In the spring of 1904, the Hudson Realty Company, a firm led by White investors that had recently purchased occupied walkup apartment buildings in the Harlem Black enclave at 135th Street and Lenox Avenue, served the occupants with eviction notices. Philip A. Payton, Jr. and other Black investors quickly joined forces to purchase and lease other properties from White owner/allies in the area to block the effort to displace African Americans from the area.
Philip Payton began a concerted effort to brand Harlem for Black people, even though in 1904, their population was almost exclusively restricted to the three blocks of 133rd, 134th, and 135th Streets between Lenox and Fifth Avenues. Over the next thirteen years, with the arrival of thousands of African Americans to New York City, Harlem's Black population would expand west of Lenox Avenue and north toward 145th Street.
Phillip Payton was proud of his success in turning back the tide of eviction. Booker T. Washington, in New York at the time of the May anti-eviction meeting, wrote Payton a congratulatory note:
Black people may have moved to Harlem eventually, but Payton's efforts beginning in 1904, precipitated their movement to Harlem in great numbers in the 1910s preparing the way for the strong Black community that became a center for the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s.
Payton was joined in this effort by other Black real estate brokers such as John Nail and Henry Parker, whose firm would soon outpace Payton's activities. Payton, who died in 1917, did not live to see this, but his efforts did not go unnoticed. At his death, from cancer, at the age of forty-two, tributes described him as the "Father of Colored Harlem."
Excerpt from Philip Payton: Father of Black Harlem by Kevin McGruder
Phillip Payton was proud of his success in turning back the tide of eviction. Booker T. Washington, in New York at the time of the May anti-eviction meeting, wrote Payton a congratulatory note: “I have read in yesterday’s World how you turned the tables on those who desired to injure the race, and wish to congratulate you on this instance of business enterprise and race loyalty combined.”
The 135th Street eviction tragedy turned to triumph in June 1904 with the announcement of the incorporation of the Afro-American Realty Company (AARC), a company with a name that made clear who it planned to serve. A year earlier, in June 1903, the company had been quietly formed as a partnership “for the purpose of engaging in the business of renting and re-renting, leasing and subleasing, tenement houses, flats, or other buildings, for residences and other purposes, in the City of New York.”
Buying property was a significant addition to the company’s portfolio since it provided a much greater ability to control the future of properties compared to leasing properties owned by others.
The eviction efforts of the spring of 1904 required more of the AARC than mere leasing or the apartments that African Americans had settled into in the 135th Street area would become a faint memory and they would be returned to the usual hand-me-down housing of the Tenderloin and San Juan Hill districts of Midtown Manhattan. The company was incorporated in 1904 to “buy sell, rent, lease, and sub-lease all kinds of buildings, houses, houses and lots, and other improved real estate in the City of New York . . . and to tear down and re-build houses and construct new houses on unimproved lots.”
Buying property was a significant addition to the company’s portfolio since it provided a much greater ability to control the future of properties compared to leasing properties owned by others. Incorporation provided the means to raise up to $500,000 in capital through the sale of stock at ten dollars per share.
The company’s Certificate of Incorporation with its staid language remained in the office of the New York County Clerk, but for the public Philip Payton produced an eight-page, pocket-sized prospectus that revealed his understanding of how to market to African Americans and announced the revolutionary mission of the AARC. In explaining the company’s purpose, the pamphlet homed in on the recent eviction effort: “When the movement was started to put the colored people out of West 135th street, this co-partnership being unable to lease any houses on this street, voted to buy and did buy two 5-story flats valued at $50,000 and thereby stemmed the tide, which had it been successful in West 135th street, would surely have extended to West 134th street, which is almost entirely given over to our people.” By using business tactics, Philip Payton and the AARC’s investors resolved to fight fire with fire in head-to-head confrontations with the white-owned businesses and real estate investors who sought to oust African Americans from Harlem. The pamphlet stated that “race prejudice is a luxury and like all other luxuries, can be made very expensive in New York City, if the Negroes will but answer the call of the Afro-American Realty Company.”
Note: Philip Payton: The Father of Black Harlem Hardcover
(Columbia University Press) $30.00 £24.00 paperback.