There are now over a half million people of African descent living in the Bronx, well over a third of the Bronx's population. Blacks have been an integral part of the history of the Bronx since colonial times, have contributed greatly to the borough's cultural and political history, and have recently played a major role in the borough's revitalization, but there has been almost nothing written about this large and diverse population other than isolated passages in books about the burning of the Bronx, the rise of hip hop, and the crack epidemic. From the little that has been written, no one would know that many Blacks in the Bronx have been upwardly mobile and have lived in stable communities. The major overview of the history of blacks in New York City, "The Black New Yorkers: The Schomburg Illustrated Chronology," contains only three pages dealing with black life in New York, and there are no historical works dealing in depth with the development of the Bronx's Black neighborhoods. Many African-Americans who grew up in the Bronx are deeply distressed that their experience has been overlooked or seen exclusively through the lens of crime and urban decay.
One of the major reasons for absence of writing about Bronx African-American history is an absence of primary source material.. There has been no systematic collection of the records of black churches, business, community groups, political and civic leaders, or of the publications of community organizations in the Bronx's black neighborhoods. As a result, powerful and important stories have been overlooked, among them, the migration of upwardly mobile black families from Harlem to the Bronx in the 1930's and 1940's, the development of a rich, diverse Bronx musical culture fusing jazz, rhythm and blues, Latin music and calypso; the rise of a Black political leadership in the Bronx; the migration of West Indians and West Africans to the borough.
To fill this gap in the historical record, and respond to the growing demand for information about Blacks in the Bronx from schools, churches and community organizations, the Bronx County Historical Society and Fordham's Department of African and African-American Studies decided to launch the Bronx African-American History Project. The goal of this project is to create and collect the resources necessary to tell the story of African Americans in the Bronx, and then get the story out to the public through lectures, media appearances, books and articles, public exhibitions, and documentary films. We began a little more than a year ago with an oral history project and have received a groundswell of interest in our work from community residents, the media and the academic community .
In addition, the Oral History project hopes to spur individuals and organizations to donate collections of documents to the Bronx African-American History Archives created in the Bronx County Historical Socieety. By the time the Project is completed, we expect to have created an array of materials that will place the Black experience in the Bronx squarely in the center of narratives of Black life in New York City, and indeed, in narratives of Black life in the United States.