Jonathan Gill Speaker Series

To celebrate Black History Month in February 2010, Harlem Biennale launched its speaker series with Harlem historian, music critic, and former Upper Manhattan resident Jonathan Gill. Gill was invited to share his most recent research from his book Harlem: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America (Grove City Press, 2011).  He introduced some of Harlem’s lesser known Native American, African, Jewish, Italian, Latino, Irish, German, British and Dutch histories to challenge, complicate, and deepen our understanding of the economic turmoil, political struggles, and artistic production of twentieth century Harlem.

The talks were conceived as part of an ongoing conversation with the myriad communities navigating shifting economies and demographic politics in twenty-first century Harlem. After his opening lecture at the Museum of African Art on the role of Africans in the foundation and development of the village of Harlem, Gill was joined by authors Humberto Clintron and Christopher Bell at Taller Boricua to discuss the history and legacy of Latinos in East Harlem’s “El Barrio”. Each event was opened by a performance from Harlem Biennale’s “Our Better Angels”– ongoing residency and teen artist exchange program with artist Monte Laster. The talks continued at the Tenement Museum where Gill was joined by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, author of the critically acclaimed memoir Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America (Little, Brown and Company, 2011). The next day Gill focused on 20th-century Black Harlem in dialogue with a live performance by students at the venerable Harlem School of the Arts. Finally Gill elucidated more lighthearted topics, as he sat down with a smaller audience at the Harlem Aloft Hotel to talk about some of the neighborhood’s most unusual and eccentric characters, whom he called “Saints and Sinners.”

From the Museum of African Art Lecture: