The Sources

District Attorney’s Closed Case Files

The DA’s files — the files of the officials responsible for prosecuting offenders — include all the felony cases in which a Magistrate held the defendant for trial. Each case file includes the Magistrate’s Court forms, and can include witness statements, transcripts of trials and grand jury hearings, the prosecutor’s notes and memos, and items of evidence. Rather than hardened criminals, most of those who appear in these records are ordinary Harlemites who had been caught once breaking the law, usually acting out of desperation or poverty. The files also shed light on the lives of witnesses and others only incidentally involved in the alleged crime.

Our sample consists of 3391 cases, which constitute all those in which blacks played a role that we could identify from the years 1916/1917, 1920, 1925, 1926, 1928 and 1930 (the forms used by the DA’s office did not identify the race of defendants or complainants, so we had to look for references to race in the file).

Currently entered: 1920, 1925, 1930

Probation Department Case Files

The Probation Department was created in 1927, although for two years prior to that the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York funded a bureau to establish the value of probation. That bureau worked only with Catholic offenders. Each file contained a 3-4 page investigation report detailing a convicted individual’s family, education, leisure, religious practice, and residential and employment histories. If the judge subsequently placed that individual on probation, the file would also contain a record of his supervision, consisting of brief notes about those facets of his life for a period of anywhere from 1 to 5 years. Those placed on probation were first offenders deemed not to be anti-social.

Our sample consists of the files of 341 black offenders, all those in the files from 1925, and the last 16 boxes from 1928 and 1930, a total of 1660 files.

At the request of Municipal Archives, we have used pseudonyms for these individuals; any name followed by an * is a pseudonym.

Currently entered: Perry Brown*, Frank Hamilton*, Fuller Long*, Morgan Thompson*, Roger Walker*

Newspapers

Two major black newspapers were published in Harlem in the 1920s, The New York Age and The New York Amsterdam News. Both were published weekly, the Age on Saturdays, and the News on Wednesdays. The Age was 8 pages in length in 1920, expanding to 10 pages by 1930. Edited in these years by Fred Moore and associated with Booker T Washington, it devoted considerably less space to Harlem news than its competitor, and promoted middle-class respectability. The News was twice the length of its competitor, and published more sensational stories. Although it began publication in 1909, copies survive only from 1922.

Currently entered: January, April, July, & October 1920, 1925, 1930

Committee of Fourteen Papers

Investigation reports by undercover investigators sent to Harlem and records of women arrested for prostitution

Currently entered: Raymond Claymes investigations in 1928 (he was the Committee’s only black investigator); Prostitution arrests for January, July, October 1925; January, April, July, October 1930

W.P.A. Writers Program Collection (WPA)

Research on institutions and life in Harlem, compiled in the late 1930s, but referring to the history of the neighborhood

Currently entered:Information on churches, schools, fraternal organizations

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