s Show have been produced. Many famous artists have lived and worked in Spanish Harlem, including the renowned timbalero Tito Puente (110th Street was renamed “Tito Puente Way”), musicians Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto, Mario Bauza, Johnny Colon, Machito, and Father of Boogaloo Joe Cuba, among others. Actors who at one time called East Harlem home include Al Pacino, Rita Moreno, Burt Lancaster, and Esther Rolle. Miguel Algarin, co-founder of the Lower East Side Nuyorican Poets Café, also was raised in East Harlem. Probably the most famous author from East Harlem was Henry Roth, whose family moved uptown from the Lower East Side. Piri Thomas wrote a bestselling autobiography titled Down These Mean Streets in 1967. Also, the contemporary artist Soraida Martinez, the painter and creator of “Verdadism,” was born in Spanish Harlem. Baseball Hall of Famer Lou Gerhig was raised in East Harlem.

Transportation: Bus—M1, M2, M3, M4, M15, M35, M96, M101, M102, M103, M106. Subway—4, 5, 6 and Metro North to 125th St.

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  • Nightlife and entertainment from jazz, Latin salsa, opera to classical music;
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  • Amazing landmarks;
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Posted by Max on 13th Jan 2012

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Harlem and the Dutch debate over slavery in New Amsterdam

The anti-slavery theologians often referred to slavery as “theft of humans” and a violation of the eighth of the Ten Commandments. But the slavocrats gained more elite supporters than did the theologians of freedom.

Debates over slavery in the Dutch parliament, the States-General, affected the lives of African slaves in New Harlem. Painting: Dirck van Delen, 1651, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

A Dutch debate over slavery engulfed the futures of the eleven African slaves in New Amsterdam that were purchased from pirates between 1625 and 1627. As the New Harlem area became farmland, the resolution of the debate in the Dutch Republic and New Amsterdam would also affect the slaves that came with the farmers.

Dutch opinion was sharply divided about the morality of slavery. At first some theologians convinced the West India Company to avoid the slave trade. However, the commercial and political leaders in Holland fretted over the theological restrictions. The issue was raised in the States-General, the Dutch parliament that had granted the West India Company its charter. Willem Usselincx (1567-1647), one of the founders of the West India Company and a merchant from Antwerp, dreamed of creating a new and better society in the New World that would include slavery. In Octroy ofte Privilege (1627), he advanced the classic pro-slavery argument as an alternate punishment to imprisonment or death. His morbid slogan seemed to be, better to enslave them than kill them. The administrator had the support of gossip coming from New Amsterdam against the slaves.

Wllem Usselincx argued that enslaving people rescued them from being killed.

The first pastor of the church in New Amsterdam was given to harsh, intemperate remarks on people who crossed him, including Director Minuit and African slaves. He called the colony’s leader “a slippery man” made up of “a compound of all iniquity and wickedness.” He lambasted Angolan slave women as “thieving, lazy and useless trash.”

By contrast, the anti-slavery Dutch Calvinists followed the founder of modern international law Hugo Grotius who in 1625 said, “Slavery is against nature. Mankind by nature is free.”

Dutch minister Jacobus Hondius (1629–1691) considered slavery a sin and itemized it as No. 810 in his book, Black Register of a Thousand Sins (1724). He wrote, “Church members who buy and sell slaves and trade in such miserable people commit a sin. For these are people of the same nature as them rather than mere animals. Even though such slave trade is conducted by not only Jews, Turks, and Pagans, but so-called Christians, indeed, Dutchmen, as well. Reformed members should not taint themselves with such uncompassionate trade. Rather, they should act fully in fear of the Lord, in order that the money they make will be a blessing rather than a curse.”

The anti-slavery theologians often referred to slavery as “theft of humans” and a violation of the eighth of the Ten Commandments (“thou shall not steal;” the following section is taken from a paper by Markus Vink). Festus Hommius (1576-1642) used the Reformed pedagogy of the Heidelberg Catechism to argue that slavery was a form of theft to be punished by the government. Citing Deuteronomy 24:7 and 1Timothy 1:10 he believed that enslaving a human being was “depriving them of their most precious possession, which is freedom.” Hommius was pretty severe against slavocrats. He said that God had ordained (Exodus 21:16) that “Whoever steals a man, whether he sells him or is found in possession of him, shall be put to death.”

"Slavery is against nature." Hugo Grotius. Painting by Michiel Janszoon van Miervelt.

Cornelis Poudroyen (d. 1662) denied parents the right to sell their children into slavery. Children of war captives could also not be kept as slaves, he argued, while impoverished people offering themselves for sale should be assisted through charity or compassion rather than enslavement. The argument that slave labor was necessary in tropical conditions was invalid, since free men could and should also perform heavy labor. Slaves were not to be given tasks deemed unfit for oneself and others, for “they are your equals and fellow human beings.” The overriding principle for Poudroyen was Christian compassion, concluding that:

“It is unbefitting for Christians to engage in this rough, insecure, confusing, dangerous, and unreasonable trade, adding to a person’s troubles and being an executor of his torments. Instead, if one desires to bring forth good from that evil, one should purchase him [the slave] in order to be manumitted and freed from such great servitude to cruel tyrants, and, if possible, instruct him in the Christian religion.”

Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676), an orthodox Calvinist, emphasized the natural equality of humans and rejected the theft of humans, i.e., slavery, based on the Law given by Moses and other Biblical references (for instance, Matthew 6:26; 10:24-31; Luke 15; Deuteronomy 24:7; 1 Timothy 1:10; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:11).

Church leaders were also influenced by the emphasis on inward reformation that was preached by Pietists wrote tracts attacking slavery.

Although debates over slavery continued, the slavocrats gained more elite supporters than did the theologians of freedom. By 1635 the West India Company noted that it had hired an “overseer over the negroes belonging to the Company.”

Everadus Bogardus was an orphan like these boys reading the Bible before supper at an orphanage in Oudewaer, Holland in 1651. He was "born again" before becoming a minister & strong advocate on behalf of the slaves in Harlem and elsewhere. Painting by H. van Ommen. Photo Willem Frykoff

However, the second pastor of New Amsterdam’s church, Everadus Bogardus (1607-1647), continued to argue on behalf of the Africans. He seemed to have developed this sympathy while he was living in Guinea, West Africa before coming to New Amsterdam.

Bogardus routinely married African men and women and baptized their children. He also served as godparent for an African infant.

In 1636, he pleaded with the West India Company to provide a schoolmaster “to teach and train the youth of both Dutch and blacks in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.” He threw open the church to Africans. He justified his policies to company headquarters in Amsterdam with the argument that “good hopes exist for the conversion of the Negroes.” His elders and deacons supported their pastor, writing that “the negroes living among the colonists come nearer” to the right knowledge of God than the Indians.

Although slavery was never legalized in the Dutch republic, the Dutch promoted the slave trade after they went looking to make up the revenues from losing their colony of Brazil. At the same time the Dutch conquest of areas in Africa with a slave trade seemed to offer them a solution. The result for the Netherlands and its colonies was grim.

In 1637 the West India Company decided to formally enter the slave trade. The market for slaves in New Amsterdam sometimes auctioned off hundreds of human beings at a time. Pretty soon, the population of the settlement was 20% enslaved and free Africans. Other Dutch colonies like Suriname instituted some of the harshest conditions for slaves in the Atlantic world. The Netherlands was one of the last European countries to abolish slavery in 1863. In the end, the Dutch transported about 550,000 enslaved Africans to the Americas, roughly 5 percent of the total transatlantic slave trade.

Political turmoil in Amsterdam helps African slaves on New Harlem farms

In the meantime New Amsterdam was being mismanaged by a schemer intent on enriching his own pockets. Willem Kieft, a new director of New Netherland, arrived in 1638. He arrived amidst a swarm of negative rumors. One said he had stolen the money raised to ransom Christians imprisoned by the Turks.

Kieft lived up to fears by his mismanagement of the colony. He created an overly aggressive policy to handle disputes with local Indians resulting in a unity of the tribes and all out war in 1643. Fiery religious leader Anne Hutchinson and some of her follower were killed in the backlash on the Hudson River. Settlers and slaves in north Manhattan also felt the full fury of the Indians. They fled back to the fortified town of New Amsterdam. From the pulpit the pastor friendly to the African slaves, Everardus Bogardus, launched withering criticisms of Kieft. In March 1643 some New Amsterdamers ploted to assassinate the director. The brutal war had left the settlers dazed with blood on their hands. The economic losses were enormous.

Kieft started creating buffers with the Indians by resettling farmers including freed slaves back into the areas of northern Manhattan and elsewhere. Kieft was forced to soften the pro-slavery policy of New Netherland. He also allowed English Presbyterians to hold church meetings during the period of 1644-1645.

On February 25, 1644 a New Netherland policy on slaves gave them a number of civil rights and granted them the ability to gain “half-freedom” which meant that they were legally free but had to pay an annual tribute and that their children remained slaves. Half-free Africans created “the Negroes’ Farms” on the outskirts of town. Some drifted up to the New Harlem area.

By 1647 the situation in New Amsterdam was almost a civil war. The church authorities summoned Bogardus back to Amsterdam to answer charges made against him by Director Kieft. Simultaneously, the West India Company summoned Kieft back to defend his disastrous policies and handling of finances. The two men sailed on the same ship, the Princess Amalia, and both perished in a shipwreck off the English coast.

With Bogardus’ death the Africans lost their strongest advocate.

Embarkation of Domine Everardus Bogardus, 17 August 1647. Uncertain title and authorship, between 1647-1687.