Gentrification or Revitalization: The Abyssinian Development Corporation and the Redevelopment of Harlem by Means of Racial Uplift

Nzingha Crusoe, Fordham University


At the end of the 1980’s, Harlem was dilapidated, suffering from an epidemic of crack addiction, and some described it as a war zone. Harlem needed rebuilding and reform which came in the form of gentrification. Gentrification in Harlem displaced many long-term residents and forced them to leave their homes and look for housing outside Manhattan. To an outsider, one may just see that Harlem has made significant improvements over the last thirty years. It may appear that Harlem has been revitalized since the people living in Harlem ha remained predominantly black. Although Harlem needed rehabilitation, after the crack epidemic, did that rehabilitation have to take the form of gentrification? I examine the relationship between gentrification and revitalization using the Abyssinian Development Corporation (ADC) as a strategically important case, then I analyze the extent to which ADC has provided an avenue for the development of a new black middle class in Harlem. I aim to explore how the emergence of a new black middle class in Harlem has contributed to the transformation of this historic enclave. Over the past 30 years, Harlem has changed spatially, culturally, and economically largely due to what some may call “gentrification”. Gentrification implies that young white middle and upper class individuals move into working class urban neighborhoods and displace working class minority residents. The process of gentrification in Harlem has been different from other New York City neighborhoods, as the “gentrifiers” in this case are upper class blacks moving (back) into the community in west and central Harlem. I use the, ADC as a case study to examine in what ways did this church-affiliated development corporation serve as a vehicle for the black upper classes to alter the economic integrity and cultural identity of Harlem. Using the racial uplift theory, I examine class tensions among the black residents of Harlem that resulted from the gentrification or what some might call the revitalization of the area.^

Subject Area

African American studies|History|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Crusoe, Nzingha, "Gentrification or Revitalization: The Abyssinian Development Corporation and the Redevelopment of Harlem by Means of Racial Uplift" (2017). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10283073.