Harlem’s Community Murals

The Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem has a rich history as the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance, a flourishing of African-American literature, art, and music that began in the late 1910s. Today, visitors to Harlem can find a number of community murals celebrating that history, if they just know where to look.

One place to start is the Hope Steven Garden, located at 505 West 142nd Street, between Hamilton Place and Amsterdam Avenue. In 1986, Eva Cockcroft painted a mural titled “Homage to Seurat: La Grande Jatte in Harlem.” Over the years, the mural faded and paint began to peel because of exposure to the elements. The mural’s decay made its ultimate demise seem inevitable. But, in 2009, after pressure from the community, the mural was fully restored. It’s definitely one to visit if you make a trip to this neighborhood, and you can still see the mural clearly even if the garden’s gates are locked.

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Within a short radius of this site, you can find several other community-oriented murals. Just wander up and down the streets, and you’ll quickly find other treasures. On this particular walk, I spied a mural on the side of the building, just across the intersection, that I felt I had to see close up. Unfortunately, this mural  – as well as most of the other ones I discovered – don’t have a signature, and I have not been able to determine who the artists are.

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Here are the details from that mural.

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There were also a series of portraits of a few of the people associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Here is musician Billy Strayhorn, playing the piano, with a couple dancing in the background.

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I couldn’t find a label for this one, but it’s a beautiful portrait.

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This is a portrait of writer Langston Hughes.

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And finally, there’s this one of the famous jazz musician, composer, and band leader Duke Ellington.

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I’ll leave you with this one final mural celebrating Harlem’s musical history. Designed by artist Frank Parga, “The Melody of Harlem” was painted by a number of members of the local community.

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To explore these murals (and others in the neighborhood) for yourself, take the 1 train to either the 137th Street – City College station or the 145th Street station. You can also access this part of Harlem by MTA bus. The M4 and M5 buses travel along Broadway and stop approximately every 2 blocks, and the M100 and M101 buses travel along Amsterdam Avenue. While you are in the area, you may want to check out the Audubon Project Murals as well. It is only a short walk to most of those murals. (I’ve previously written about the Audubon Project Murals here.)

24 thoughts on “Harlem’s Community Murals

  1. Was the 1986 mural one of the first? I’m a bit curious about the history of street art: I can imagine city fathers (mothers might be more mello, if they existed!) being purse-lipped about defacing public space. I love coming across murals, and now when I visit a city I’ll seek them out. You’ve helped to fix them in my mind as something worth seeing.

    (On the subject of the history of Harlem, have you read “The warmth of other Suns” by Isabel Ilkerson, the story of the Great Migration from the south throughout the 20th century – told through the lives of three people who migrated in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. This is the kind of history I relish – the human face.)

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    1. Yes, the 1986 mural was the only one for many years – I think most of the others have popped up just in the past few decades.
      You suggest the best books to read – this is another I’m going to have to check out!

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      1. I found this one when I was suspicious about a reference in something I read: my ignorance, it proved to be! The Horowitz was recommended by another Australian blogger, pommiepal, just before she went on leave from the blogosphere.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. We were going to see Guardians this Sunday and there was a power outage at Dekalb. It happened again today and I have to head in to take my Dad to the doc. We took Lyft to the theater becuase there were no cabs and they charged a surcharge of 100% beucase of the power outage. I prefer supporting yellow cabs but there aren’t always available out here. Now how let me figure out how tog et in today.

        Liked by 1 person

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