Bob Dotson looks at 125th Street in Harlem which used to be run down and rife with crime, but now boasts a thriving economy and an ethnic mix.
Harlem: An American Story
KATIE COURIC, co-host:
TODAY'S AMERICAN STORY with Bob Dotson comes from a little island that hosted its first convention 395 years ago today when Henry Hudson, an English explorer, steered 80 ships into a sheltered bay. Well, now it's the Republicans' turn to explore the island, an island that's called Manhattan.
BOB DOTSON reporting:
New York City is the laboratory of modern life. An experiment to see if the people of the world can live together in one place. The city embodies the American dream, perhaps more than any other. So we asked historian Ken Burns why the Republicans have never held a national convention here.
Mr. KEN BURNS: It's funny, you know. This is a city that's about the almighty dollar. It's a logical place for Republicans to come. And I think, though, that cities in the magical way that they work, have also made a nest for Democrats.
DOTSON: Many of whom once felt left out of the money-making process.
Ms. CAROLYN BANKS: The door's open. It's a very bad thing, very dangerous.
DOTSON: Carolyn Banks knows firsthand. During a citywide blackout in 1977, she and her father crouched in the darkness of their store on 125th Street in Harlem.
Ms. BANKS: There were actual physical fights, you know, between police officers and some residents. It was--it was horrifying.
DOTSON: What did you all do to survive?
Ms. BANKS: We put a sign in the window. "We're black owned, please don't tear us up," and we weren't.
DOTSON: But some neighbors did loot the stores next door.
Ms. BANKS: People felt so totally left out of everything.
DOTSON: Not today.
Ms. DONNA CLAYTON (Wimp's Bakery): You're going to take it out?
DOTSON: 125th Street is booming.
Ms. BANKS: We have more say in our community. We have more ownership.
DOTSON: Seventy-five businesses in just one block, some with new faces seldom seen in '77.
Mr. ARTHUR SHALOV: I'm on the same ground level as they are.
DOTSON: Arthur Shalov is Russian Jew from Uzbekistan.
Mr. SHALOV: Let me see your finger.
DOTSON: He chose 125th Street to open his jewelry store.
Have you had any instances of anti-Semitism?
Mr. SHALOV: Nothing.
DOTSON: What do you do to gain their respect?
Mr. SHALOV: I'm being myself. They love honesty, they love respect and they love hard-working people.
Ms. BANKS: Come in, do what you can. Take your best shot.
Mr. SHALOV: Yeah, it's true, 100 percent true, actually.
DOTSON: What makes it possible for people of all colors, all backgrounds, all religions to come together on one block and prosper?
Ms. CLAYTON: It didn't just go from a place where there was a blackout and looting and riots to a place where all of a sudden, there's a party now.
DOTSON: It took pioneers, like Dede Clayton, a single mom with four little boys who moved from New Jersey to open a bakery in a burned-out shop.
Ms. CLAYTON: It was a scary place. It was a time in Harlem when no one wanted to come here.
Mr. "WIMP" CLAYTON (Wimp's Bakery): When they say Harlem, `Oh, do you carry a gun with you? You got your gun with you?'
DOTSON: No. Dede's son Wimp...
Ms. CLAYTON: OK, so you want a 12-inch cake, right?
Unidentified Woman #1: Uh-huh.
DOTSON: ...and his wife Donna carry her dream, this blueprint. The Claytons' bakery was supposed to have been remodeled in time for the Republican convention, but now it could take months. Workmen found its beams are badly burned from the riots that followed the '77 blackout. With no place to bake, the Claytons might have gone broke, except for the kindness of a neighbor.
Mr. DAVEY SIMMONS: I tell them, they pay the rent and they have it.
DOTSON: Davey Simmons made room for them in his vacant store. The other office space across the street already had a tenant. Wimp's new neighbor, Bill Clinton.
Mr. CLAYTON: I mean, a president in Harlem? I mean, come on.
Ms. BANKS: How's it going? How's the painting coming?
Unidentified Woman #2: Fine.
DOTSON: With a former president around, Carolyn wasn't worried last August when the lights went out again in the Northeast.
Ms. BANKS: Oh, it was 100 percent different. It--there--it was calm, it was almost a party-like atmosphere.
Unidentified Man: Turn the lights out day in Manhattan, baby!
Ms. BANKS: After 9/11, a blackout is not devastating. They find out that they can get along, you have neighbors who have some food, who have some--something to drink. Pretty much people kind of clan together. They get together because they know there are more terrorizing things that we need to be aware of.
DOTSON: Than people who come to build the country's dream. For TODAY, Bob Dotson, NBC News, with AN AMERICAN STORY in Harlem.