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Harlem 1919: A Question of Leadership

by Mary Jane Treacy

Chatting in the Barbershop- A Conversation and Listening Game

It is 1919. African-American Harlem extends from 130th to 145th Street and 6th to 8th Avenue. In the center of this bustling “Negro Metropolis,” as writer Claude McKay described it, is EDDIE’s, a fictional barbershop where men of all social stations converge to discuss the news of the day: the return of Harlem’s own National Guard from fighting in France, the rise of white mob violence, the emergence of a new generation of activists, ready to challenge the existing black leadership. EDDIE’s barbers vie to persuade the clients that their favored leader’s point of view will take the community into the next decade. Although the barbers support W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and A. Philip Randolph, other ideas –both traditional and radically new—will emerge as the game unfolds.

This is a Level 3 game that is still under development but has been approved by the Reacting Editorial Board (REB) for general use. A detailed explanation of the editorial process and game levels can be found on our REB Page.



American History; Cultural History; Black History; African American Studies; Rhetoric and Performance Studies; Literature/English

Primary Source Highlights
Closing Ranks and Returning Soldiers (DuBois); Marcus Garvey -- Hubert Harrison, The New Cry; Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases by Ida B. Wells; James Weldon Johnson, Carl Robeson, Lynching: Capitalism its cause, socialism its cure (essay); A Philip Randolph, Langston Hughes, Anna Julia Cooper; Douglass What is the 4th of July to a Slave; Claude McKay-- If we must die (let it not be like hogs); Alain Locke -- The New Negro

United States of America

Themes and Issues  
Liberal Critique of Race Relations, Class, Gender, Race, Racial/Racist Violence, White Violence, Intra-racial dialogue about the nadir of race relations, Discussion about how to exist in a country that is disenfranchising Black Americans

Player Interactions 
Non-factional, Competitive, Collaborative, Aggressive, Coalition-Building

Sample Class Titles

History of American Racism; World of Ideas; US History Since 1877

Level 3 game (what's that mean?

Secret Voting, Rolling Dice, Randomizer/Lottery/Chance Element, Differentiated Voting, Physical Props: Prestige tokens, Task Cards, PIP "prestige tokens" (pip and money combo), Risk Cards (gossip)

Chaos and Demand on Instructor 
This game is minimally chaotic and minimally demanding on the instructor.

Notable Roles

Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, W.C. Handy, Claude McKay

20th Century; Late Modern Period

Using the Game

Class Size and Scalability 
This game is recommended for classes with 20-25 students.

Class Time  
For this game, 6-7 sessions are recommended (2-3 setup sessions, 3 game sessions, and 1 debrief session).

Possible Reacting Game Pairings
This game can be used on its own, or with other games. These pairings are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive or prescriptive.  Harlem 1919 may pair well with:


In this game, barbers give formal speeches, while some other players must give short, informal speeches; all have conversation tasks. Assignments include journalism, letter writing, daily response reflection pieces, and a larger reflection essay (it's a letter to the editor). This game is writing-light and talking-heavy.


Reacting Consortium members can download all game materials below. You will be asked to sign in before downloading.  

Please Fill out the Permissions Request Form Before Using Harlem, 1919 in Your Class!


All students need a Gamebook, which includes resources and historical content. Members can download the Gamebook, and provide it to students for free or at cost.

VERSION 6.1. Updated July 2021.

Instructor's Manual and Materials

The Instructor's Guide includes guidance for assigning roles, presenting historical context, assignments, activities and discussion topics, and more.

Role Sheets and PowerPoint

Students also need a Role Sheet, which contains biographical information, suggestions for further reading, and role-specific info or assignments.  

Additional Resources 


Mary Jane Treacy

Mary Jane Treacy is professor emerita of modern languages and literatures at Simmons College, where she was also director of the honors program. She has been involved with the Reacting to the Past pedagogy since 2005, when she played a minor spy in the court of Henry VIII and then set out to write Greenwich Village, 1913, for her course in the roots of feminism. She has taught Greenwich Village in both women’s and gender studies courses and first-year seminars. She is also author of a new Flashpoints™️ game on a labor strike in Paterson, NJ (Paterson, 1913: A Labor Strike in the Progressive Era).


Members can contact game authors directly

We invite instructors join our Facebook Faculty Lounge, where you'll find a wonderful community eager to help and answer questions. We also encourage you to submit your question for the forthcoming FAQ, and to check out our upcoming events



"Wonderfully written roles, clear clash of ideas, evocative social and political context. My students (all newbies) are very excited and had very little trouble grasping the game mechanics, etc. The activities for the preparatory sessions are very effective and user-friendly."

"For students at a predominately white institution like mine, this game pushes *everyone* to empathize with historical actors who were black. The small number of students of color appreciate learning about what it might have been like to be African-American in the past. Every one of them was super-engaged in their learning, writing response papers that were better informed and more developed than they had in 'Greenwich Village'. The larger number of white students are necessarily operating out of their comfort zone and coming to grips with the very simple human truth that members of marginalized groups do not all think alike. This is a great game to address general education student learning outcomes that include building awareness and understanding about diversity and patterns of exclusion in the United States."

"This is a really creative game focusing on something students aren't much aware of in terms of history. It is also a great way to improve student capacity to 'think out loud' and share ideas orally. In this it differs from other games in this focus on the how information is exchanged."


Greenwich Village
Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor, and the New Woman, Second Edition

Paterson Strike
Paterson, 1913: A Labor Strike in the Progressive Era

Radical Reconstruction in New Orleans, 1868-76


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