So Let's Talk about HARLEM

This year, ILHC is celebrating Norma Miller's 100th Birthday, and with it, the rich history of Lindy Hop and where it came from. And both Lindy Hop, and Norma, came from Harlem.


 So let's talk about HARLEM.

Can you truly understand Lindy Hop if you don't understand Harlem?

A neighborhood above New York City's Central Park, Harlem began life as a real estate dream in the late 1880s. When that dream wasn't fulfilled by the anticipated White urbanites flocking to the "uptown" area, a Black real estate entrepreneur named Philip A Payton, Jr. told anxious landlords he could easily fill their buildings with Black residents, and he did just that. The "Black mecca" was born, and Payton has been considered the "Father of Harlem" ever since.

The horrifying Jim Crow culture of the early 1900s American south made millions of southern Black Americans immigrate north to cities like Harlem, where they sought better treatment and opportunities. Many were so homesick for their "down home" cooking that Harlem became famous for its southern cooking restaurants. In the decades to come, they would also bring their down home music—jazz—with them.  

The manufacturing boom of World War I brought even more Black Americans from around the country to Harlem for work. There was also a substantial immigration of Carribean Islanders, including two from Barbados named Zalama Barker and Norman Miller. On December 2, 1919, they had a child they named Norma.   

All of these new Harlemites, consciously or not, would carry with them traditions from their African heritage—traditions that involved how they danced, how they made music, how they innovated, and how community played a role in all of it.

During the 20s, Harlem became home to an artistic renaissance. Painters, poets, writers, musicians, and philosophers in the community fought to show America that Black Americans were a powerful intellectual and artistic force. Many of these artists, fighting ideas from their own established community, explored homosexuality, bisexuality, and interracial relationships.

 In 1926, the height of New York’s "Jazz Age," Harlem opened the doors to the Savoy Ballroom, an integrated, grand dance hall built to be a peer of the famous "downtown" White-only ballrooms. Soon, in night spots like the Savoy, the Harlemites would help turn “Hot Jazz” into Swing. And they’d turn dances like the Charleston into the Lindy Hop.

This is the soil from which Lindy Hop, and forces of nature like Norma Miller, were born.

  ** Celebrate the rich history — and future — of Lindy Hop, and Norma Miller's 100th birthday, at the International Lindy Hop Championships, Nov 29-Dec 2, 2019. New date, new contests, and FREE entry into all Luck of the Draw contests. REGISTER NOW. Also, DC is home to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. Stay tuned for news on how ILHC and the museum are working together to bring Lindy Hop and its history together for ILHC 2019.**

——Bobby White

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