In the 1920s, Harlem lent its name to an African-American cultural renaissance that became a widespread movement in cities throughout the country. For the first time, mainstream publishers, critics and audiences turned their attention seriously to African-American literature, music, art and politics. They were fascinated by the talents of performers like Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker and dazzled by the eloquence of writers such as Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Though the Harlem Renaissance was controversial--some thought it reinforced negative cultural stereotypes or played into racist cliches about African-American life--there was no doubt that it marked an important moment in the history of American culture.
In the years after World War II, Harlem lost its position as the largest center of New York's African-American population, but it retained its status as a mecca for black cultural and political life. Housing reform movements, a controversial wave of gentrification have changed the face of much of Harlem, cut down on crime and upped its real estate value in many places. A turning point in this shift was former president Bill Clinton's choice of West 125th Street as the location of his offices in 2001.
Today's Harlem encompasses a diverse group of sub-neighborhoods and residents, including East or Spanish Harlem (First Avenue to Fifth Avenue, East 96th-125th Streets); Central Harlem (Central Park North to the Harlem River, Fifth Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue); and West Harlem, including Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill (West 123rd to 155th Streets, St. Nicholas Avenue to the Hudson River). It's still a top destination for artists, as well as those interested in African-American history and culture: in addition to the Cotton Club, check out the legendary Apollo Theatre on West 125th Street, the launching ground for such iconic performers as Billie Holiday, Thelonius Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
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