Yale’s Beinecke Library acquires 'playful' 1932 map of Harlem nightlife
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University has acquired the original artwork for a 1932 map of Harlem nightclubs drawn by E. Simms Campbell, the first African American illustrator to be syndicated and whose work was featured regularly in national magazines.
The map, purchased at auction on March 31, provides a “who’s who” guide of the nightclubs that drove Harlem nightlife during and after Prohibition, including the Savoy Ballroom, the Cotton Club, and Gladys’s Clam Bar. It was published in the inaugural edition of Manhattan Magazine and appeared in Esquire nine months later.
“It might seem like the literary movement that made Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston household names and Harlem’s night club scene in the 1920s and 1930s are unrelated, but they are in fact both essential features of the tremendous cultural outpouring we call the Harlem Renaissance,” said Melissa Barton, curator of Yale’s James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. “We are delighted to add E. Simms Campbell’s gorgeous and playful rendering of this era to the collection. The map will augment Beinecke’s noted strength in materials relating to the Harlem Renaissance.”
The map will be included in a spring 2017 exhibition at the library on the Harlem Renaissance. It is expected to be available to researchers this fall.
The map offers advice on navigating Harlem’s nightlife. It warns readers that “nothing happens before 2 a.m.” at Club Hot-Cha and advises them to “ask for Clarence.” It is dotted with vignettes of Harlem characters like the “Reefer Man” and “Snake-hips” Earl Tucker, whom the map identifies as the “originator of that weird dance — the ‘Snakehips.’” Musicians like Cab Calloway, Don Redman, Gladys Bentley, and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson are depicted.
“The only important omission is the location of the various speakeasies, but since there are about 500 of them you won’t have much trouble,” the map instructs readers.
Campbell, who died in 1971, contributed cartoons and artwork regularly to Esquire from 1933 to 1958 and created “Esky,” the magazine’s mustached and bug-eyed mascot. His drawings often satirized upper-crust culture. His comic strip, “Cuties,” was syndicated to more than 145 newspapers. He also contributed to The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, Ebony, Playboy, and other national magazines.
At the same March 31 auction, the Beinecke acquired issues of two rare African American periodicals from the early 20th century, The Colored American and The Voice of the Negro; a photograph print by James Van Der Zee, a figure in the Harlem Renaissance; several 19th-century theater advertisements; and a 1922 almanac of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.
As part of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters, these materials join a world-renowned collection documenting African American arts and culture.