Professor Jim Groom
Hardboiled: Detective Fiction
December 6, 2012
Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes was published in 1964 and one of the main themes discussed in the book is race and the roles of black vs. white in the 1960’s in the city of Harlem. Harlem was mainly black, in fact, black people had started to move into Harlem in 1900 and by 1919 the population of blacks had quadrupled. And by 1964, Harlem was 95% black. And the year of publication of this book was a tough time for Harlem. The 1964 Race Riot in Harlem occurred on July 16th, after a white cop shot a young black man. The violence only grew and it lasted for six days. This was only one year after Martin Luther King’s speech in Birmingham, Alabama. The riots started as a simple march protest to the local protest, but turned into the “war on Harlem”. All the rich history of this period of time in Harlem, I came upon when researching Cotton Comes to Harlem. It is amazing what a few simple words plugged into a Google search bar can lead you too.
When assigned with the project, I thought that making a Wikipedia article about a book from the 60’s would be terrible. But then I saw what other freshman had to do in their Freshmen Seminar class and I started being grateful that this was all we had to do. I like research in general; I think it is a lot more interesting than writing analyses of books, so I was happy that I was in charge of the critical reception. When beginning my research, I first thought that the critical reception of the book was what was going on in the time period that it was written in. By typing Harlem 1964 into Google, I was brought to this great website that gave me what happened during this year, what led up to this event, what happened afterwards, and what was happening in other places during this time. I had heard of the race riots in Birmingham, but I never knew that these were going on all over the country. In this same year, a race riot in Philadelphia occurred only a month after the one in Harlem and there was another riot in Rochester only a week after the one in Harlem. All riots being black vs. white.
After finding all this information on the riots, I was upset to find that I had been researching the wrong thing. Turns out critical reception was how the public and critics reacted to the book when it was published. Because it was in 1964, the library did not have a lot of journals that dated back to that time period. I had found two articles, one from the New York Times and one from Library Journal. Both included small excerpts of the book and who they liked it. This was definitely helpful to add to the Wikipedia article, but it was not going to be enough. I had to do more digging to see what I could use for this article. I found two other articles that were reviews of Cotton Comes to Harlem, but I had to request them from another library and so far they are nowhere to be found. With this delay, I have tried to do more research on the internet but the reviews from this book are hard to come by because it was published a while ago. But what the articles that I did have given me were very helpful.
I am hoping to receive these articles soon so I can expand on my topic of critical reception. Overall, the research gave me a new perspective on the race riots, now knowing that there were many more in our country during the 60’s. I also think it is interesting to see how the public thought of the book we just read, almost 50 years ago! The fact that we have access to all this information is very amazing. I looked at the New York Times from 1964, I don’t even understand how it has been saved up to now, it is truly amazing. The people at the library, including Peter made this project and its research so much less stressful. All my questions were answered by him and he spent as much time trying to help me as he could. I also appreciated Paul Bond’s help with the articles. Getting specific emails from him that focused on my project and where it needed work was very helpful. When beginning this project, I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it turned out being. It gave me a new way of where to begin and take my research whenever a future project needs to be completed. I am really grateful that I got to experience this and learn how to find research when it can’t be found on the first try. I know I will use all these skills in the future, so thank you Professor.