African Americans in New York City
|2 million (2010)|
|African American Vernacular English, New York City English, American English|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin American, African immigrants|
African Americans constitute one of the longer-running ethnic presences in New York City. The majority of the African American population largely claims descent from West and Central Africa by way of importation to the American South via the Atlantic slave trade (and a rarer presence of those descended from slaves imported directly to New York City), with smaller portions of the population claiming Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin American, and more recent Sub-Saharan African nations.
According to the 2010 Census, New York City had the largest population of self-defined black residents of any U.S. city, with over 2 million within the city's boundaries, although this number has decreased since 2000. New York City had more black people than did the entire state of California until the 1980 Census. The black population consists of immigrants and their descendants from Africa and the Caribbean as well as native-born African-Americans. Many of the city's black residents live in Brooklyn and The Bronx. Several of the city's neighborhoods are historical birthplaces of urban black culture in America, among them the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford–Stuyvesant and Manhattan's Harlem and various sections of Eastern Queens and The Bronx. Bedford-Stuyvesant is considered to have the highest concentration of black residents in the United States. New York City has the largest population of black immigrants (at 686,814) and descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean (especially from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Guyana, Belize, Grenada, and Haiti), and of sub-Saharan Africans. In a news item of April 3, 2006, however, the New York Times noted that for the first time since the American Civil War, the recorded African American population was declining, because of emigration to other regions, a declining African American birthrate in New York, and decreased immigration of blacks from the Caribbean and Africa.
In 2005, the median income among black households in Queens was almost $52,000 a year, surpassing that of white households.
Following the final abolition of slavery in New York in 1827, New York City emerged as one of the largest pre-Civil War metropolitan concentrations of free African-Americans, and many institutions were established to advance the community in the antebellum period. It was the site of the first African-American periodical journal, Freedom's Journal, which lasted for two years and renamed The Rights of All for a third year before fading to obsolescence; the newspaper served as both a powerful voice for the abolition lobby in the United States as well as a voice of information for the African population of New York City and other metropolitan areas. The African Dorcas Association was also established to provide educational and clothing aid to Black youth in the city.
However, New York residents were less willing to give blacks equal voting rights. By the constitution of 1777, voting was restricted to free men who could satisfy certain property requirements for value of real estate. This property requirement disfranchised poor men among both blacks and whites. The reformed Constitution of 1821 conditioned suffrage for black men by maintaining the property requirement, which most could not meet, so effectively disfranchised them. The same constitution eliminated the property requirement for white men and expanded their franchise. No women yet had the vote in New York. "As late as 1869, a majority of the state's voters cast ballots in favor of retaining property qualifications that kept New York's polls closed to many blacks. African-American men did not obtain equal voting rights in New York until ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870."
The emancipated African-Americans established communities in the New York City area, including Seneca Village in what is now Central Park of Manhattan and Sandy Ground on Staten Island, and Weeksville in Brooklyn. These communities were among the earliest
The city was a nerve center for the abolitionist movement in the United States.
The Civil War
At least 120 people were killed in the violence, with eleven African-American men being lynched by Irish immigrants over the course of five days and fifty buildings in predominantly-African areas being burned to the ground. It resulted in the mass migration of African-Americans from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and was followed by the asserting of power in the city by the growing white working class which had resented the draft for the Union Army and held racist sentiments against African-Americans. However, the draft was instituted and the white elite collaborated with black community leaders in supporting relief for the black survivors of the riots as well as for African-Americans who were drafted in the Union Army.
Harlem and Great Migration
The violent rise of Jim Crow in the Deep and Upper South led to the mass migration of African Americans, including ex-slaves and their free-born children, from those regions to northern metropolitan areas, including New York City. Their mass arrival coincided with the transition of the center of African-American power and demography in the city from other districts of the city to Harlem.
The tipping point occurred on June 15, 1904 when up-and-coming real estate entrepreneur Philip A. Payton, Jr. established the Afro-American Realty Company, which began to aggressively buy and lease houses in the ethnically-mixed but predominantly-white Harlem following the housing crashes of 1904 and 1905. In addition to an influx of long-time African-American residents from other neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, San Juan Hill (now the site of Lincoln Center), Minetta Lane in Greenwich Village and Hell's Kitchen in the west 40s and 50s. The move to northern Manhattan was driven in part by fears that anti-black riots such as those that had occurred in the Tenderloin in 1900 and in San Juan Hill in 1905 might recur. In addition, a number of tenements that had been occupied by blacks in the west 30s were destroyed at this time to make way for the construction of the original Penn Station.
The Great Depression and demographic shift
Harlem's decline as the center of the Afro-American population in New York City began with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. In the early 1930s, 25% of Harlemites were out of work, and employment prospects for Harlemites stayed bad for decades. Employment among black New Yorkers fell as some traditionally black businesses, including domestic service and some types of manual labor, were taken over by other ethnic groups. Major industries left New York City altogether, especially after 1950. Several riots happened in this period, including in 1935 and 1943. Following the construction of the IND Fulton Street Line in 1936, African Americans left an overcrowded Harlem for greater housing availability in Bedford–Stuyvesant. Immigrants from the American South and the Caribbean brought the neighborhood's black population to around 30,000, making it the second largest Black community in the city at the time. During World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard attracted many blacks to the neighborhood as an opportunity for employment, while the relatively prosperous war economy enabled many of the resident Jews and Italians to move to Queens and Long Island. By 1950, the number of blacks in Bedford–Stuyvesant had risen to 155,000, comprising about 55 percent of the population of Bedford–Stuyvesant. In the 1950s, real estate agents and speculators employed blockbusting to turn a profit. As a result, formerly middle class white homes were being turned over to poorer black families. By 1960, eighty-five percent of the population was black.
- Adam Clayton Powell Jr. - first person of African-American descent to be elected from New York to Congress; previously, first person of African-American descent to be elected to New York City Council
- Mary Pinkett, first woman of African-American descent to be elected to New York City Council
- David Dinkins - first African-American mayor of New York City (1990)
- Letitia James - first woman of African-American descent to be elected to citywide office (New York City Public Advocate)
- Dr. James McCune Smith - First formally trained African-American Medical Doctor (
- Willie Overton - First African-American police officer in present-day New York City (1891)
- Samuel J. Battle - First African-American police officer in the New York Police Department following consolidation of the boroughs (1911). Also the NYPD's first African-American sergeant (1926), lieutenant (1935), and parole commissioner (1941).
- Wesley Augustus Williams - first African-American officer in the New York Fire Department
- Todd Duncan - first African-American member of the New York City Opera
- William Grant Still's Troubled Island as performed by the New York City Opera - first black-composed opera to be performed by a major U.S. company
- Arthur Mitchell - First African-American male dancer in a major ballet company: (New York City Ballet); also first African-American principal dancer of a major ballet company (NYCB), 1956
- First African-American fire commissioner of a major U.S. City: Robert O. Lowery of the New York City Fire Department
- Brigette A. Bryant - first woman of African-American descent to serve as Vice Chancellor of the City University of New York
- "New York city, New York QuickLinks". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved December 1, 2013.
- The New York Times (April 3, 2006). "New York City Losing Blacks, Census Shows". Retrieved April 4, 2006.
- The New York Times (October 1, 2006). "Black Incomes Surpass Whites in Queens". Retrieved October 1, 2006.
- "African American Voting Rights" Archived 2010-11-09 at the Wayback Machine., New York State Archives, accessed 11 February 2012
- "The Making of Harlem," Archived 2006-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. James Weldon Johnson, The Survey Graphic, March 1925
- "Negro Districts in Manhattan", The New York Times, November 17, 1901.
- "Negroes Move Into Harlem", New York Herald, December 24, 1905.
- Alphonso Pinkney & Roger Woock, Poverty and Politics in Harlem, College & University Press Services, Inc., 1970, p. 26.
- "Harlem, the Village That Became a Ghetto", Martin Duberman, in New York, N.Y.: An American Heritage History of the Nation's Greatest City, 1968
- Echanove, Matias. "Bed-Stuy on the Move". Master thesis. Urban Planning Program. Columbia University. Urbanology.org. 2003.
- Newfield, Jack (1988). Robert Kennedy: A Memoir (reprint ed.). New York: Penguin Group. pp. 87–109. ISBN 0-452-26064-7.