A list of Black and Puerto Rican history sites in New York City:
Malcolm X (1925 – 1965) – Malcolm X first lived in New York City in 1942 at the age of 17. He worked at Small’s Paradise (2294 7th Avenue at 135th St.), a local nightclub owned by Ed Small. It would be revived by Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960’s. Before moving permanently to Harlem, Malcolm X would often stay at the YMCA building (180 W. 135th St) around the corner during trips to N.Y. as part of his railroad porter job. He also stayed there briefly when he moved to Harlem. At the old Hotel Theresa building (2090 Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. at 125th St.) Malcolm X set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity on the second floor after leaving the Nation of Islam. When he was assassinated by the Nation of Islam many mourners crowded the sidewalks in front of the hotel upon hearing the news. In 1960 Fidel Castro stayed at the hotel while speaking at the United Nations and met with Malcolm X briefly here as well. After Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965 he lay in state at the then-named Unity Funeral Home (2352 Frederick Douglass Blvd. and 126th St.) and 22,000 people filed past his coffin. One week after his death, Malcolm X’s Muhammad’s Temple of Islam #7 (corner of 116th Street and Malcolm X Blvd.) was blown up. He preached there from 1956 to 1964. Malcolm X was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom (3940 Broadway at 165th St. in Washington Hgts.) (http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-remnants-of-1912-audubon-theatre.html). He is buried in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y.
A. Philip Randolph (1911 – 1979) – A man of many talents, Mr. Randolph was an editor, union organizer and Socialist Party candidate for office. At the former Elks Hall at 160 W. 129th St. (just east of 7th Ave.) he founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925. The porters were terribly exploited and hundreds of porters would eventually be fired for joining the union. Most Black newspapers and churches supported the Pullman Company because of the ad revenue they received from it. It took 12 years to get a contract and become the first major Black union in the country (AFL) in 1937. Mr. Randolph co-founded the political/artistic magazine “The Messenger” in 1917, which published many of the stars of the Harlem Renaissance, including Wallace Thurman, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. It had offices in the late 1910’s at 2305 7th Ave. (and 135th Street). This 7th Ave. building also housed Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association’s office and printing press in the late 1910’s.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) – Reverend King was hosting a book signing at Blumstein’s Dept. Store (230 – 238 West 125th St.) in 1958 when a deranged woman stabbed him in the chest. His life was saved at Harlem Hospital. Blumstein’s was here for over 70 years but owner William Blumstein wouldn’t hire Blacks above the most menial jobs in the store. An 8-week boycott of the store ensued, led by local leaders and churches under the banner of the Citizen’s League for Fair Play. This was part of a series of picket lines in the heart of Harlem with the theme: “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work.” The boycott was a success and Blumstein’s hired 35 saleswomen in August 1934. Thousands marched in a parade throughout Harlem after the agreement was signed. Arturo Schomburg, for whom Harlem’s research library is named, was active in this campaign though he felt the final settlement with Blumstein’s didn’t go far enough. (http://www.rarenewspapers.com/view/628515)
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (1908 – 1972) – Reverend Powell was one of the most significant figures ever to live and work in Harlem. Arising from the pulpit of his father’s popular church (Abyssinian Baptist Church at 132 West 138 St.) to the City Council and then to the U.S. Congress (1945 – 1970), Rev. Powell integrated many businesses in Harlem, including forcing the transit agency to hire 200 Black busdrivers in 1941. In Congress he would constantly attach riders to spending bills banning discrimination in federal housing or whatever category the appropriation was for. He edited “The People’s Voice” newspaper from the second floor of 208 W. 125th St. in the 1940’s. It raged against discrimination in Harlem and denounced Adolf Hitler overseas. In 1960 the building housed a Woolworth Five and Dime Store which was picketed in solidarity with Congress of Racial Equality activists organizing sit-ins at racist Woolworth Stores in North Carolina. There is now a statue of Rev. Powell in front of the Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. State Office Building at 163 W. 125th St (corner of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd.).
Arturo Schomburg (1874 – 1938) – Mr. Schomburg was Black and Puerto-Rican, worked in the Cuban and Puerto Rican independence movements and while working as a messenger for the Bankers Trust Company spent his free time amassing one of the best collections of Black writings and history anywhere in the world. When he sold the collection at the bargain price of $10,000 to the New York Public Library System in 1926 it more than doubled the library’s Black history collection. The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Malcolm X Blvd. at 135th St.) was named for him and the original library building (integrated into the current library but visible as a separate building outside) saw everyone from Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay climb its steps before they were famous. General Harlem history: http://tinyurl.com/j6p2glk. The digital collection of the Schomburg Center: http://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schomburg/digital-schomburg
Black Panther Headquarters – The second Black Panther Headquarters in N.Y.C. opened in 1968 at 2026 7th Ave. (and 121st St.) in the storefront to the right of the apt. bldg. entrance, when facing the bldg. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was founded in Oakland in 1966 by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. In New York they ran breakfast programs and a Liberation School for the children, studied Marxism-Leninism, sold the party newspaper and supported the rights of tenants. Long-time wrongfully-imprisoned activist Dhoruba bin-Wahad worked here as Minister of Information. Afeni Shakur, rapper Tupac Shakur’s mother, also worked here and was pregnant with Tupac during the Panther 21 Trial that helped decimate this Black Panther chapter. The late Eddie Ellis, long-time host of WBAI’s “On the Count” prisoner radio show, was also a member here.
Pedro Albizu Campos (1891 – 1965) – One of the greatest fighters for Puerto Rican Independence, Pedro Albizu Campos served over 25 years in prison during several sentences in both the U.S. and Puerto Rico. He survived attacks from the National Guard and Puerto Rican police, as well as being the subject of purposeful radiation experiments against him by the U.S. Government. In 1945 he lived in a tenement on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 112th Street. He lived from 1943 to 1945 in Columbus Hospital (227 East 19th St., since converted to condominiums) after suffering a heart attack in prison in Atlanta. A microphone was hidden in his bed by the U.S. Government. P.S. 161 (499 West 133rd St.) is named for him. The corner of Lexington Avenue and 116th St., “The Lucky Corner,” is where American Labor Party Congressman Vito Marcantonio (served in Congress from 1934 to 1950) organized election eve rallies here for as many as 200,000 people. Mr. Marcantonio represented the Puerto Rican Independence movement in court in Puerto Rico. The late, great Paul Robeson sang at many of these rallies. This website contains a series of short videos on Pedro Albizu Campos’ life: http://www.whoisalbizu.com/?page_id=24.
The Young Lords (First Spanish United Methodist Church – 1791 Lexington Avenue at 111th Street) – Originally founded in Chicago from street gangs, the Young Lords were the Puerto-Rican equivalent of the Black Panthers. In 1969 they took over this church for nearly two weeks to turn it into a community center. 105 occupiers would be arrested and Felipe Luciano would have his arm broken. Famous Young Lords included journalists Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano, Pablo Guzman and Geraldo Rivera. Other actions included dumping garbage in East Harlem into the middle of the street until the city stopped discriminating against the neighborhood in its rate of weekly garbage pickups, as well as the take-over of a healthcare van to bring services to the community. (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/the-young-lords-legacy-of-puerto-rican-activism/)
Tito Puente (1923 – 2000) – Born in the original Harlem Hospital (east side of Lenox Avenue between 136th and 137th Sts., one block north of the current building), Tito Puente grew up as a boy in the 1930’s at 53 East 110th Street, between Madison and Park Aves. He took early piano lessons in the back room of one of New York’s most famous Latin music stores, Almacenes Hernandez, which was then at 1735 Madison Ave. between 115th and 116th Sts. “The Mambo King’s” career in Latin music lasted over 60 years and included 118 records and 5 Grammy Awards. To commemorate his great career 110th Street between 1st and 5th Avenues was named Tito Puente Way shortly after his death in 2000. (http://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/08/movies/in-the-footsteps-of-mambo-kings.html?pagewanted=all)
Cultural Events in East Harlem: http://www.visitelbarrio.com/
“Capeman” Murders Site (May Matthews Playground, between 45th and 46th Street and Ninth and Tenth Avenues, next to 435 West 45th St.) – This is the site of the famous “Capeman” fight when the murder of two white teenagers in 1959 by a Puerto Rican gang leader, Salvador Agron, sent the city into a massive racist outcry against the Puerto Rican community. This crime was highlighted in every New York City newspaper in reaction to the large increase in Puerto Rican immigration to New York City. Mr. Agron was convicted and sentenced to life in prison but paroled after 20 years. He died of a heart attack at the age of 42 in 1986. An excellent play on Broadway in 1998, “Capeman”, written by singer Paul Simon, reignited the controversy by telling the story from Mr. Agron’s point of view.
Washington Square Park (West Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue) – The first 11 African slaves to live in N.Y. arrived in 1626 in then-named Dutch New Amsterdam. Their names included Simon Congo, Paul D’Angola, Antony Portuguese, John Francisco and Big and Little Manuel. The Dutch were less vicious in their treatment of slaves than the British and they eventually freed the slaves, allowing them to marry and even win court cases against Dutch citizens. From 1636 to 1665 over 150 acres of land was granted to them, stretching from Hudson Street (8th Ave.) to Astor Place (3rd Ave.). Simon Congo owned land in the Washington Square Park area. However, the former slaves, being farther north than the main colony centered near Battery Park below Wall St., served as an early warning system for attacks from Native Americans. In 1644 a fence was built around Washington Square North to better secure the land.
Nuyoricans Poets Café (263 E. 3rd St.) – Founded in 1973 by Miguel Algarin, this N.Y.C. cultural landmark features the best of Latino-focused poetry, music and theater. (http://nuyorican.org).
The Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center Inc. (The Clemente) (107 Suffolk St. between Rivington and Delancey Sts.) – This is a Puerto Rican/Latino cultural institution that supports artists and performance events. It currently houses twelve dance, theater, film and performance companies. Clemente Soto Velez was a poet, newspaper editor and Puerto Rican Independence fighter who served two prison sentences in the 1930’s and 1940’s, including one for seditious conspiracy. He was active in the U.S. in the American Labor Party and various Puerto Rican political groups before he died at the age of 89 in 1993. (http://www.theclementecenter.org)
Statue of Liberty – In 1977 28 people took over the statue and flew a Puerto Rican flag from its crown for over 8 hours. The action was on behalf of Puerto Rican independence and Puerto Rican political prisoners. Richie Perez, Vicente “Panama” Alba and Mickey Melendez, all of whom were veterans of the Young Lords, organized the action.
On June 8, Jim Wolfinger of DePaul University will discuss his new book, Running the Rails: Capital and Labor in the Philadelphia Transit Industry, Joshua Freeman, of Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, will introduce the event and provide commentary. The event will be held from 6-8 PM in the Avery Room, located within the Avery Fisher Center of the NYU Bobst Library, 2nd floor, 70 Washington Square South, Manhattan.
The event is free and open to the public, and is cosponsored by Tamiment/Wagner and The New York Labor History Association. Hope to see you there!