When Bill Clinton moved to Harlem after his presidency, he opened his office at 55 West 125th Street. He received a huge welcome from loyal Harlem Democrats but was also met with discontent from Harlem residents who definitely weren’t fond of his presence in the historic neighborhood known as a “Black Mecca.” Publications such as Vanity Fair and The Wall Street Journal were calling his arrival to Harlem a “resurrection” of the neighborhood and even the “Second Renaissance.”
Some are even calling it Harlem’s “second renaissance,” after the vibrant black cultural and civil-rights movement of the 1920s and ’30s. But detractors say the term “renaissance” is a misnomer: this time around it’s not about culture or ideology–it’s all about money. “I don’t know where people are coming from with this ‘second renaissance’,” says Murphy Heyliger, a Harlem native and owner of the boutique shop Harlemade. – (Newsweek, 2001)-
Gentrification was a huge thought for people who opposed the former President:
At Clinton’s rally, a militant group of New Black Panthers carried signs that read CLINTON = GENTRIFICATION (the white takeover of black Harlem). Nearby, a man stood at a folding table with taped-up fliers that said rent is too damn high. (Newsweek, 2001)
In the 1920’s, Harlem became the home of the Harlem Renaissance, known as the New Negro Movement during that time. The Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, was a political, artistic and cultural movement emerging out of emancipation and frustration with living under racist conditions. Approximately 6 million African Americans migrated out of the Southern part of the United States to other urban parts of the country. This migration gave fuel to the Harlem Renaissance leading to African American men and women alike, asserting themselves intellectually. Figureheads such as Langston Hughes, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B DuBois, Jessie Fauset, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Robeson and countless others made great contributions to the Harlem Renaissance with many of them having streets, schools, and other institutions named after them in their honor. Harlem was a new cultural, sociopolitical landscape; it was militant. Literature, music, stage productions, and visual art flourished as African Americans used creative expression to create a golden era that also developed the neighborhood of Harlem.
How can we compare this to Bill Clinton? The man once dubbed “the first Black president” because of his sax-playing appearance on “The Arsenio Hall Show?” The same man responsible for this:
When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.” (The Nation, 2016)
Exactly what renaissance was it? I’m inclined to believe that this “renaissance” was synonymous to exactly what Harlem’s Clinton opposers were shouting: GENTRIFICATION. Ain’t no way in hell, can a white man resurrect a neighborhood built on Black excellence. To even use the word renaissance in reference to the Harlem Renaissance is a complete slap in the face to our ancestors. This renaissance led to affluent motherfuckers moving to Harlem because of property value spikes. A white ruling class man could never recreate or “continue” A BLACK MOVEMENT in a historically BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD.
The same 125th Street strip is now reminiscent of downtown Manhattan with even a Whole Foods that’s been opened since July. Harlem has been subjected to gentrifications with gentrifiers trying to rename a section of the neighborhood (Central Harlem), “SoHa”.
Danni Tyson, a real estate broker and a member of Manhattan Community Board 10, which covers Central Harlem, says the move is “pretty arrogant.”
“I totally disagree with it,” said Tyson.
“To me, personally, it’s like trying to take the black out of Harlem.
“Harlem is Harlem.”
Tyson said when she says she’s from Harlem people “know it exactly what it stands for.”
“It’s not something longtime residents use,” she said.
The Clinton Foundation moved out of Harlem in 2011, ten years after Clinton’s move but what’s done has been done.