Monday, January 11, 2010

Harlem's Shrinking Black Population

In an alarming trend, African Americans are leaving Harlem.

Rise and Fall of the African American Population in Harlem

Based on statistical estimates and analyses by Social Explorer, the New York Times focused last week on the amazing fact that African Americans in Harlem have ceased to be a majority of the population for the first time since the Depression.

While the African American population in Harlem was a small minority at the beginning of the twentieth century, it grew quickly in the early part of the century. As we have discussed in the past, the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church moved from mid-town Manhattan to Harlem in the 1920's as it both chased the African American population's movement and served as a catalyst for accelerating an African American migration to Harlem that lasted into the second half of the twentieth century. The African American population growth momentum encountered the countervailing forces of redlining and Jim Crow but moved forward powerfully nonetheless.

The decline in the Harlem African American population that ultimately resulted in the loss of the African American majority had the turmoil of the 1970's as a catalyst. The 1990's and the first decade of the twenty-first century brought many new residents to Harlem, but the African American population declined as a whole in Harlem.

The distinction between Central Harlem and Greater Harlem is important to understand. Central Harlem is the part of Manhattan that sits between 110th Street and 155th Street between 5th Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue. Greater Harlem is the full area of Manhattan from the East River to the Hudson River and from East 96th Street and West 110th Street to West 155th Street.

The New York Times specifically looked at the rising white population:
The 1990 census counted only 672 whites in central Harlem. By 2000, there were 2,200. The latest count, in 2008, recorded nearly 13,800.

The Times discussion of the declining African American population included numbers that were equally dramatic:
The number of blacks living in greater Harlem hit a high of 341,000 in 1950, but their share of the population didn’t peak until 1970, when they made up 64 percent of the residents. In 2008, there were 153,000 blacks in greater Harlem, and they made up 41 percent of the population.

The African American population is now smaller in Harlem than it has been since before the Depression, and it is now less than half of the size of the 1950's peak levels. It is a trend that is difficult to reverse, but it is a trend that we should not accept.

Bed-Stuy Stumbles As Well

Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is experiencing a decline African American population as well. The African American population in Bed-Stuy declined from 98% to 72% between 1980 and 2006.


  1. Things change, who cares. No racial group "owns" any particular area especially in NYC. In my opinion the fact that these areas are becoming more diverse is great it broadens ones knowledge of other cultures in an increasingly more diverse nation. A young person that is in a community made up of over 90% of his own race or ethnic group is at a disadvantage compared to a well cultured person raised in an extremely diverse area. I don't see why it should be seen as alarming that neighborhood that were once all white then became all black are now becoming mixed. I do know that only a racist could take issue with his or her neighborhood becoming more diverse and short of breaking the law there is nothing you can do to stop this trend. Harlem is rich in history and so is Bed-Stuy but thats what museums and historical sites, and school books are for its not like the areas history will vanish from this earth just because the areas demographics change a bit. Anyone who holds a closed minded, racist view of the world is gonna find out that the orld is gonna pass them by. Peace.

  2. I was sitting in the Dunkin' Donuts on 125th Street near Malcolm X Boulevard a couple of years ago. A fierce-looking beggar came in and harassed the customers for change. The lady seated next to me, a well-dressed black urban professional said afterward, "This is why I am moving Down South as soon as I can."

    I guess she wasn't the only one who did.