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Race and Real Estate

Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Cooperation in Harlem, 1890-1920

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Race and Real Estate
    Book Description:

    Through the lens of real estate transactions from 1890 to 1920, Kevin McGruder offers an innovative perspective on Harlem's history and reveals the complex interactions between whites and African Americans at a critical time of migration and development. During these decades Harlem saw a dramatic increase in its African American population, and although most histories speak only of the white residents who met these newcomers with hostility, this book uncovers a range of reactions.

    Although some white Harlem residents used racially restrictive real estate practices to inhibit the influx of African Americans into the neighborhood, others believed African Americans had a right to settle in a place they could afford and helped facilitate sales. These years saw Harlem change not into a "ghetto," as many histories portray, but into a community that became a symbol of the possibilities and challenges black populations faced across the nation.

    This book also introduces alternative reasons behind African Americans' migration to Harlem, showing that they came not to escape poverty but to establish a lasting community. Owning real estate was an essential part of this plan, along with building churches, erecting youth-serving facilities, and gaining power in public office. In providing a fuller, more nuanced history of Harlem, McGruder adds greater depth in understanding its development and identity as both an African American and a biracial community.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53925-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Finance
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION (pp. 1-12)

    On a Saturday afternoon in July 1893, Marie F. Posey, an African American, sat at her kitchen window looking at workmen drilling on a rock outcropping behind her apartment building on East 122nd Street in Harlem. Her eight-year-old daughter, Marie Adel, was at her side. In the adjacent dining room Mrs. Posey’s mother-in-law, Mary, watched the other three Posey children: Irma, Austin, and Reginald. In the apartment one floor below, Mary McAdam, a white woman, spoke with her neighbor Albert Graham. The Saturday routines of these neighbors were suddenly interrupted by a deafening blast that sent a boulder directly into...

  5. 1 BLACK AND WHITE NEW YORKERS (pp. 13-33)

    Henry C. F. Koch, twenty-one years old in 1851 when he arrived in the United States from Hanover, Germany, eventually established a series of dry goods stores in New York City. John G. Taylor came to New York from Maryland and joined the New York City police force. Hutchens Bishop, a native of Baltimore living in South Carolina, was called to New York in the 1880s to serve as pastor of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New York’s first African American Episcopal congregation. Philip Payton arrived in New York in the final months of the century from Massachusetts, seeking his fortune....


    By the spring of 1904, H. C. F. Koch’s son Erduin was settled in as president of Koch & Co. on West 125th Street, living nearby in a Lenox Avenue townhouse. John G. Taylor had been living at his West 137th Street home for approximately one year, as had Philip Payton, in a West 131st Street townhouse eight blocks from Taylor. The year was pivotal for African Americans then living in Harlem. Their unremarkable coexistence with the white residents, marked by fluid, informal practices with regard to residential movement, was about to come to an end. In New york, as in...


    Through the early 1910s, real estate transactions in Harlem continued to reflect a range of interracial relations. As the first decade of the 1900s proceeded, some Harlem property owners decided that the black “invasion” of Harlem had to be confronted directly. They developed a legal strategy using racial restrictive covenants placed in the deeds of their properties to try to keep African Americans from moving into some areas of Harlem. Harlem’s white business class—business owners, lawyers, and other professionals—concluded that the problem was not with the blacks but with whites in Harlem who had not effectively marketed the...


    The restrictive covenant movement was clearly an example of racial conflict in Harlem related to residential property ownership in the first decades of the twentieth century. But as the African American purchases financed by white sellers Louis Partzschefeld, Charles Kroehle, and August Ruff demonstrated, with respect to residential properties there were also examples of cooperation across racial lines. This was not true for church properties. Where church properties were concerned, there were limits to cooperation with African Americans even for white Harlem residents who may not have been overtly hostile to the increasing black presence in Harlem. When African Americans...


    As the depositions in the Morlath case, and the movement to Harlem by black churches made clear, by 1913 African Americans had become a substantial presence in the area of Harlem bordering Lenox Avenue and 135th Street. Philip Payton, founder of the Afro-American Realty Company, was still a resident nearby, at 15 West 131st Street. In 1908 his company had folded following a lawsuit brought by disgruntled shareholders upset because they had not received the dividend Payton had promised to provide, but Payton landed on his feet, and soon started another company, Philip A. Payton Realty. By 1913, in addition...

  10. 6 REAL ESTATE AND POLITICS (pp. 151-175)

    Like thousands of other black Virginians at the turn of the twentieth century, John Mabery Royall traveled from his home state to New York City looking for better opportunities. The fourth of five children born to carpenter Pinkney Royall and his wife, Lucy, John Royall had attended the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute, but by the time he turned thirty, in 1902, he was working in a blue-collar job, with H. J. Heinz Company in New York. When he became a Pullman porter, however, his income likely increased, and his new job gave him access to a national network of...


    As early as 1915, it was clear that real estate broker John E. Nail had been wrong in 1913 when he predicted to the Harlem Board of Commerce that blacks had sufficient housing in Harlem for the foreseeable future. His firm, Nail and Parker, would play an important role in addressing the needs of blacks seeking housing there during a period of extreme housing shortages.¹

    From 1910 to 1920 the African American residential presence in Harlem continued to grow, pushed both by the movement of black New Yorkers from the midtown Manhattan neighborhoods and by the dramatic increase in blacks...

  12. CONCLUSION (pp. 207-218)

    From 1890 to 1920, the northern Manhattan community of Harlem changed from a village dominated by white middle-class merchants and professionals, with a small community of black residents, to a densely built urban community that was called the Black Capital of America. Although the period of dramatic change in Harlem is often described as one of “invasion” by black newcomers and “resistance” by white Harlem residents, details of the real estate transactions of the period indicate a more complex reality that challenges some elements of the “ghetto formation” model used by many historians to describe similar changes taking place in...

  13. NOTES (pp. 219-250)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 251-262)
  15. INDEX (pp. 263-277)