New York City has a black population of around two million. African slaves were first shipped to New York in 1644, when the city was still part of the Dutch colony called New Netherlands. There were around 2000 blacks in New York by the time of the War of Independence from Britain, the black slaves of New York helped fight the British in the hope of earning their freedom – the ones that did help fight were released from slavery by the state of New York after the war was over.
The abolitionist movement was gathering momentum in the early 1800s; it was established in New York along with Freedom’s Journal, America’s first newspaper for blacks. It was not till well after the Civil War in 1870 though that black men were allowed to vote. The black population of New York at the time also found themselves being economically downtrodden by immigrants from Eastern Europe and Ireland.
The area of Harlem in Upper Manhattan was developed by blacks coming up from the south during the early years of the 20th century; they helped to create a sense of community through creating churches, black-run businesses and nightclubs that were open to whites from other areas of New York.
West Indians also became a significant part of the Harlem community for the first time during this period – there was a kind of Harlem Renaissance from 1920 until about 1930 that witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of creative activity among African-Americans in all fields of art. It was was brought to a sad end though by the horrendous economic effects of the Great Depression.
The economic stability of New York’s blacks fell behind that of second and third generation white ethnic groups after the second world war; the local government was aware of the problem but chose to do nothing about it until the Harlem riots broke out in 1964. New York’s blacks were pretty much forced into living in grubby, grimy project housing, as in many larger cities; what was left of the black middle-classes had moved out to the suburbs with the middle-class white people during the 1970s.
Harlem has been given a new breath of life more recently though as West African’s have moved into the area, opening up new small businesses throughout the area – exciting eateries serving foods from the Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, and Nigeria; all delicious and a must for anyone.