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Today I talked to Kevin McGruder about his new book Philip Payton: The Father of Black Harlem (Columbia UP, 2021)
In a moment of hope, even faith, African-Americans inspired by Booker T. Washington believed at the start of the 21st century that prospering financially would lead them to fair and even-standing with their fellow white citizens in America. In that vein, Philip Payton launched the Afro-American Realty Company in 1904 and in doing so took on the big-money crowd. Up against him, for instance, was the Hudson Realty Company that numbered among its backers the Bloomingdale family. To an amazing extent, Payton managed in his short life to engineer real estate deals that made Harlem the home base for many of the African-Americans coming north in the Great Migration of the World War One era. Was it an entirely smooth journey for Payton? No, it wasn’t—as McGruder points out in this episode that brings into account “racial capitalism” and the looming shadow of Woodrow Wilson’s divisive approach to race relations.
Kevin McGruder is an associate professor of history at Antioch College. He’s also the author of Race and Real Estate and in the 1990s was the director of real estate development for the Abyssinian Development Corporation, a nonprofit church-based organization in Harlem.
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