Essay about Gilbert Osofsky’s Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto

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Gilbert Osofsky’s Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto paints a grim picture of inevitability for the once-exclusive neighborhood of Harlem, New York. Ososfky’s timeframe is set in 1890-1930 and his study is split up into three parts. His analysis is convincing in explaining the social and economic reasons why Harlem became the slum that it is widely infamous for today, but he fails to highlight many of the positive aspects of the enduring neighborhood, and the lack of political analysis in the book is troubling.

In “Part One: The Negro and the City,” Osofsky describes the early Black neighborhoods of New York City, in the lower parts of Manhattan: from Five Points, San Juan Hill, and the Tenderloin. He describes the state of
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Many of the established, middle class Blacks did not want to be associated with the Black migrants of the south, who they saw as lazy, loud, abrasive, and of poor moral character. Despite these tensions, many Blacks formed fraternities, organizations, and charities to help better the situation of the Black migrants. Osofsky reminds us that these Black communities were often limited to a few city blocks, and teeming with buildings overcrowded with Blacks, thus creating a need for more space or a bigger neighborhood.

In “Part Two: The Making of a Ghetto,” Osofsky shifts from a macro-study of Black migration in the United States, to a micro-study of Harlem, a remote neighborhood approximately eight miles from City Hall. He describes how Harlem was once a town sparsely populated by an affluent bunch that wanted to be as far away as possible from downtown. But like most of New York, Harlem’s growth was what Osofsky called “a by-product of the general development of New York City.” He attributes this growth to the annexation of Harlem to New York City and the subsequent developmental projects the city undertook in Harlem, such as filling in marshlands and extending transportation lines to the rural retreat of the aristocrats of New York City.

With this development came many land speculators. It was widely known that with transportation comes a greater demand for the land being developed. Developers built rows of luxury

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