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On 25 March 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor of the Asch Building in Greenwich Village, New York, and quickly began to spread. This floor, as well as the ninth and tenth, housed the Triangle Waist Company, a sweat shop producing ladies’ blouses.
Although most Americans take pride in being ‘a nation of immigrants’ (a slogan apparently popularized by John F. Kennedy), the process of immigration causes perennial controversy in the United States. That is true even in New York City, which would not exist without it, and which stars in many historical narratives of it.
Harlem and the photograph share a long, closely entangled history. Photographic images of the riots that erupted in the neighbourhood in 1935 and 1943 helped to puncture the image of Harlem as a playground for white urban adventurers, and to raise in its place the spectre of a ‘no-go’ area, a district of Manhattan sealed off from direct encounter by whites.