In the New Hebrew Quarter of Harlem 1904 Part II

Residents Live Under Different Conditions from Those That Prevail in the East Side Ghetto.

But the migration is only recent; the break is by no means absolute. If one should go to the clubrooms of any one of a dozen institutions on the East Side, notably the University Settlement, he would meet dozens of young people, ranging in age from twenty to thirty, who come down several nights a week to their old guild meetings, still preserving their sentimental connection with their former home district. But the link is a slowly breaking one. The Harlemites come less often; one by one they drop away as their interests uptown grow. Then they carry with them many of the old habits. The University Settlement numbers among its most valuable assets, among the most valuable of its proofs of good work, a branch in Harlem made up of the hundred or more young people who first came to the Settlement when they were residents of the East Side, and who preserve their common interests by an organization similar in character to the New England or Southern societies.

"You would hardly believe me," said a former headworker of the Settlement one night, as he stood watching a group of well dressed young men and women, "that I remember all those young folk when they came to the Settlement over in Delancey Street. You see that girl the belle of the occasion" he indicated a beautifully gowned young woman. "I remember her when she brought her pennies to our little bank, her clothes in rags and an old shawl on her head. I remember all of these people as they were. I can hardly believe the change."

In the University Settlement there used to be a club, which named itself the S.E.I.; juist what the letters indicated was always more or less of a mystery, but it was one of a dozen similar societies, first organized as a boys' club, when its members spent their evenings in debates, in declamations and in reading, ten years ago. Two years ago the S.E.I. Club ceased to hold meetings at the University Settlement. The reason assigned was that it was almost impossible to get a quorum. A census showed that nine out of ten members lived north of One-hundredth-street. They had joined the migration to Harlem. This club had on its rolls half a dozen young lawyers, as many public school teachers, successful salesmen and young men in other business activities. Their earnings would not compare unfavorably with those of the average college man a few years away from his academic studies. Half a dozen of them have been to Harvard themselves.

This club represents a typical cross-section of the new ghetto. For these young people the region of tenements, of the old sordid, cramped, unlovely conditions, was impossible, and they gradually joined in the movement until the last member had crossed the boundary of the lower ghetto. Then for another year or two they came with a fair degree of regularity to their old haunts, but the distance told. Now they dine together once a year, but the club has ceased to exist. The last president is now the head of the Harlem Guild, a branch of the Settlement organized by Samuel Viertel to keep up the old traditions.

Moreover, the same process is going on still. The University Settlement is still full of young people, who are longing, planning and working for the time when they can go "uptown." There is no sign regarded more hopefully by the people of the East Side__that is, by the people who have labored and wrought to bring about the change in the conditions of l ife of the thousands of new citizens pouring into America and into New York City than this migration toward American institutions which is embodied in the movement to Harlem. That in the short span of a generation a hundred thousand persons have laid aside the old and embraced the new, moved out of old suffering into new comfort, abandoned a language that has bound them together for half a thousand years, is no small or insignificant fact in the life of the great city.

A visit to one of the Harlem homes is in itself an experience. Not that in itself it has any large degree of interesting incident; ten minutes in a single tenement on the East Side is worth for mere novelty a whole day in the wilderness of the Harlem flats; but the pride in their conditions, the simple pleasure with which each article of furniture that marks the change from the old is shown and commented on, the ever present desire to be understood as ordinary American citizens sharing the customary normal American opinions, the serving of the little afternoon tea, the serving of dinner with the American order of courses, all these little details, which do not always lie near to the surface, are in themselves potent evidences of the change that has come about.

"On the East Side," said a well educated Hebrew, who had grasped the conditions and viewed the situation dispassionately, "my people have gained that which they sought first from America, freedom; but in the newer colonies they have gained more than freedom: they have gained their right to be Americans."

It would not be accurate to make the new migration solely one to Harlem. Hundreds have drifted to the country, to the nearby cities in Jersey, and there are also at least three other distinct settlements in the greater city. Entirely distinct from the main Harlem quarter, but partaking in most respects of its characteristics save that the degree of progress is a bit less is that settlement from One-hundredth to One-hundred-and-tenth-street., between Third and First avenues., and then between Sixtieth and Eighty-sixth streets., between the same avenues. These are sort of half way stations in the march. Then there is a settlement, which David Blaustein, superintendent of the Educational Alliance, estimates to hold between forty and fifty thousand persons, across the Harlem River along Wendover-avenue., about One-hundred-and-sixty-ninth-street., and yet another, to which he gives a similar population, across East River in East New York. The latter belongs in some respects more to the class of the downtown ghetto than the Harlem settlement.

But the new settlement represents the progress of the generation; to call it a ghetto is to name it for the race and religion, not the customs or the manners, of its inhabitants. That the Harlem colony is again only a station on the main line of progress and that beyond it the Hebrew people will individually, breaking from one another, enter the great body of American citizenship; that they will in another generation lose distinctive quality in the manner which the German-American, the Irish-American and the other hyphenated Americans have, is the belief of many on the East Side who have studied thoughtfully the meaning of the Harlem migration.

Website: The History
Article Name: In the New Hebrew Quarter of Harlem 1904 Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


The New York Tribune January 17, 1904 Pages:5-7
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