Prostitution arrests

Prostitutes were among the blacks who migrated from the San Juan Hill neighborhood to Harlem.  As early as 1919, according to reformer Willoughby Waterman, they had relocated from West Side Ave between  34th and 56th Streets to the area of 7th Avenue from 132nd to 143rd Streets.  The number of black prostitutes arrested by police was out of proportion with their presence in the population, according to figures we found in the bulletins of the Committee of Fourteen, the private white anti-prostitution organization: the proportion of blacks fluctuated between 20% and 40% of the women arrested through the 1920s.  One reason why so many were arrested was that most black women were among the poorest and cheapest prostitutes and solicited on the streets, making them easily detected by police.

Black prostitutes less often took men back to rooms than did their white counterparts, resorting instead to hallways, taxicabs and other ‘semi-public’ spaces.  When they did take men into residences, it was most often not to their homes, but to rooms that could be rented briefly as a place to entertain a ‘friend.’  Of the 78 prostitutes who solicited the Committee of Fourteen’s black investigator in 1928, and offered to take him to a room, only 16 (20%) offered to take him to their homes. Black prostitutes’ practice of not taking men to rooms led police to conduct fewer jump raids — in which officers who saw a woman solicit a man in the street followed the couple when they went to a room, and then burst in on them — in Harlem than in white neighbourhoods.

Information on the addresses at which arrests were made can be found in a card file index kept by the Committee of Fourteen.  We collected information for January, April, July and October 1925 & 1930.

Prostitution Arrests, 1925 (Search Events="Prostitution Arrests" + 01-01-1925 - 12-31-1925)

The addresses where police did make arrests were clustered between 127th Street and 135th Street, off the avenues that ran north-south through Harlem, with the densest grouping in the poor quality tenements east of Lenox Avenue.  This was the area that writer Wallace Thurman described as Harlem’s “slum district,” with Lenox Avenue in this area “dirty and noisy.” Few arrests took place in addresses in the blocks of better standard housing north of 135th Street and west of Lenox Avenue.

Prostitution Arrests, 1930 (Search Events="Prostitution Arrests" + 01-01-1930 - 12-31-1930)

The greater spread of arrests in 1930 is largely a consequence of the spreading boundaries of black settlement in Harlem: arrests appear on 8th Avenue and further uptown and in greater numbers near 125th Street as blacks move to these area.

Prostitution Arrests, 1925 and 1930
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