The Municipal Archives’ collection of New York Police Department Intelligence Division records contains more than 2,500 files on groups and organizations that operated between the 1940s-1970s. The files were created by the Bureau of Special Services, a unit within the NYPD Intelligence Division that conducted investigations on groups both on the right and left of the political spectrum.
I have been processing this fascinating and significant collection and recently discovered files about the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU) organization. I was not familiar with this organization, but soon learned it played a major role in job creation and reduction of juvenile delinquency in central Harlem during the 1960s.
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, a professor of psychology founded the HARYOU organization in 1962 along with several ministers, community leaders, and government officials. Mayor Robert F. Wagner and the Harlem Neighborhood Association (HANA) awarded the organization a grant of $230,000 to conduct an eighteen-month study of the neighborhood, and to create a strategic plan to reduce poverty and delinquency in Harlem. Mayor Wagner disbursed grants to similar organizations, such as the Mobilization for Youth in the Lower East side of Manhattan.
HARYOU argued that an important step in delinquency prevention was to empower black youth by creating more job opportunities, providing job training (including professional careers) and assisting delinquent youths in rehabilitation. In addition to disseminating funds, HARYOU sought to increase black consciousness and pride. The organization focused on five areas: Community Action, Education, Employment, Special Programs and Arts& Culture.
In 1964 HARYOU released their report entitled Youth in the Ghetto: A study of the consequences of powerlessness and a blueprint for change. HARYOU surveyed the predominantly black neighborhoods of Central Harlem, which encompassed 110th to 160th Streets and extended to St. Nicholas Avenue on the West side and Third Avenue on the East side. The findings of the study were bleak:
1. Only 10 percent of housing units in Central Harlem had been built after 1929, with the vast majority of that housing consisting of overcrowded and deteriorated projects.
2. Central Harlem had ten times the number of drug addicts, six times the homicide rate and twice the juvenile delinquency rate compared to the rest of New York City. The area also experienced a higher index of infant mortality and venereal disease.
3. Schools were overcrowded and 80% percent of children in the sixth grade and under read below the average reading comprehension level of their corresponding grades.
4. Higher unemployment rates and of those employed nearly two thirds were laborers. Fifty-five percent of the able workforce were high school dropouts.
In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and the Harlem riots, HARYOU’S mission became extraordinarily relevant. HARYOU and other similar organizations received federal funding to create community programs such as Project Uplift which established short-term jobs and training for Harlem youths. In 1964 HARYOU merged with Associated Community Teams (ACT) to manage federal funds for job creation and other community programs. HARYOU-ACT received $3.4 million from the City and $1 million from the federal government to administer these programs. HARYOU-ACT set up programs for occupational job training, homework help, narcotic centers for detoxification and rehabilitation, halfway houses for delinquent youth and a comprehensive African-themed arts and culture program.
Despite its success, the organization was not without controversy. After reports of mismanagement of funds, the city withheld more than $1 million in income while they conducted an investigation. A report from the Office of the Comptroller determined that the financial ledgers of the organization did not follow good accounting principles and had unreconciled petty cash funds, a missing bank account, and lacked records documenting furniture and supply purchases. A number of scandals and internal disputes followed the organization until the 1980s when funding was cut in half and the administration of anti-poverty programs became the responsibility of the Community Development Agency.
Perhaps of more interest to the police than HARYOU-ACT’s financial woes was the organization’s participation in the civil rights movement. Some of the activities included a candle-light vigil the night before the March on Washington, block rallies to mobilize tenants against slumlords and a planned stall-in at the World’s Fair. The organization also encouraged its members and leadership to take part in demonstrations. The Bureau of Special Services files contain reports of officers who attended these events and also background checks on board members and other staff.
Also noted in the surveillance files was the possible relationship of HARYOU-ACT with black nationalists. In May 1964, the New York Times accused the organization of collecting evidence against an anti-white youth gang in Harlem. The interim executive director Cyril DeGrasse Tyson (father of astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson) responded to the allegations, stating that the tapes were nothing more than interviews with youths that spoke of police brutality and that HARYOU-ACT would release the tapes to the authorities. There is no evidence in the organizational file of any further investigation into this allegation.
HARYOU-ACT’s sponsorship of forums and talks with leaders also drew attention to the organization. Some famous events included Malcolm X’s appearance and the hosting of a forum entitled ‘Youth Wants to Know” which featured Stokely Carmichael and Charles Kenyatta. While the authorities considered these individuals e “persons of interest” there is not any documentation in the files that points to extensive investigation of HARYOU-ACT’s involvement with these controversial figures.
HARYOU-ACT was an influential, although short-lived, organization. Its programs helped revitalize the workforce, contribute to the restructuring of neighborhood schools and spread awareness of civil rights issues and black pride.
NYPD Intelligence Records 1937-1973, Municipal Archives, City of New York
Office of the Mayor, Robert F. Wagner, 1954-1965, Municipal Archives, City of New York
Office of the Comptroller, HARYOU ACT INC. for period July 1, 1964-June 30, 1966, 1966.
Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Youth in the Ghetto: A study of consequences of powerlessness and a blueprint for change, 1964.