James Weldon Johnson: “Harlem: The Culture Capital”

(1925)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

In “Harlem: The Culture Capital,” Johnson describes the past, present, and what he envisions as the future of the New York City neighborhood that black intellectuals considered the black capital. His observations chronicle the transitions in the ethnic makeup of Harlem and the migration of blacks from other parts of the city, in search of economic opportunity and financial security. Johnson closes with an optimistic vision of Harlem’s prospects for ongoing prosperity and stability.

Paragraphs 1 and 2

In the first two paragraphs of his essay, Johnson sounds a glowingly optimistic note about the brief past and promising future of black Harlem, which he describes as the “great Mecca” for the curious and enterprising who have in a very short period of time come from all parts of the United States and even from Africa and the Caribbean Islands. He points out at some length that although Harlem is heavily populated by blacks, it is not a...

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Harlem River in the first decade of the twentieth century (Library of Congress)

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