The Social History of Harlem

Bruce D. Haynes and Syma Solovitch, Columbia University Press

Down the Up Staircase, an autoethnographic book by Bruce D. Haynes and his coauthor Syma Solovitch, traces the social history of Harlem through the lens of one family across three generations. In the book, published by Columbia University Press, Haynes captures the sweeping tides of change that pushed blacks forward through the 20th century — the Great Migration, the Harlem Renaissance, the early civil rights victories, the Black Power and Black Arts movements — and the many social forces that ravaged black communities like his own. Haynes, a UC Davis associate professor of sociology, is an authority on race and urban society and communities. He brings unique sociological insights to the American mobility saga, and examines the tenuous nature of status and success among the black middle class.

In many ways, Haynes' family defied the odds. All four great-grandparents on his father's side owned land in the South as early as 1880. His grandfather was a protégé of the eminent black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois and the founder of the National Urban League; his grandmother was a noted children's author of the Harlem Renaissance and a prominent social scientist of the day. Yet these early advances and gains provided little anchor to the succeeding generations. The story is told against the backdrop of a crumbling three-story brownstone in Sugar Hill that once hosted the elites of the Harlem Renaissance and that later became an embodiment of the family’s rise and demise. Down the Up Staircase is a stirring portrait of this family, each generation walking a tightrope, one misstep from free fall.