Vintage Harlem Photos with Class

Harlem is one of the most culturally and historically important locations in New York. These vintage Harlem photos present the evolution of Harlem through the decades. While Harlem’s crime rate is a lot higher than the national average and can be a dangerous place, it is also a fact that Harlem has produced some of the best artists in the United States since the 1920s.

a couple in vintage harlem

Especially, the 1920s is an important time period for Harlem because this is when the Harlem Renaissance started. At the end of WWI, many black people started moving to Harlem. Some of these people were highly gifted artists and they basically started a wave of cultural revival in Harlem.

vintage harlem photo of a group of people

Harlem started to become a place of quality entertainment with its theatres, jazz clubs, bars and speakeasies. During the Prohibition, when selling alcohol was illegal, Harlem attracted New Yorkers in great numbers.

vintage harlem man with a bike

Willie “The Lion” Smith and Fats Waller, some of the best jazz pianists of their time.

two men in suits
The Lost Child

Harlem also started to change its fashion sense and fused tradition with novelty. Long dresses, short skirts, afro hairs, vibrant suits, hats, and shirts became the go-to dresses of the people of Harlem. Today, the vintage Harlem fashion is as popular and sought out as it was in the past.

people with suits and afros
1960s and 1970s

A Harlemite lady and her dog.

harlem woman with her dog
A History of Dogs

However, the entertainment came to an end when the Great Depression hit. Many black people were fired from their jobs which did not pay even the half of what white people were earning. To add insult to injury, black people who had jobs were attacked by unemployed white men as well. This led to riots in Harlem which pushed away wealthy white bosses who were in the entertainment business.

men with hat smoking in harlem
Henri Cartier Bresson
two ladies from vintage harlem leaving a church
Arthur Fellig

One of the first black police officers operating in Harlem in the 1940s.

a policeman from vintage harlem
Leslie Greene
dapper trio

In the following decades, Harlem became a place of resistance against racism and discrimination of the white America. The important figures of the Civil Rights Movements such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King frequently visited Harlem, conversed with people, and gave speeches.

malcolm x in harlem
Naim Abdur Rafi

Joe Luis, famous boxer who held the world title for 12 years, and his wife Marva Trotter.

joe and marva trotter

Culturally, socially, and racially, Harlem has been one of the most important places in New York and American history. The vintage Harlem photos are like a viemaster taking people back in time. These photos surely give a sense of nostalgia to everyone, even to people who have never been to Harlem.

basketball team of vintage harlem