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African American Day Parade in Harlem

A Brief History of the African American Day Parade as it Celebrates 49th Anniversary

September 18, 2018 / Harlem Neighborhood NYC / Manhattan Parades / Manhattan Buzz NYC.

manhattan things to do nycI made my way up to Harlem to watch the African American Parade. The African American Day Parade returned on Sunday beginning at 1 pm along Adam Clayton Powell Blvd and 111th, and then marching north to 138th Street. It’s the largest African American parade in the nation and has its origins in the 1968 civil rights riots.

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated while standing on the balcony of a Memphis, Tennessee motel. James Earl Ray was charged with the crime and then admitted it, before recanting it multiple times later. James Earl Ray was sentenced to 99 years in prison and died at age 70 in 1998.

 

During the 1960's African Americans Clashed with the White Establishment Demanding the State Recognize their Constitutional Rights

There were 110 riots that broke out across the nation in anger at the shooting. U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis that evening and spoke before a large, predominantly African American crowd, informing them of the shooting, empathizing with their loss, recognizing their anger and asking them to respond with love. There weren’t any riots in Indianapolis.

New York City Mayor John Lindsay also responded by traveling to Harlem, the largest African American neighborhood in Manhattan, which had begun to experience some unrest and rioting. He too, expressed condolences for the loss of the slain civil rights leader, which had a calming effect on the city.

african american day parade harlem nycBut other American cities didn’t fare as well, including Chicago, which was highly segregated, and Washington, D.C. where then president Johnson was unpopular because of the draft and the ongoing Vietnam War. The draft appeared to unfairly conscript people of lesser means and Dr. King had begun to include this in his speeches.

 

Out of the Civil Unrest of the 1960's, Emerged a New Narrative for African Americans including the African American Day Parade

Nonetheless, some times good things arise out of bad circumstances, and the African American Day Parade was one such result. African Americans realized that they had to start taking control of their own cultural and historical narratives, as the American media was not providing the American people with a fair or balanced account of African American culture, history, nor the issues facing the African American community.


African American Day Parade in Harlem

A Brief History of the African American Day Parade as it Celebrates 49th Anniversary

September 18, 2018 / Harlem Neighborhood NYC / Manhattan Parades / Manhattan Buzz NYC. Continued.

The African American Day Parade Showcases African American Culture in Harlem & Beyond

harlem neighborhood photos manhattan nycThus in 1970, the African American Day Parade was first launched in Harlem. And it continues to this day, showcasing many of the neighborhood schools, cultural and social organizations, African Americans serving in the NYPD [police force], NYFD [fire department], the U.S. Armed Services, all levels of government, social and healthcare organizations, dance, theater and entertainment. According to the African American Day Parade [org] website, over 200 groups from 12 states were participating.

The African American Day Parade also showcases an ever-changing Harlem, which has been experiencing gentrification at a fairly rapid pace, like many other areas of the city. Naturally this is with both its positive and negative effects.

I spoke to several people along the way. Many were elated that the African American community had made the incredible progress it had over the years, and saw the parade as a means of positive reinforcement of the African American culture. And others, while happy with the large and ever growing turnout for the event, also were sanguine in recognizing that there was still plenty of work to do to reach full parity under the law.

 

The African American Day Parade in Harlem - Great Way & Place to get Taste of African American Culture

harlem photos manhattan things to do in harlem nycThe African American Parade is a huge event, with likely well over ten thousand of people participating in the event, and as many watching it. Adam Clayton Powell Blvd is a wide, spacious boulevard, so there’s plenty of room to move around, in spite of the large crowd, as there’s space for everyone. It was a beautiful day, people were in generally good moods, and the colors, music and food-friendly scents made for a good outing.

The architecture of Harlem is also of visual interest, as while a number of the older buildings have been replaced with the ubiquitous glass and steel high rises of our age, many of the older stone buildings remain. And off the side streets it’s not hard to get a sense of the old Harlem of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

After spending a fair amount of time photographing the enormous parade, I made my way east along a number of different streets noting the changes in restaurants, food stores, bodegas and a community garden.

The photos and live account are from 2016.



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