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In New World A-Coming: Inside Black America, Roi Ottley presents this city within a city and its one million people,

packed sardine-fashion into some two square miles, as something more than "the capital of clowns, cults, and cabarets

and the cultural hub of the Negro world." Since its beginnings around 1900 as a little community of "black aristocracy," Harlem's modern history began with the purchase, by Negroes, of thirteen large apartment houses on 135th Street.


Books by Roi Ottley

New World A-Coming: Inside Black America (1943) /  Black Odyssey: The Story of the Negro in America (1948)  /

The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott (1955)  /  White Marble Lady (1965)

The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1626-1940 (1967)

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Roi Ottley Bio


Roi Ottley (2 August 1906-1 October 1960) was born in New York City and educated at St. Bonaventure College (1926-1927), University of Michigan, and St. John's Law School (Brooklyn). Ottley worked for the Amsterdam News as reporter, columnist, and editor (1931-1937). In 1937, he joined New York City Writers' Project as editor. His bestseller New World A-Coming: Inside Black America (1943), a survey of Harlem's history, incorporated Writers' Project reports and became a bestseller and was adapted into a series of radio programs.  Harry Hansen called it "a book that might be classified as a social study, actually so entertaining that it reads like a novel.

Roi Ottley grew up in Harlem, "the nerve center of advancing Black America," and was for several years a reporter and columnist for Harlem's Amsterdam Star News, as well as a social worker.

Roi Vincent Ottley, the son of Jerome P. and Beatrice (Brisbane) Ottley, grew up as a Roman Catholic and first attended New York public schools. He also studied two years at the University of Michigan, after which he returned to New York to begin his career as a reporter (1930) on the Amsterdam Star News. On that paper, for the following seven years, he was a reporter, columnist, and editor. During those years, he continued his studies both at Columbia University (1934-35) and New York University (1935-36). He also attended St. John's University School of law in Brooklyn.

In the fall of 1943 Ottley was publicity director of the National C.I.O. War Relief Committee, a group which in 1942 collected over $20 million for relief purposes and divided that sum among members of the United Nations. In April 1941, he dedicated New World a-Coming, and he made his home (when not on business in Washington, D.C.) in Harlem.

What is Harlem? In New World A-Coming: Inside Black America, Roi Ottley presents this city within a city and its one million people, packed sardine-fashion into some two square miles, as something more than "the capital of clowns, cults, and cabarets and the cultural hub of the Negro world." Since its beginnings around 1900 as a little community of "black aristocracy," Harlem's modern history began with the purchase, by Negroes, of thirteen large apartment houses on 135th Street. Now [1943] Harlem, woefully overcrowded, is infinitely subdivided and intermixed with all shades and varieties of color. There are about 2,000 native pure black Africans; 5,000 Moslems; as many more Jewish Negroes, descendants of the "lost Black Tribe" of Abyssinia. Among 125,000 others are French-speaking Haitians, Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans and Cubans, pro British East Indians. In Harlem also live some 2,000 Chinese.

The amazing intermixture produced leading citizens in many fields of activity and the author presents some profiles of famous Harlem leaders, not omitting Father Divine. They include the late Marcus Garvey, Harlem's first mass leader; Joe Louis, a hero to his people; A. Philip Randolph, organizer of the Pullman porters; Walter White, sophisticated leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Ottley writes also of the singers Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson; of Ted Poston, racial adviser to Elmer Davis; of Dr. Robert C. Weaver, the first Negro ever to earn a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard; of Chrystal Bird Fauset, adviser to James M. Landis of the O.C.D.

Ottley believed that the defeat of the Axis powers, after the War, there would be a "new world a-coming." He felt that "the day for talking quietly" had passed.

John Chamberlain of the New York Times described Ottley's style: "He writes a vigorous prose, mingling history, irony, drama, and sober reflection in a work that explains the current status and the wholly reasonable demands of the Negroes as no other book does." Other reviewers agreed with chamberlain's pronouncement of the book. Lewis Gannett described it as "a shrewd, lively, and often surprising interpretation of the present state of mind of Negro America," and Sam Harper of the New York Post wrote, "The way to start in to learn about the Negroes is to read Ottley's fine book." The book inspired a tone poem of the same name by Duke Ellington, which was performed for the first time at Ellington's Carnegie hall concert in December 1943. in its various episodes it dwells on the contentment awaited by the Negro race in the democratic post-war world.

One thing which new World a-Coming did not stress was: when Harlem sits down to eat, what's on the table? Accordingly, a feature writer for the new York Herald Tribune put that question to Roi Ottley, who knew Harlem cooking  by eating anything, everything Harlem has to offer. He knew the lofty fare of Sugar Hill's penthouse tables. He had a love for hot pig's feet as sold by the street venders. He rolled chitterlings on his tongue at a rent party. He sinned on Saturday night and praised the Lord on Sunday, paying his 15¢ to eat chicken dinner at a Father Divine's heaven. Ottley praised the Negro dishes, particularly the use of the hog, "right down to the squeal." Deep fat frying, he added, was introduced to us from Africa, not from France. Also the pit barbecue is a Negro invention.

Ottley fancied himself "as something of a culinary expert," tooand okra is the one thing he likes to cook. He made a West Indian okra dish known as "cookoo"okra with corn meal in mold--to serve with salt cod. He also likes to make rabbit casserole with okra, or a vegetable casserole with okra, carrots, and cucumbers.

The Rosenwald Foundation and Houghton Mifflin, publishers of New World a-Coming sponsored a round-the-world tour for Roi Ottley, in which he gathered material for his book No Green Pastures (1951), a firsthand account of the colored peoples who fought on the world's battle fronts. He was also on on assignment for liberty magazine as the first Negro war correspondent for a national publication. Ottley visited Africa, India, china, and russia and spent time with Negro troops of the United States forces.

Ottley also worked as a war correspondent for PM, Pittsburgh Courier, and Liberty; and in 1943 he was publicity director of national CIO War Relief Committee. His other books include Black Odyssey: The Story of the Negro in America (1948),  The Lonely Warrior: The Life and Times of Robert S. Abbott (1955). His novel White Marble Lady (1965) and The Negro in New York: An Informal Social History, 1626-1940 (1967, with William J. Weatherby) were published after his death.

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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update 4 February 2012




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