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Building a Healthy Black Harlem: Health Politics in Harlem, New York, from the Jazz ...

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Building a Healthy Black Harlem:


In her fictional work, The Street, Ann Petry described some of the problems inherent in urban black life in Harlem during the 1920s and 1930s. The main character, Lutie Johnson, is searching for an apartment so she and her son can move away from her controlling father. Walking on the cold, windy streets of Harlem in search of a clean and safe apartment, she sees an advertisement indicating that a “reasonable” apartment was available. Johnson thinks to herself the following:

Reasonable—now that could mean almost anything. On Eighth Avenue it meant tenements—ghastly places not fit for humans. On St. Nicholas Avenue it meant high rents for small apartments; and on Seventh Avenue it meant great big apartments where you had to take in roomers in order to pay the rent.1

As Petry's and other fiction and nonfiction writers' works demonstrate, the era between World War I and World War II was the most critical period for community development in Harlem, as this time had profound demographic, political, and economic shifts, and these developments had an equally profound impact