Harlem Week

Harlem Week

Date Observed: August
Location: Harlem, New York

Harlem Week takes place in Harlem in New York City's borough of Manhattan. In past years, festivities took place over a week's time, and the celebration was called "Harlem Week." The name has stuck even though, in recent years, a wide range of events have been scheduled throughout the month of August. Harlem Week celebrates the past, present, and future glories of Harlem, as well as the people who comprise the community.

Historical Background

During the 1600s, the Dutch settled in a rural area of New York that they called New Haarlem, named for a Dutch city. The settlers imported African slaves to work the farms, and the area was primarily farmland and country estates until the late 19th century (see also Pinkster). It became rapidly urbanized with the construction of housing and elevated railroads.

During the first decade of the 20th century, blacks began to move into Harlem in large numbers, and the neighborhood became an African-American cultural hub. The area earned worldwide fame with the advent of the Harlem Renaissance - a literary and artistic flowering that occurred from the late 1910s through the mid-1930s. Luminaries of the movement included poets Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and Countee Cullen (1903-1946), and writer and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960). Other notable residents were labor leader A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979), singer and actor Paul Robeson (1898-1976), and businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker (1867-1919). (See also Paul Robeson's Birthday and Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities; for more on Harlem, see also African American Day Parade).

Creation of the Festival

In 1974 a group of residents organized Harlem Day in order to celebrate and preserve Harlem's cultural history. The festival proved to be so successful that, over the years, organizers added new activities. The festival's growth prompted "Harlem Day" to become "Harlem Week."


Harlem Week's schedule of events offers a great variety of activities. There are musical and dance performances, a film festival, a food festival, special children and family events, a health fair and sports clinic, a fashion show, an auto show, basketball and tennis classics, the National Historic Black College Fair and Exposition, and more. Near the end of the month, the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame holds its annual induction and awards ceremony.

Contacts and Web Sites

Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce 200A W. 136th St. New York, NY 10030-7200 212-862-7200; fax: 212-862-8745

"Harlem, 1900-1940, An African-American Community, An Exhibition Portfolio from The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture" Cultural Heritage Initiatives for Community Outreach School of Information University of Michigan 1085 S. University Ave., 304 West Hall Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1107 734-763-2285; fax: 734-764-2475

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture New York Public Library 515 Malcolm X Blvd. New York, NY 10037 212-491-2200

Further Reading

Banks, William H., Jr. Beloved Harlem: A Literary Tribute to Black America's Most Famous Neighborhood, From the Classics to the Contemporary. New York: Doubleday-Broadway/Harlem Moon, 2005. Cunningham, Michael, and Craig Marbarry. Spirit of Harlem: A Portrait of America's Most Exciting Neighborhood. New York: Doubleday, 2003. Harris, Leslie M. In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626- 1863. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004. Osofsky, Gilbert. Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1996.

Harlem Week

Sponsored by the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Harlem Week is the largest cultural festival in the United States. Participation in Harlem Week and its associated events is estimated to exceed two million people. The festival honors the unique history and importance of the Harlem neighborhood in New York City. This area was the site of an important flourishing in African-American culture known as the Harlem Renaissance during the early 20th century. The Harlem Renaissance marked the emergence of African Americans into the mainstream of the nation's art, music, literature, and culture while simultaneously proclaiming the unique vitality and character of the African-American experience.
When it originated in 1974, Harlem Week was conceived as a single day's celebration of the area's cultural contributions, and sought to revitalize interest in and recognition of the neighborhood's important past. Though the activities have expanded to encompass a wide range of sports, music, and educational events, Harlem Day remains the most important and event-filled day of the month-long celebration. A street fair, including performance stages, marketplace booths, and food vendors, is located on West 135th Street, and the rich musical heritage of the area is commemorated in numerous performances featuring swing, jazz, Latin, gospel, hip hop, reggae, R&B, and blues music. In addition, the festival includes history tours, fashion shows, an all-star basketball game, a youth tennis tournament, a college fair, a health fair, a children's festival, a senior citizens' party, and an auto show.
Harlem Week
200A W. 136th St.
New York, NY 10030
212-862-7200; fax: 212-862-8745
AAH-2007, 203
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