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A People's History of Harlem: Celebrating Its Launch!

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As NYPL's oral history projects continue... we've launched our oral history project in Harlem at 115th Street Library! Our opening event on Saturday, May 10 for A People's History of Harlem was a wonderful afternoon of music, celebration, and a 16mm film from the Reserve Film and Video Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Over 50 people attended this event—interviewers, storytellers, and people who just recently heard about the project!

The room was filled with energy as Harlem musicians Henry Harp, John Satchmo Mannan, Yayoi Ikawa, and Larry (on bass) entertained us all with some jazz tunes and then played a "quintessential Harlem song" to really kick things off. They selected Take the A Train.

Helen Broady, a librarian at 115th Street Library who is working to build this project with branch patrons, spoke at the beginning of the event about the importance of "collecting, preserving, and sharing history during a time of neighborhood change." Many of the interviewers for this project are new people to the neighborhood who are curious about the history that surrounds them as they reach out to neighbors and friends, longtime residents of Harlem.

Erica Fugger from the Center for Oral History Archives at Columbia University and Miriam Laytner from Apollo Theater's Oral History Project talked about the longtime tradition of collecting oral histories in Harlem. It is an important effort to continue from generation to generation. We look forward to working with Miriam and Erica as this project continues to grow—learning from other important efforts to collect Harlem history.

Event attendees then got a sneak preview of A People's History of Harlem website (built by NYPL Labs) and listened to a few pieces from the stories collected so far—stories about music, neighborhood stores, first memories of Harlem, and new development (to name a few!)

Alexis Walker introduced Sunday on the River, a 16mm film that depicts a leisurely Sunday afternoon in Harlem during the summer of 1961. This film is part of a collection at the Reserve Film and Video Collection of the New York Public Library and was preserved with funding from the New York State Library, Division of Library Development. It is just the beginning of our 16mm film screenings at 115th Street Library for the summer! Mark your calendars for 2:00pm on June 13, July 18th, and August 29th - we'll be screening some rare and exciting films about Harlem neighborhood history as we discuss and listen to some pieces from our oral history project.. see you there!

About A People's History of Harlem at 115th Street Library:

This is a neighborhood oral history project that works to both preserve and document Harlem history through the stories of people who have experienced it. This project will collect oral histories of people who have lived or worked in the surrounding Harlem neighborhood and train community members to conduct these interviews. Interviews will be collected up until mid-September. Both longtime and more recent residents are invited to share their neighborhood stories, documenting Harlem’s past and present history. Interviews will be preserved at the Milstein Division, available in a circulating collection,  and accessible at the New York Public Library website.

For more information on how you can get involved, contact helenbroady@nypl.org or call 212-666-9393.

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