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The Negro Churches of Harlem in 1930, Part 1 by George H. Hobart

We are making available excerpts of a hard to get report on the 1930 census of Harlem churches done by the Greater New York Federation of Churches.

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"The Good Shepherd" in Harlem. Photo: James Van Der Zee, 1930


(We are making available excerpts of a hard to get report on the 1930 census of Harlem churches done by the Greater New York Federation of Churches. )


In prosecuting the research I interviewed, by appoint­ment in nearly every case, over fifty pastors, including eight Catholic priests, sixty-four school principals, the secretaries of the Harlem YMCA and YWCA, the Urban League, and have had interviews with several other persons familiar with the Negro life of Manhattan.

In addition material assistance has been received from the Herald-Tribune articles written by Mr. Beverly Smith and published last February.

I have read portions of the "New Negro" edited by Allan Locke; "Negro in American Cities" by T.J. Woofter, Jr.; "The Negro in American Life” by Dowd; “Black Manhattan" by James Welden Johnson; and "The U.S. Looks Its Churches' an analysis and compilation of the religious census of 1926, by Dr. C. Luther Fry.



The "Town of New Harlem" was founded in August, 1658 at the foot of 125th Street and the Harlem River. The original southern boundary was from 129th Street and the Hudson River to the East River at 74th Street and included all the land north of that line.

It has witnessed a succession of dominant groups of inhabitants:  Dutch, Irish, Jews and Negroes. Of these the latter is the dominant group in the section between 110th Street and 155th Street from Eighth, St. Nicholas and Convent Avenues to the Harlem and East Rivers. The former groups have largely disappeared from this section.

A considerable group of Jews live east of Lenox Avenue between 110th and 116th Streets, and a large group of Italians reside between Third Avenue and the East River from 110th Street to theHarlem River.

The entrance of the Negro into Harlem began about 1900. It came about during a period of real estate depression. Harlem had been overbuilt, and many houses and apartments had no tenants. Some owners being ap­proached by Mr. Philip A. Payton, a Negro real estate dealer, with the proposition that he could fill the empty apartments with good Negro tenants brought about the entrance. The houses first taken over were on 134th Street, east of Lenox Avenue. Later, because growth was rapid, homes were sought west of Lenox Avenue. This was resisted for some time by the white group, but in the end the Negroes settled west of Lenox Avenue.


BOUNDARIES OF NEGRO HARLEM (1930 boundaries indicated in red on the map)

For purposes of this study "Harlem" is the section of Manhattan from 110th Street north to the Harlem River. The western boundary is an ir­regular line made up of Eighth, Manhattan, St. Nicholas and Convent Avenues. The eastern line is very irregular, but mainly Lexington Avenue. "The greatest Negro city in the world" is found within these limits.

The specific boundaries are given below. This section includes a portion of Washington Heights from West 145th Street to West 155th Street along St. Nicholas, Edgecombe and Convent Avenues.

These details are made possible through the fact that the writer used a map prepared by the Urban League of Harlem, and by personal investigation made by traversing every street and avenue north of 110th Street, and from Amsterdam Avenue to the East and Harlem Rivers.

The densest population of Negroes in the world is said to be in the vicinity of Lenox Avenue and West 134th St. 



Nothing definite relative to the Negro population of Harlem can be given at this time. Here are some estimates: The Urban League, 220,000; T. J. Woofter, Jr. in "Negro Problems in Cities," 128,000 in 1928; James W. Johnson in "The New Negro," 175,000; the YMCA gives 160,000 in an article on "Needs of Negroes Brought Up to Date." Tests resulting from this study give different figures. On this basis the population is 144,330. Another test indicates the population is 125,000.



There are two main groups of colored people--the American and West Indian Negro. Incidental to this grouping, it is estimated there are 35,000 foreign-born Negroes in Harlem, of whom 8,000 are from the Virgin Islands.

These estimates may not be at all near the accurate figures, but are given as an index of the movement of these groups into the city.

The vast majority of American Negroes is found north of 125th Street, while south of it are many Spanish-speaking groups. These Spanish repre­sent several nationalities, The Spanish Evangelical Church, on West 115th Street, near Seventh Avenue, serves sixteen nationalities. The color of these groups ranges from white to black and all worship together happily. It is in this section that many West Indians are found.

The foreign-born Negro largely controls the business of Harlem as conducted by Negroes. He is aggressive in business and trade and quite generally considers himself better than the American Negro. This is re­sented by the American Negro, who considers himself in no way inferior.

While several churches have both groups worshipping together, in almost every case the West Indian forms but a small percentage of the congregation. For the most part the West Indian is found in the Lutheran, Moravian, Protestant Episcopal, Wesleyan and Catholic churches.



The districts to which many Negroes are going were already known. These districts are Jamaica, Flushing, Corona, Williamsbridge in the Bronx and sections of Brooklyn and Long Island and New Jersey.

Other sections, revealed by the questionnaire, to which they are migrating are Nepperham, New Rochelle, White Plains, Mt. Vernon, Pelham Manor and Tuckahoe in Westchester. Other sections given were Astoria and the Rock­aways.

Next: The church census with fabulous visual displays.


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