Harlem in Upper Manhattan, New York, is known for the Harlem Renaissance, which celebrated African American artistic and scholastic talent in the 1920s and 1930s.
Haarlem is the capital of North Holland in the Netherlands, just a 30 minute drive West from Amsterdam. It’s known for its tulips, its important role in the Dutch Golden Age, and, more recently, for banning most meat advertisements in public spaces.
So, why do the two share a similar sounding name?
If you’re ever asked yourself this question there’s a simple history behind it, although it is wrapped up in plenty of sensitive and complicated political and geographical history.
Haarlem in the Netherlands can be traced back to the Gothic era, hence why its streets are dripping in historical architecture. Harlem, however, actually originated as a Dutch outpost.
In 1658 the Dutch named it Nieuw Haarlem (kinda like New York or New Jersey), meaning ‘New Haarlem’. It became part of the colony, Nieuw Nederland (New Netherland), an area which covered parts of Vermont, all the way down to Connecticut.
The area was inhabited by enslaved peoples, Europeans and Native American people such as the Wecquaesgeek who had lived there before the Dutch arrived. All in all, the population grew to around 9,000 people at its peak.
However, after the Second Anglo-Dutch War of 1665–1667 the Dutch handed the area over to the British and, try as they might to rename the area Lancaster, it just wouldn’t stick. People continued to call it Haarlem, which was then anglicized over time to Harlem.
So there you have it – that’s why there’s a Haarlem in the Netherlands and a Harlem in New York. Although the two share some kind of history they don’t have much else in common except that they both have incredible cultural profiles on the world scene, each for their own reasons.