New York City real estate companies’ attempts to rename a Harlem neighborhood “SoHa” have enraged long-time residents of the historically black enclave, who say the move erases the community’s rich cultural history.
The neighborhood served as home and inspiration to generations of leading African Americans, including activists W.E.B. Du Bois and Malcolm X, who dubbed it “Seventh Heaven.” Artists such as poet Langston Hughes and singers Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald also lived there.
New York City is filled with neighborhood names altered by real estate professionals and developers to create cachet, some of which have stuck more than others. There’s SoHo (for south of Houston Street), Nolita (north of Little Italy), Tribeca (triangle below Canal) and Dumbo (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass), just to name a few.
The “SoHa” name, echoing the high-priced, largely white Manhattan neighborhood of SoHo in lower Manhattan, began appearing in real estate listings for apartments located just north of Central Park, between 110th Street and 125th Street. Realtor Keller Williams boasted a “SoHa Team” of agents on its website. After neighborhood outrage, Keller Williams told The Wall Street Journal it had decided to change the team name out of respect and passion for the area’s people, history and culture. It is now listed on its website as “Central Harlem.
Harlem’s U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat vowed to introduce a House resolution to protect Harlem from being renamed. Espaillat said the congressional resolution he plans to introduce “supports imposing limitations on the ability to change the name of a neighborhood based on economic gain.”
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