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Move to rename New York’s Harlem sparks outrage over erasing black history

Harlem was home and inspiration to generations of leading African Americans — Malcolm X dubbed it “Seventh Heaven”, while artists such as poet Langston Hughes and singers Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald lived there.

world Updated: Jun 27, 2017 21:04 IST
New York
New York’s Harlem neighbourhood,Ella Fitzgerald,Malcolm X
Historian Billy Mitchell posing outside the Apollo Theater in the Harlem section of New York in June 2014. (Reuters File)

New York City real estate companies’ attempts to rename New York’s Harlem neighbourhood as SoHa have enraged long-time residents of the historically black enclave, who say the move erases the community’s rich cultural history.

The neighbourhood served as home and inspiration to generations of leading African Americans, including activists WEB Du Bois and Malcolm X, who dubbed it “Seventh Heaven.” Artists such as poet Langston Hughes and singers Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald also lived there.

The “SoHa” name, echoing the high-priced, largely white Manhattan neighbourhood of SoHo in lower Manhattan, has begun appearing in real estate listings for apartments located between 110th Street and 125th Street, and Realtor Keller Williams boasts a “SoHa Team” of agents on its website.

Keller Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

Harlem’s US Congressman Adriano Espaillat vowed to introduce a House resolution to protect Harlem from being renamed.

“#WeRHarlem! And we refuse to be called by any other name! #NY13 #HarlemStrong,” Espaillat tweeted on Monday. The post accompanied a photograph of the famed Apollo Theater, where Fitzgerald made her singing debut at age 17 on Amateur Night in 1934.

Espaillat said the congressional resolution he plans to introduce this week “supports imposing limitations on the ability to change the name of a neighbourhood based on economic gain.”

“I along with leaders and constituents of this community stand united to vigorously oppose the renaming Harlem in yet another sanctioned gentrification,” he said in an email. “This is an incredibly insulting attempt to disown Harlem’s longtime residents, legacy, and culture.”

Jamie McShane, a spokesman for the Real Estate Board of New York, an industry association, said the group supports existing state regulations, which prohibit real estate brokers from using “a name to describe an area that would be misleading to the public.”

First Published: Jun 27, 2017 16:36 IST