I took this picture of Mr. Percy Sutton (Center) in 2000 while conducting a tour of Harlem for the above group from LaGuardia Community College. Shortly after starting the tour we encountered Mr. Percy Sutton who was on his way to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The great thing about Harlem is that notables from the community are constantly walking the streets, some are my friends and when possible I introduce them to my guests.
At this time I knew Mr. Percy Sutton was the former Lawyer for Malcolm X and that he had authored the plan to save the Apollo Theater, but I now know that there was so much that I didn’t know about him until now. I didn’t know about his controversial Mayors race of 1977, that ultimately resulted in Mr. David Dinkins becoming the first African-American Mayor of New York City in 1989. I didn’t know that there are so many who started their journalism careers out of college via one of his many media outlets (WBLI or WBLS) through out the country.
I didn’t know that it was Mr. Sutton who some 35 years ago worked with City, State and National tourism associations to promote Harlem as a tourist destination. It was at this time (mid 1970′s) that many stayed as far from Harlem as possible. Now Harlem is one of the top 3 most requested tourist destinations on the Island of Manhattan/NYC. Even after becoming a wealthy man, owning radio stations across the land, he still was very approachable as I remember him stopping to take the above photo with my group. I now know that he made it possible for Harlem Heritage Tours to exist – I now know that I owe him a major debt – I wish I knew it then. I would have thanked Mr. Sutton.
I remember when I was a kid in Harlem (below 10 years of age), all I needed for the day was one dollar and I could eat like a king at places like Mikes News stand. Back then the bags of potato chips were 10 cents and the 16 oz. sodas were 25 cents – man if I could get my hands on a dollar bill I was good. My Mother would often send my to Mikes News Stand to get her number cards. Number cards are cartoon like literature usually published on a daily basis. Those who were looking to determine what the number (gambling) will be for that day consulted these cards religiously: “Big Red”, “Big Blue”, “Golden Seal”, “Nite Lite”, “Ching Chong ” just to name a few – yes, I knew them by heart and still remember them all. You could only get them at local operations like Mikes News Stand.
Im still doing research, but I was told by Mike that the news stand was built in 1932. Mike purchased it 12 years ago from the son of the original owner who died in 1999 as a result of a car accident. Many are talking about the drastic changes in Harlem that are ever visible as you walk the streets of the community, but if you look closely you will see that many of our valued community assets are still here. This blog’s mission is to celebrate the needed change, but also to pay homage to the people and places that paved the way for change – support venues like Mikes News Stand and if your feeling lucky pick up a number card, my favorite has always been the “Big Red” LOL.
The other day I was organizing some things in my office, getting ready for Black History Month and came across a bag of old mini dv cassettes. Instantly I remembered hiding them a year a ago in the same place I found them. This find prompted me to recover another mini dv cassette I shoot around the same time ( Dec. 2005) which contained the above video.
On 12/15/2005, me and Mr. Bill Miles (legendary Harlem Filmmaker) attended the unveiling of the brand new Marquee at the Apollo Theater, it was an exciting event that took place outside the theater and attracted a bevy of celebs: Richard Parsons, Mayor Bloomberg and Former Pres. Bill Clinton + many more.
At the time I had no clue that this would be the last time me and my beloved idol would attend such an event in Harlem together. I watched as many of the young media folks, eager to get the perfect shot obstructed Bill’s view as he attempted to take pictures – they had no clue who Bill was and the great contribution he made to popular media. Bill being Bill, remained cool and got the shots the scene would allow – I was displeased, but busy myself with my hand held dv camera.
To my pleasant surprise out of nowhere comes another Bill:
Former Pres. Bill Clinton, and I’m in the perfect position to shot and interview Mr. Clinton. This would be the 3rd time that I’ve been lucky in meeting Bill Clinton and talking with him. I happen to like Bill Clinton, but I love Bill Miles.
The above picture (1979) is of Filmmaker Bill Miles and noted Novelist James Baldwin during preparation for James Baldwins inclusion in “I Remember Harlem” Bill Miles would often tell us stories about meeting James Baldwin and what an interesting person he was to talk to. One of my favorite segments of “I Remember Harlem” is when James Baldwins recalls growing up in the community and being influenced by the ebb and flow of Harlem life.
Bill would later participate on another James Baldwin project as a Producer in association with “Price of the Ticket”: film about the life of James Baldwin directed by Karen Thorsen. When talking about “Price of the Ticket” Bill would tell us about legendary Filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and would vaguely mention their association with “Price of the Ticket” Bill seemed to be expressed by them. I wished I had asked more questions at the time.
On Friday night (01/22/2010), I was walking on Malcolm X Blvd. and spotted Mr. Albert Maysles at the bus stop and instantly wished I had my new digital camera – my intent was to find out more about his association with Mr. Bill Miles and “Price of the Ticket”, but I had left new camera home. I felt like I had missed an opportunity, but then realized I had my cell phone and thought to use the video feature on phone:
“Price of the Ticket” will be shown durung Black History Month at the Harlem Heritage Tourism & Cultural Center .
One of the first theme tours I conducted back in 2000 was based on the Life and times of Malcolm X, the biggest fan of the idea was an older gentlemen I just met named Professor Wilcox. I was in search for anything I could find in reference to the presence of Malcolm X in Harlem and all said that I must consult the Professor.
I visited him at his office (Afram Publications) on the 3rd floor of a building on 125th St., a few doors west of the world famous Apollo Theater. Their were things everywhere pertaining to Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement: books, old newspapers, still photos. Additionally, their were Malcolm X albums containing rare photo’s, documents, and other memorabilia pertaining the slain religious leader. The atmosphere seemed chaotic at first, but Preston seemed to know where everything was and was extremely helpful. He seemed to appreciate what I was trying to put together.
I would later learn that Mr.Wilcox was a seasoned academic and a battle tested Civil Rights Activist. Professor Wilcox earned a Masters in Social Work from Columbia University and immediately combined his academic achievements with his ability to understand and diagnose the social ill’s plaguing the Black community at that time. I would later learn so much more about his involvement in monumental Harlem/urban events such as: Columbia (1968), Freedom Summer (1964), development of NYCHA complexes (1950′s – 1970′s) + much more.
I think he felt that the Malcolm X Walking Tour and tourism could help to address some of the issues in Harlem and offered to be present at the end of my first ever Malcolm X Walking Tour at a landmark restaurant called 22 West on 135th street. 22 West became one of Malcolm X’s favorite places later in his life after splitting with the then Nation of Islam. Above is a damaged picture from that day at 22 West – I must find the negative. The younger guy in the picture is Mr. James Alston IV (Owner), sad to see 22 West gone, it had been around since Mr. James Alston Sr. started it 1962.
Professor Preston Wilcox passed on August 18, 2006, but during Black History Month 2010 (Feb. 26th @ 7:00 PM) the Harlem Heritage Tourism & Cultural Center will present a 60 minute lecture by Professor Wilcox filmed Black History Month 2004 by Harlem Filmmaker Mr. Bill Miles: Below is a brief clip:
On Feb. 17th 2005, I attended the unveiling of “Higher Ground”: statue designed by Sculptor, Branly Cadet in honor of famed Congressman and religious leader Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. The location of statue is fitting (125th St. & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.) considering the impact that Adam had on the area.
When I started Harlem Heritage Tours I took it for granted that because I was from Harlem that I must know everything about Harlem, and quickly I realized different when I searched my brain for info. about Adam Clayton Powell Jr. I then purchased a book by Will Haygood – “King of the Cats”. I was amazed by Adam’s accomplishments and became an instant FANATIC. Adam was born November 29th, 1908, 21 years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 17 years before Malcolm X. These two great men must have been influenced by Adam one way or another considering that Adam was there predecessor in efforts for blacks to gain their Civil Rights.
I was stunned to learn about his marching up and down 125th Street in Harlem demanding jobs for Blacks who lived in the community – and winning every fight. Employing tactics such as having Harlemites pay their electric bill with pennies instead of dollars. I think if you tried that tactic today it would be successful. In 1941 Adam took on the New York City Omnibus company demanding jobs for Blacks. A boycott of the bus company resulted leading to more than 200 blacks being provided employment – WOW.
Adam’s battle cry was “DON’T BUY WHERE YOU CAN’T WORK” – I never heard a word about this growing up in Harlem.
Adam was the man in Harlem, became 1st Black Councilmen in 1941, then Congressman representing Harlem in 1944. Imagine what it must have been like racially back then on Capital Hill. Adam immediately took on the system making his presence felt in facilities where Blacks were formerly excluded and also brought his Black staff along to make a statement that he would not tolerate such treatment for anyone of Color.
In 1961 Adam became Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and Labor. During the 1960′s those were two of the top reasons why people were marching – for the right to attend the school you wanted and for fair employment. Adam was Chairmen of the committee on Capital Hill – PERFECT FIT. People don’t realize that many of the laws written during his Chairmanship helped us go to college, gain fair employment, engage in cultural activities, EAT, attend to the disabled, control juvenile delinquency, fight poverty and so much more.
Some say that Adam was self indulging, I’ve heard many things and I realize that he had his ways, no one is perfect. More than that I think about the following:
I remember those stemming hot summer days going to the local school cafeteria and eating the free lunch, I never drank the milk but always found ways to get an extra juice with the thin aluminum seal. My friends liked the franks, but I liked the Hamburgers – if not for those meals what would we have done on those 90 degree plus days. Adam wrote the LAW for such meals to be available.
1983 I got my first job working with the Summer Youth Employment Program. I learned so much that summer working at the King Towers Basketball Tournament on the grounds of the housing project I lived in. I also got paid and purchased the ill Adidas with the sky blue stripes + lee jeans in mad flavors + mock necks galore. Yes I was fly going back to school that September. Adam passed laws via his “War On Poverty” programs that made my SYEP job possible.
1988 I arrived on the Campus of Buffalo University and parked by bags in room 368 Red Jackets Quad. I proceeded to meet my EOP (Equal Opportunity Program) representative and from there with vouchers galore off to get books and supplies. Next was meal plan, by the end of the day Ya Boy was straight with only $56.00 to my name – I had paid for nothing at this point. Because I was from an economically depressed household I received practically total aid the first two years of college – guess who wrote the legislation for such benefits: ADAM.
1992 I started working for Chase Manhattan Bank and then Citibank. Adam fought day and night to make it so that Blacks and women would have the right to gain fair employment through out the country. I learned so much at those jobs and therefore I was some what prepared to run my own business – thanks ADAM. Seriously, if not for Adam where would I be ?
Below is footage from the unveiling of the statue that exists on 125th Street in Harlem. The Sculptors name is Branly Cadet, not Brandon as shown in the below clip. The Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Memorial Committee was formed in the mid 1990′s for the purpose of erecting this statue and they deserve a ton of credit for the art being realized. When walking past this statue remember the hurdles that Adam had to overcome to get the very businesses in the area to hire Blacks “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” is what he would say.
“Keep the Faith Baby” – Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
During Black History Month 2005 Harlem Heritage Tours had the pleasure of working with many within the arts community including one of my favorite poets “Harlem 125″. I experienced Harlem 125′s work for the first time at a poetry function in 1999 at a place called the Sugar Shack which is no longer operating. Harlem 125 lit up the spot with his signature poem: “I’m from Harlem”. I knew I had to work with this guy and hired him several times to be a part for my Harlem Renaissance shows presented at different historic locations in the community. Harlem 125 is not just a great Poet he is also an educator who broke down his poems (below clip) for Eastside High School and advocated against drugs, violence and dropping out of high School.
I loved the poem “I’m from Harlem” because it took me on a ride through the urban happenings of that time and mentioned many of my favorite places and things to do in Harlem. I still love the poem but many of the businesses and and some of the cultural phenomenon are gone. The concession is that we have some cool new places that I enjoy but I will never forget the following places mentioned in the poem by my man Harlem 125:
Nikki’s was a venue located on 124th and St. Nick Ave. I would go to this spot every weekend with tourists from around the world as part of my “Harlem Heritage Bar Hop”. The place held about 40 people comfortably with walls adorned with black and white 18 x18 photos of jazz greats such as Charlie Parker. If I remember correctly, Nikki was the Founder of the establishment running the place with her daughters until her passing. The daughters were drop dead gorgeous and throughly familiar with the urban scene. One night I had a conversation with one of them and remember her talking passionately about her Mom.
The Sugar Shack was located at 138th or 139th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. I remember one day during the summer of 1999 working at Citibank as a Lending Officer, leaving my desk for lunch and coming across this new place called the Sugar Shack. The place had a lounge atmosphere with a restaurant component. I attended many functions at this spot and liked the energy. Usually Ya Boy is in control, but one night I had to much to drink at this spot and my girl friend at the time had to take me home – I will never forget that night and she won’t either..LOL
The Roof Top was located on 155th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. and was the place where all the urban stars partied during the 1980′s – what a spot, what a time. I never went to the Roof Top, but many of my friends did and the stories they told were amazing. Lifestyles of the Harlem rich and famous – fast cars, the latest custom made fashions and of course beautiful women. I would love to see pics from the Roof Top days of the 1980′s.
Lucy’s was located on 124th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. Lucy was an African-American women married to an older Caucasian gentlemen who seemed to be known by all in Harlem. Really authentic place with regular live performances. Every Monday night the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra performed at Lucy’s. The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra consisted of approx. 20 members and played a lot of 1920′s jazz by greats such as Duke Ellington – good stuff. The exterior of place needed some work but I liked it and so did my guests.
Willies was on 145 Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd. and was owned by a local entrepeneur named Willie. Willie had a multifaceted business of which his burger stand was best known: Willie Burgers. Im from Lower Harlem, which had (1980′s) a different feel and complexion from the Northwest area where Willies once existed. Many of the big street names were from this area. Nowadays the neighborhood is in a state of transformation consisting of new Condo’s and internationally known brands.
Thats just a few places the poet mentions – click below and let me know what you think – Enjoy
As you can see in the below video clip, Ya Boy had a cool time today in Morningside Park with the kiddies. Slipping down a snow covered hill, picking up speed and not knowing what’s going to happen at the bottom – then BOOM. Lots of laughter follows – cool to be a kid.
In 1991 in preparation to build a federal office building in Lower Manhattan at 290 Broadway, mandatory analysis revealed the existence of a burial ground consisting of the remains of African slaves who lived in the city during the 17th and 18th centuries. Mr. Bill Miles, working at Channel 13 (10/1992) was able to get access to the excavation site and captured some tremendous footage. Bill Miles is one of the best Documentary Filmmakers at telling the story of African-Americans and the above clip proves it.
When thinking of slavery in the USA during the 17th and 18th centuries many think of the South, but the footage captured by Bill proves the existence of slavery right here on the Island of Manhattan during the same time period. So many questions:
When did slavery start and end in New York City ?
What was the lifestyle of the slaves ?
How many were there and what African countries did they come from ?
How rigorous were the slave duties ?
What was the average life span of a slave in New York City ?
To what degree could the slaves unite as a family ?
Were only African slaves buried on the site ?
What skills and trades did the African slaves excel in ?
Watching Bill’s uncut footage of the remains of the African slaves answers many of the above questions and actualized in my head the existence of the ancestors here on Manhattan Island and the need to remember them. It’s Black History Month and this is a great time to remember them, and pay homage for all they obviously endured.
The above footage is unedited, excuse the seldom shakiness.
The memorial is located at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street). The memorial is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. However, during the winter, the memorial closes at 4 p.m.
The memorial honors the memories of the estimated 15,000 enslaved and free Africans who were interred in the burial ground during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Morgan and Marvin Smith are twin brothers who came to Harlem in 1933 from Lexington Kentucky with dreams of captioning via their cameras the remaining days of the Harlem Renaissance. By 1933 the stock market crash of 1929 rocked the core of downtown Wall Street and the cultural scene of Uptown Harlem. Tough times caused many to become less interested in Black culture and thus the Harlem Renaissance was coming to end . Over the next 40 years the twins used cameras and paint brushes to record what remained and in the process created their own legacy.
The life and times of Morgan and Marvin Smith:
Born Lexington Kentucky 1910
Arrive in Harlem 1933
M. Smith Studios (1937 1970′s) opened 125th Street and became an instant sensation taking pictures of celebrities and community residents. Having a studio next to the Apollo Theater made it easy for all the stars to stop before and after shows to be recorded.
The Smith Brothers were “New Media” back then using technological advances + artistic talents: shooting video, sculpting, painting and doing it all at an extremely high level when resources were hard to acquire for African-Americans. Additionally, they made it a point to shine their lens on all shades of Blackness during a time when dark skin was considered by some to be a handicap in the entertainment industry.
The intent of their efforts were to capture the positive happenings in the lives of community people, focusing less on the negative.
Sadly with new technology (1960′s) such as the polaroid cameras, less people came to the studio to have pictures taken and therefore M. Smith Studios went out of business in the mid 1970′s. The saddest thing is that toward the end some of the original prints and negatives were trashed. Thankfully a lot of the collection has survived: “Harlem: the vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith”
The author of this blog just purchased 2 copies of above book on ebay.
Mrs. Ruby Kitchen is a women who I have known all my life growing up in Harlem. For as long as I can remember she has been President of the Tenant Association in the Martin Luther King Jr. Housing Development and also has a ranking position within the overall tenant governing body of the New York City Housing Authority : NYCHA.
Mrs. Kitchen has fought for decades (over 35 years) on behalf of her tenantry to improve the quality of life and standard of living for low income families.
The voice of Mrs. Kitchen has sounded the need for the city (NYCHA) to explore ways for hard working low income families to buy the apartments they live in – she’s been shouting this battle cry for years. It’s about time someone listens.
This is the women who packed all the neighborhood kids into a charter bus and drove us to Disney World for a mere $150.00 dollars (4 nights 3 days) – I remember “Space Mountain” – the best ride ever – still to this day. So many memories – Wow.
In the above clip she is being introduced to gathering by fellow community advocate Professor Preston Wilcox – excuse the shabby camera work.
Lately Mrs. Kitchen has not been feeling well, but she is getting better. Heroines like Mrs. Kitchen put the history in “Women’s History Month” – true FRONTLINE – Warrior.
Mrs. Cora T. Walker was a dedicated Lawyer / Community Activist who constantly championed the rights of the little people as well as representing the concerns of top corporate entities. She helped many start businesses in Harlem including Harlem Coop Supermarket – what a great idea, that was extinguished by frightened competitors.
I once met Mrs. Cora T. Walker when working for the bank in Harlem, when she walked in I knew who she was immediately and rushed to assist her. This is around the same time that I established Harlem Heritage Tours. She was elderly at the time and had difficulty hearing, but was super encouraging of the idea. The others in the bank had no idea why I was so excited to talk with this elderly women – Happy Mother’s Day and much respect to the memory of the late great Attorney Cora T. Walker. I wish she was here to represent us now.
Many are writing about Harlem from an outside perspective, but now it’s time to talk to the people on the street. “Word From the Street Wednesday’s”. I got this idea while walking down 5th Ave and encountering this Harlem General working on the facade of this brownstone.
Every Wednesday Harlem Heritage Tours will talk to the man and women on the street about subjects and issues pertaining to the Harlem community.
I must find this guy and thank him for taking the time to talk with me and inspiring the idea. HHT wishes this Harlem General and others like him a wonderful Thanksgiving.
On 12/07/2010 I attended two Holiday celebrations starting with the annual Christmas Tree Lighting down by the water front on West 125th Street . This was a beautiful scene with caroling and the lights of Christmas bouncing off the waves of the Hudson River.
I stopped to get a quick bite to eat and then hurried over to the plaza of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building for “Light It Up” meeting friends, listening to great live performances and finally counting down with the crowd: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1 = 125 Street all lit up from East 1st. Ave. – West 12th Ave.
Love to my Fam at Community Boards 9, 10, 11, the state Office of General Services, and the 125th Street BID.
On Wednesday 12/08/2010 I attended Circle of Brothers Town Hall Meeting in Harlem sponsored by Circle of Brothers and Street Corner Resources. The meeting took place in the lunchroom cafeteria of P.S. 175 on West 134th Street. When I walked in I was a little hunger so I made my way to the refreshments and took a seat up front.
Over the next two hours a gentlemen named Abdul-Kareem Muhammad would invite several speakers to address an audience of approximately 60 African-American males about various economic and socio-political issues affecting the Harlem community.
Lamar Thornton Founder and Chairman of “New Breed Life Arts” spoke about many things including teaching young kids the importance of saving their money and providing financial literacy workshops for community youth. Mr. Thornton is a Master of the Martial Arts and uses his expertise to teach life skills to community youth.
Mr. Chet Whye Executive Director of “HARLEM4 Center for CHANGE” spoke about various topics including having a greater selection of affordable healthy food options in Harlem. He emphasized making healthy food choices and making adjustments to our cultural mind set as it pertains to how we view food consumption.
Dedric Hammond aka Beloved is a Youth Advocate and Violence Reduction Specialist, who once was known on the streets as “Bad News” Now he is known community wide as “Beloved”. He spoke about his past life of negative behavior, but now he works to mediate conflicts between community youth and bridge generational gaps between the young and the mature. He’s is only 32 years old but speaks words and expresses ideas beyond his years.
I asked the Brothers who remained after the meeting to gather for the below pic. The gentleman in red in the front row is my man “Beloved.” I enjoyed this meeting and look forward to the next one.
I’m here providing moral support for these guys as they work hard to get this van free from the snow and ice on Malcolm X Blvd. and 118th Street. The gentlemen eventually freed the vehicle from the snow and ice on Malcolm X Blvd. at 118th St.
The following day I was in the area at 119th Street and the NYC Sanitation trucks started making there way toward me, so of course I whipped out the EVO and shot the vid. It’s very cold, I only get a few minutes to shot the vid. before frost bite sends a warning to the fingers.
Turns out my man “Butter” from Martin Luther King Jr. Towers was behind the wheel of one of the trucks.
Sympathies from Harlem to those people and families in the New York City area seriously affected by the storm.
I know many around the city are complaining about the cities response to the storm, I just call what I see on the Harlem Boulevards.
On January 15th, 2011 friends from Atlanta Ga. and the Boston Mass. area visited us in search of the legacy of Dr. King in Harlem.
The gentlemen with red scarf once worked as a postal worker in Atlanta and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was on his route daily, now he stands at Harlem’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on Malcolm X Blvd.
The women to the far left once taught at Boston University where Dr. King earned his Doctor of Philosophy in 1955. It was great to teach them about Harlem, but it was even better to hear what they had to say and learn from them.
The gentlemen with red scarf and the lady immediately to his right are celebrating their 35th Wedding Anniversary in New York City this weekend and said Harlem was a must see. The lady to the far left and the gentlemen next to her will celebrate their 35th Wedding Anniversary in October – what coincidences on this tour.
I won’t forget these guys any time soon – it was an interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
In the photo above my friends Mother holds her two Grand Daughters as we celebrate their 1st Birthday at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center. I’m extremely thankful to the industry of Cultural Tourism for giving us a platform from which to meet people from around the world + moments like the one captured in the image above with local residents.
With each passing day I realize another way in which Cultural Tourism can be used as a double-edged magic wand to expose visitors to the authentic lifestyle of local residents and improve the quality of life for he overall host community – Harlem.
When balanced properly the possibilities are endless – this is what excites the good folks at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center.
Love live Cultural Tourism – making the world better.