Thursday 10 April 2014

Spectators Watching Negro Elks Parade

"Therefore, this black city within a city exerted a magnetic pull for blacks from all over the world.  Harlem loomed large as the 'symbol of liberty' and 'a promised land' in the black imagination."
(Monique Taylor, Between Heaven and Hell)

The Great Migration, the movement of Blacks from the American South to the North, which had started during the First World War, was in full bloom.  Harlem was one of the most famous of all of the black neighbourhoods in the North.  Author Locke explained:  "Harlem has to play for the new Negro the same role as Dublin has had for the New Ireland or Prague for the New Czechoslovakia."  Harlem rose to the occasion:  it had experienced a Renaissance in the 1920's and early 1930's during which blacks had created a social and cultural life of their own.  Part of Harlem's social scene were the Elks, similar to the Masons, who met in a local lodge.  

On August 22, 1939, the Elks held one of New York's biggest parades of the decade.  Blacks gathered at an ornate three storey building on Lenox Avenue in Harlem to watch an Elks Parade.  Spectators poked their heads out of windows, perched on balconies and sat on front porches.  Under the blazing sun, men rolled up their shirt sleeves and women sported parasols.  Children sat on the curb out front to get a better view.  The parade would be one of the last innocent times in New York City for within ten days war would break out in Europe and within two and a quarter years, America would join in.

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