Harlem suffered terribly with a 50 percent unemployment rate with men and woman out-of-work rate in the 1920’s. The photograph shows a man standing near his shack in a West Side, also called “shanty town.” In the background sits Grant’s Tomb and The Riverside Church hoover as a backdrop.
MyInwood reports that lifelong Inwood Upper Manhattan resident Peter Dongan, who sold newspapers after school to help support his family helps set the scene:
“I developed an acute awareness of the Great Depression in Inwood. I have vivid memories of seeing people’s possessions carried out of their homes and deposited on the curb, and usually without terrible preparation . The Sheriff would appear and say ‘you’re evicted’ and there was no time to pack. So you would have a tearful scene, with people sitting on the sidewalk amidst their belongings.”
But many from in and out of the neighborhood had no such generosity to rely on and set up clapboard shanty’s, tents or lived in derelict boats along the riverfront.
The “West Side Improvement” proposed in 1927 by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses began using W.P.A. funds and labor to build bridges, swimming pools, parks and playgrounds. In Harlem Park labor gangs set quickly to work demolishing old structures; derelict, but once beautiful mansions from a previous gilded age, and began carving out the familiar trails hikers enjoy today. Joining them in the Depression labor pool were workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal public relief program whose workers often included teenagers eager to learn a trade.