The Harlem Project: New York Perspectives on Civil Rights

About the Site

The primary aim of this project is to promote the use of primary and secondary source documents in high school and middle school classrooms. Too often, secondary students are led through a study of history using only the school- issued textbook. While these sources are rich with valuable information, the compelling stories of history are sometimes forgotten.

This web project serves as a usable resource for teachers in examining New York history in the context of the tumultuous Civil Rights movement of the early to mid-20th Century. Geared for secondary school teachers, the site should prove useful for teachers in trying to put faces to the historical periods. By tracing the lives of these three leaders, students will hopefully gain a deeper understanding of the motivations and goals of the Civil Rights movement itself and how New Yorkers tried to contribute to the effort. Too often, a discussion of this era focuses solely on Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, or events in the Jim Crow South. This project illustrates the national reach of the movement.
Research suggests that students are more active learners when teachers cover topics and issues that are more compelling and personal. We have created a project that connects New York State history to the larger cultural contexts of the 20th Century. By talking about possibly lesser-known people and places right in their backyard, teachers may be able to engage more of their classes.

The site focuses on three New Yorkers who proved highly influential in the growth of the Civil Rights movement. Hamilton Fish, Langston Hughes, and Shirley Chisholm came from extremely diverse backgrounds and contributed in varying ways towards moving the cause of African-American equality. Fish, a prominent white man, served as a Lieutenant to the Harlem Hellfighters, all-colored 369th regiment during World War I. Langston Hughes worked to alter the perceptions of African-Americans through his literary work in what was dubbed the Harlem Renaissance. Shirley Chisholm epitomized the goal of the Civil Rights era by starting out as a teacher in Harlem, moving on to local and later state and national politics, ultimately running for the Presidency in 1972.

Each of these individuals had a strong connection to Harlem. This project tries to link the accomplishments of three individuals from the World War I era, through the 1920s and 1930s until the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to examining Harlem from a chronology that carries through the 20th Century, these figures also provide a glimpse into three distinct racial, perspectives. Through Hamilton Fish, one gains a sympathetic white male’s perspective contrasted against Langston Hughes’ work as an African-American living in a mainly segregated society. Shirley Chisholm provides an African-American woman’s perspective on fighting not only for equal rights, for her race, but also her fellow women. Though different and independent of each other each divergent point of view gives an intimate snapshot into American views on race throughout these time periods.

You can start by looking through the exhibits on each of the three individuals. Students can interact with the site content by responding to the questions found throughout the exhibits. Teachers can go straight to the resources page to see how our site can be used in the classroom. The documents page provides quick and easy links to primary source documents that illustrate the contributions that each of these people made to promoting civil rights.

About the Producers