A Young Black Girl’s View Of Harlem At The Height Of The Great Migration | The New Yorker

By Emily Raboteau

Harlem 1940

Edward (Boy) and Mildred Harris, circa 1940. (COURTESY THE MILDRED HARRIS JACKSON COLLECTION)

Mildred Harris was born in South Carolina in 1926. She moved to Harlem as a baby, when her parents, Eddie and Jessie Mae Harris, joined the wave of African-Americans fleeing the South as part of the Great Migration. Mildred and her siblings—there would eventually be eight children altogether—grew up moving from building to building for Eddie’s work as a superintendent: 129th Street to 118th to Lenox to 112th to 111th to 120th to Edgecombe. Often, the Harrises would take in extended family members who had made the journey north after them; the U.S. Census indicates that, at one point, they had fourteen people living in their apartment. But the Great Depression made it difficult for Eddie to make ends meet, and in 1936 the family made a reverse migration from Harlem back across the Mason-Dixon Line. After nearly two years spent working as sharecroppers in South Carolina, they returned to Harlem, and Mildred and her siblings got a fresh view of the so-called black promised land.

Sometime during those years, Eddie gave Mildred a Kodak Brownie box camera for Christmas, which she used to take photographs of her family and friends beginning in the mid-nineteen-thirties. Her pictures, which follow the Harrises for two decades, form the centerpiece of an intimate exhibit currently on display at the LeRoy Neiman Art Center, in New York. The show, which is called “The Harrises of Harlem: Eight Generations” and is co-sponsored by the preservationist organization While We Are Still Here, features a dozen images taken by Mildred, alongside others from her personal archive of family photographs dating back to the late nineteenth century.

Read more: A Young Black Girl’s View Of Harlem At The Height Of The Great Migration


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