During my times in Harlem, drug addiction was a formidable problem, as is documented by the following comments from Harlem World, “Harlem History 1658 to Present”:
Injecting heroin grew in popularity in Harlem through the 1950s and 1960s, though the use of this drug then leveled off. In the 1980s, use of crack cocaine became widespread, which produced collateral crime as addicts stole to finance their purchasing of additional drugs, and as dealers fought for the right to sell in particular regions, or over deals gone bad.
And from Pinkney & Roger Woock, Poverty and Politics in Harlem:
Needless to say, college students in Fraternities and Sororities maintained the Animal House mentality—a fad that has remained for decades. These students are known to drink more alcohol and have more negative alcohol related consequences. Fortunately, once they leave these brother and sisterhoods, most have been known to drink less and have less drinking related consequences.
At the time of the 1964 riots, the drug addiction rate in Harlem was ten times higher than the New York City average, and twelve times higher than the United States as a whole. Of the 30,000 drug addicts then estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem.
As is well documented, during the late ’60s, the black drug lords (Lucas and Barnes) were well on their way to establishing multi-million dollar drug rings. Both of them had government officials and law enforcement in pocket. In fact, that’s why Barnes was tagged as Mr. Untouchable.
During the ’60s, in addition to the establishment of NA, there was a dramatic increase in the AA program being incorporated into hospital and institution alcoholism programs. Although fumigating with marijuana was already a popular past time for many, a marijuana 12-Step recovery program was not yet established.
Since drugs had infested both Black and Spanish Harlem neighborhoods, musicians of both racial cultures had become involved in the drug culture. On February 27, 1968, Frankie Lymon was found dead in Harlem of a heroin overdose at age 25. Another Harlem legend the late Hector Lavoe, the prominent crooner featured in the film El Cantante, played by Marc Anthony, died of HIV due to his exposure to intravenous drug use on June 29, 1993.
From my early youth, Harlem has always been a town that intrigued me. As the long established haven for black culture, I was aware of this town from my exposure to radio broadcast, and later from the cinema. I’ll never regret the adventures and fun I had there. In addition, along with my experience of the Latin culture, I feel my musical awareness and appreciation had expanded.
In later years I would return to visit while working in Upstate New York. Since my last visit was in the mid ’70s, however, I missed seeing the results of the nascent real-estate boom, and can only recall the historical town of the Harlem Renaissance era. It was then the Harlem that was depicted in movies as shown in the promotional photos below:
The following is a video about the Harlem blight of the ’80s titled: Harlem 1980s by dtoronto, posted on Aug 29, 2008 (3:58 mins):