NEW YORK — "Harlem is rich in history," says Horace Carter of the Emanuel Pieterson Historical Society.
The names of famous Americans of Harlem span ethnic and color lines. A founding father, Alexander Hamilton, owned a country home here. Broadway composer Richard Rodgers was born on 120th Street. Lorenz Hart lived around the corner on 119th Street. Oscar Hammerstein II grew up on 116th Street. Malcolm X lived here and has a street named after him.
Harlem's African-American entertainers include Fats Waller, W.C. Handy, Lionel Hampton, Scott Joplin, Eubie Blake, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Robinson, Ethel Waters, Florence Mills, and the great Billie Holiday. America danced to "The Charleston," the song that epitomized the 1920s and was composed by James P. Johnson, an African-American living in Harlem.
The black writers of Harlem are among the nation's finest - including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin.
Much of Harlem's past, including the Cotton Club nightclub, is gone. But many landmarks remain. Not all streets are crime-free, so most tour companies suggest that visitors travel in organized groups during daylight hours. Among sites usually recommended are the Morris-Jumel Mansion - which is the only pre-revolutionary home still surviving in Manhattan, built in 1765; the Abyssinian Baptist Church on 138th Street has a historical section on its former pastor - and congressman - Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; the famous Apollo Theater is on 125th Street; the National Guard Armory was home to the 15th New York Regiment (made up of blacks), which fought in Europe during World War I.
African-American art is explored at the Studio Museum on 125th Street. On Lenox Avenue, there is the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, which is considered the leading research institution of its kind in the United States.
Some scholars lament the dispersal of black artists, writers, and musicians to other communities. Part of the reason for their loss, says Harlem expert Walter Stafford, is that "no cultural center" was established in Harlem to recognize such accomplishments as jazz and dance.