What Will Happen When Harlem Becomes White?

Harlem is gentrifying.Harlem gentrification

Get off at 125th street’s A subway and walk south. As you go, you will spot luxury condominiums in between brownstones and walk-ups. If you want to, you can stop off at a designer flower store or a hat boutique. On your walk, you will almost certainly spot more than a few white, middle-class-looking faces – something that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.

Couples can now be spotted in and out of bars and restaurants along Frederick Douglass Boulevard, locally renamed “restaurant row”. Outside of 67 Orange Street, a small craft cocktail speakeasy, reality television crews have been known to ask customers to sign off releases so that their faces can be used on film. The bar is a staple of Harlem’s “new” renaissance, where young, hip, black customers have adopted local venues to spend their downtime.

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By Rose Hackman | May 13, 2015

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First lady of the Black stage, Rose McClendon

Rose McClendon

Rose McClendon

No mention of Black actors and actresses or Black theater—especially from a Harlem standpoint, where Frederick O’Neal and Abram Hill founded the American Negro Theater—is complete without some discussion of Rose McClendon.

McClendon—who was born Rosalie Virginia Scott in Greenville, S.C.. or North Carolina, depending on the source, in 1884—arrived in New York City as a child and almost immediately began performing in plays produced in various churches. She was in her 30s when she won a scholarship to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Art, and thus began her lengthy and productive acting career.

It was during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s that McClendon began to command attention for her prowess on the stage. Finding decent parts for Black actresses was exceedingly difficult, but she managed to secure several in white-produced and -written plays. In 1924, five years after a small role in “Justice,” she co-starred with Charles Gilpin in “Roseanne,” produced at Harlem’s famed Lafayette Theatre, where she would come under the guidance of Anita Bush. Gilpin was the leading African-American actor of his day, but this role was another stereotypical part, with his portrayal of a conniving, lustful preacher, with a plot resembling King Vidor’s “Hallelujah!,” one of the top films at that time. Eventually, Gilpin was replaced by Paul Robeson.

There were few Black operas during the Renaissance period, but McClendon landed a part in “Deep River” (1926), written by Frank Harling with a book by Laurence Stallings, both white. The production takes place in New Orleans in 1835, with singers Charlotte Murray and Jules Bledsoe sharing the stage, but McClendon is alone when she descends the winding staircase during a scene from a quadroon ball, where the participants were one-quarter black.

As the author James Weldon Johnson wrote, “McClendon had to come slowly—ever so slowly—and walk through a patio, then off stage. It was a high test for poise, grace and aristocratic bearing.” She performed with similar sophistication in Paul Green’s “In Abraham’s Bosom,” and, unsurprisingly, the locale is once again in the South, but this time featuring far more dignity and respect for the Black experience. McClendon received the Morning Telegraph Acting Award for her portrayal the following year, along with Ethel Barrymore and Lynn Fontanne. It was a role that gave McClendon an opportunity to display the full expanse of her emotional arsenal.

Along with her occasional roles, McClendon also began to try her hand at directing, mostly with the Harlem Experimental Theatre. But she answered a call to portray Serena in the original production of “Porgy,” which gave her an opportunity to see Europe and parts of the United States during the play’s tour.

In 1931, she was once again featured in a play by Green, “The House of Connelly.” This put her under the direction and tutelage of the renowned Lee Strasberg and his Group Theatre. A year later, she was the recipient of glowing reviews for her role in “Never No More,” with its focus on lynching. The play, after a short run, faced closing, but the poet Sterling Brown wrote so passionately about the play and McClendon’s role as a grieving mother that the play was extended.

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Herb Boyd | 2/6/2015, 10:57 a.m.

Historian Arrested While Protesting Renaissance Casino Demolition

HARLEM — A local historian was arrested over the weekend for protesting the demolition of the historic Renaissance Casino — once the premiere venue for black society from 1920 to 1979.

On Sunday morning, Michael Henry Adams, a historian who has written two books on Harlem architecture, staged a one-man protest in front of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, which once promised to preserve the historic structure but sold it for $10 million earlier this year.

However the new owners, BRP Development Corporation, filed plans to demolish the building in order to make room for a condominium a couple of weeks ago, as first reported by New York YIMBY.

“I chanted for 45 minutes, ‘Save Harlem Now,’ the police came and told me that I was disturbing the peace,” Adams said.

When an officer asked him to leave, Adams said, “You’re gonna have to arrest me cause I’m not leaving,” according to the summons for disorderly conduct.

The Renaissance Casino, on the corner of West 137th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, was built in the 1920s by followers of Marcus Garvey who wanted to have a catering facility that would be as fine as any comparable facility in the city, Adams said.

It instantly became the leading venue for parties and community events not just in Harlem but all over New York. It also hosted Joe Lewis fights and was the home of a local all-black professional basketball team, he added. Former Mayor David Dinkins had his wedding reception there, according to The New York Times.

New designs call for 134 mixed-income residential units, retail space, a community space for churches and a 67-car garage. Twenty percent of the units will be affordable, BRP spokeswoman Zoe Tobin said.

The plan contradicts what the Abyssinian Development Corporation — the church’s real estate organization — originally intended for the structure when they asked the Landmarks Protection Commission not to protect the building in 2007, according to Adams.

The reason they opposed landmark protection was because Abyssinian had plans to save the casino’s exterior and build a 13-story apartment building. Landmark protection, they claimed, would “basically kill the project,” according to a 2007 article by the New York Times.

Former mayor David Dinkins and Comptroller Scott Stringer backed Abyssinian’s request. Neither Dinkins nor Stringer responded to inquiries.

Because the Abyssinian Development Corp. no longer owns the Renaissance Casino, they declined to comment.

“That was in 2007, you will have to speak with someone at the church about that,” a spokeswoman, who refused to give her name, said when asked about their plan to protect the historic building’s facade.

The church spokeswoman said all retail questions need to be addressed to Abyssinian Development Corporation.

Adam’s fight to preserve the building goes beyond the Renaissance Casino. He has seen a number of historic buildings — including the Audubon Ballroom, Lenox Lounge, and several of the nightclubs made famous during the Harlem Renaissance — be threatened with demolition over the years.

When those buildings are destroyed, they are replaced by expensive condos that end up displacing the people of Harlem, Adams said.

“Our heritage in Harlem is under threat and the irony is that not only is the destruction of all these buildings erasing the history of African American achievement in Harlem but the buildings that replace these sites are being filled with people who displace the people of Harlem,” the preservationist said.

In Central Harlem, only 3 percent of buildings are protected by the designation of historic district, compared to 26 in the Upper West Side and 10 for all of Manhattan, according to a 2013 Community Board 10 report.

“It is a place of importance that is equal in terms of black history as Paris and Rome is to white history,” he said. “Yet people are trying to destroy everything that makes it special and that is immoral.”

By Gustavo Solis on November 17, 2014 4:29pm

Harlem Gets in the Swing

dancingThe Lindy Hop era originated during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s, and it’s still going strong today. On Tuesdays, The Harlem Swing Dance Society brings back the lively dance with its weekly swing classes and other events.

The non-profit organization was created during the summer of 2010. Program coordinator Barbara Jones made clear the purpose of this program for the community.

“The Harlem Swing Dance Society is dedicated to provide quality services to all who want to be a part in spearheading the impact of Harlem’s dance art legacy of the Lindy Hop,” explains Jones.

Savoy Ballroom legend Sonny Allen leads the class through the basic steps of swing. He remains one of a small number of dancers who can still interpret the swing style dance.

“The most important thing [is to] listen to the music,” says Allen as dancers from his beginner class prep on a recent Tuesday. Allen’s vivacious energy lightened the mood and gave participants a relaxed vibe as they danced together.

Participant Ronald Freeman says he signed up for swing classes to try something new.

“[It was] something to stimulate me socially,” says Freeman, 53. “Also to improve my dancing technique. The instructor is very attentive; the environment is very nice and accessible.”

The Harlem Swing Dance Society holds classes at the Joseph P. Kennedy Community Center located at 34 W. 134th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues on Tuesday at 7 PM. For $7 you can indulge in Harlem culture by learning a classic dance craze.

Check the group’s Facebook page for information and other events.

Taylor Coleman | 9/26/2014, 11:53 a.m.

The 60-year journey of the ashes of Alain Locke, father of the Harlem Renaissance

“Look what I’ve got!”

Joellen ElBashir is standing, smiling, in front of filing cabinets with two long, low drawers agape. On a counter, she has laid out her finds: typewritten documents and a stained brown paper bag bearing a few faint lines of handwriting. It’s not the first time ElBashir, curator of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, has seen the bag. But every time she sees it, she’s struck.

“If Alain Locke had known, he … ”

ElBashir chuckles and shakes her head, but it’s clear what she means: If Locke had known his cremated remains had been inside that grubby paper bag, he’d be rolling in his grave.

Locke, intellectual architect of the Harlem Renaissance, chairman of philosophy at Howard University and the first African American Rhodes scholar, was “a fastidious man,” ElBashir says.

She has seen plenty of evidence (the immaculate suits! the crisply knotted ties! the straw boaters!) in the 26 years she has spent here at the center, where Locke’s papers are stored in row upon row of gray boxes. And where, almost two decades ago, Locke’s ashes arrived in a container the size of a coffee can that was delivered to the university inside the crumpled bag ElBashir is now holding.

If Alain Locke knew all that, he would indeed be rolling in his grave … if he had one.

This weekend, 60 years after his death, Locke is finally being given a permanent resting place in Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery, where a polished-granite gravestone will sit across from the sandstone cenotaphs honoring early members of Congress and adjacent to the first director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Warren Robbins. Sept. 13’s commemorative ceremony and interment were planned and funded largely by African American Rhodes scholars who followed Locke’s pioneering path across the Atlantic to Oxford.

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Kids Exhibit on Harlem’s Jazz History Opens

larger jazzUPPER WEST SIDE — Kids can learn about the history of Harlem’s jazz scene by tap dancing, learning how to scat or composing their own tune at an exhibit opening Friday at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan.

“Jazzed! The Changing Beat of 125th Street,” aims to transport visitors to Harlem in the 1920s-’40s through photos, music, writing and memorabilia.

In partnership with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, the exhibit centers on the work of legendary artists Ella Fitzgerald, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Duke Ellington. It runs through the end of the year.

Though the exhibit is filled with details about the performers, organizers want “Jazzed!” to feel more like an immersive experience than an academic exhibit, said Thomas Quaranta, the director of exhibitions and museum operations.

Visitors can make their own tap shoes with bottle caps, scat like Fitzgerald on a newly created stage, and compose a new piece for a live pianist to play.

“Jazz is accessible. It’s alive today and it’s about this beat that can be your own,” Quaranta said. “It’s about the moment.”

In that vein, the museum will pipe in classic tunes from the Harlem Renaissance, but also feature live artists performing in the gallery.

Local high school and college students will play jazz sets and improvisations during the day, while more seasoned pros will take the stage on select nights, Quaranta explained.

“When you see somebody like that doing a jazz piece… it really leaves an impression that you otherwise wouldn’t have,” he said, adding that he hoped the musicians would inspire young visitors.

“Jazzed!” also draws the connection between today’s artists — not only musicians but painters, dancers and poets — and those of the Harlem Renaissance.

Through diagrams and text on the walls, kids can learn what it means to influence other artists and how musical legacies live on, Quaranta noted.

“You’ll hopefully get to see how you can get from Eminem to Bojangles,” he said.

Tickets are $11 each and children under 1 can attend for free. The museum is open Tuesday-Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

By Emily Frost on May 22, 2014 11:27am

National Black Theatre, a Harlem mainstay, is struggling to stay afloat

Company launched careers of Samuel L. Jackson and Patti LaBelle. But cash is  running short.

(from left) Danny Johnson, Terrell Wheeler and Jaime Lincoln Smith in “The Last Saint on Sugar Hill.”

(from left) Danny Johnson, Terrell Wheeler and Jaime Lincoln Smith in “The Last Saint on Sugar Hill.”

One of Harlem’s most important incubators for cultivating black talent is  trying to make sure its 45th season isn’t its last.

The National Black Theatre, which catapulted local actors such as Samuel L.  Jackson and Michael K. Williams (“12 Years a Slave”) to Hollywood fame, is  facing a real-life drama of its own, from financial struggles, dwindling grants,  and constant costs from maintaining its aging building on Fifth Ave.

The current CEO, Sade Lythcott, the daughter of the theater’s late founder,  Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, told the Daily News that keeping productions rolling is  “such a challenge on a daily basis.”

“It’s the biggest problem of our lives, because we’re underfunded,” said  Lythcott, 34.

This season, Lythcott and her aide Jonathan McCroy, 27, have launched  several new initiatives, including a playwright residency, reading series, and  showcases that feature local painters, sculptors and other visual artists. The  idea is to cast a wider net that appeals to a broader cross section of  Harlemites.

They’ve also launched an optional season pass to all shows for $95 that also  includes access to a series of short plays inspired slain Florida teen Trayvon  Martin that will run next spring. A VIP season pass costs $145 and allows more  in-depth access to workshops and reading series.

The National Black Theatre was purchased by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, but even ownership of highly sought-after property doesn't stave off financial woes like repairs, heating, cooling, and plumbing.

The National Black Theatre was purchased by the late Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, but even ownership of highly sought-after property doesn’t stave off financial woes like repairs, heating, cooling, and plumbing.

The pass, of course, covers the current production of Keith Josef Adkins’  “The Last Saint on Sugar Hill,” an apropos look at a long-time Harlem resident  forced to choose between selling out or keeping family and cultural history  alive.

The “original and unpredictable” play, as the New York Times called it, runs  through Nov. 24. It stars Danny Johnson as a devilish Harlem landlord who is  willing to sell his neighborhood’s history for a quick buck.

Despite critical praise, there are some harsh financial realities for the  National Black Theatre.

The company’s most recent tax records show the theater brought in a little  more than $404,500 in revenue in 2011 against $429,700 in expenses. Salaries  were paid, but the cash reserve fund was nearly depleted.

Teer founded the theater in 1968 and purchased the property 16 years later,  meaning the theater isn’t susceptible to the area’s wildly skyrocketing rents,  what Lythcott calls her “saving grace.”

It’s also a big asset should Lythcott want to sell and move somewhere  else.

Chinaza Uchie and Jaime Lincoln Smith star in the National Black Theatre's original play, "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill," an apropos look one man's struggle to hold on to the culture of Harlem while facing the pressures of gentrification. .

Chinaza Uchie and Jaime Lincoln Smith star in the National Black Theatre’s original play, “The Last Saint on Sugar Hill,” an apropos look one man’s struggle to hold on to the culture of Harlem while facing the pressures of gentrification.

For now, though, Lythcott and McCroy said they focused on the new initiatives  and audience building.

“We see possibility,” Lythcott said. “We embrace anyone who is brave and  bold enough to come in our doors.”

The National Black Theatre has been New York City’s longest-operating black  theater company and the first revenue-generating black arts center in the city,  drawing in some 90,000-audience members each year. Stars such as Alicia Keys,  Nina Simone, Patti LaBelle, Donald Faison and Williams got their start  there.

Jackson is arguably the most famous NBT alum. The Academy Award-nominated  “Pulp Fiction” actor was bitten by the showbiz bug while building sets for the  theater, the first step on his road to fame.

“This area was the birthplace of the Harlem Renaissance,” said Lythcott. “And  we want to keep that legacy alive.”

“The Last Saint on Sugar Hill,” through Nov. 24 at the National Black  Theatre, 2031 Fifth Ave. at 125th St. in Harlem, 212-722-3800.

By      / NEW YORK DAILY  NEWS

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/national-black-theatre-struggling-article-1.1523705#ixzz2lENomWB0

Carline Ray: A Pioneer For Women In Jazz Dies At 88

carline-rayPioneering musician Carline Ray died July 18 at age 88. In the 1940s, when it was difficult for women to be accepted as jazz musicians, Ray found a home in the all-female band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as the guitarist and a featured vocalist. She was also a bass player who performed with Sy Oliver, Mercer Ellington and Mary Lou Williams.

Ray was born in Harlem in 1925 during the Harlem Renaissance. She graduated from Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. Her husband, Luis Russell, led his own band and worked as Louis Armstrong’s music director.

Ray’s daughter, Catherine Russell, is an acclaimed jazz singer. When Fresh Air recorded a concert and interview with Russell last year, she talked about her mother.

“She wanted to play, and she was inspired by all the jazz on 52nd Street and hearing Billie Holiday live,” Russell told host Terry Gross.

Catherine Russell produced a new album of her mother singing — between 2008 and 2011, when the collection was recorded, she still had a rich contralto voice — which was released just before Ray died.

Langston Hughes: 10 Facts

Langston Hughes – a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and a great poet, activist, novelist and playwright – died 46 years ago today. In his memory, we offer 10 facts about his life and career.

Langston Hughes in 1936 (Wikimedia Commons/Carl Van Vechten)

Langston Hughes in 1936 (Wikimedia
Commons/Carl Van Vechten)

1. Born in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was largely raised by his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas, after his parents separated. Mary Patterson Langston instilled in her grandson a sense of racial pride and a love for activism.

2. Hughes entered Columbia University and, at his father’s insistence, studied engineering instead of writing. Hughes ultimately didn’t earn a degree from Columbia – after just a year, he left the university, citing racial prejudice there – but while in New York he did learn something that would perhaps serve him even better – he discovered Harlem.

3. Though Columbia wasn’t right for Hughes, he did earn a bachelor’s degree. After spending several years in Europe, Hughes enrolled in the historically black Lincoln University, where he completed his education. Among his classmates was future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall.

4. After college, Hughes returned to New York, where he would remain a resident of Harlem for most of his life. He became part of the vibrant community of black artists who drove the Harlem Renaissance – his contemporaries included Zora Neale Hurston, Countee Cullen, Wallace Thurman, and more.

5. Hughes found the idea of Communism interesting as an alternative to segregation. Though his interest led him to visit the Soviet Union and travel throughout the country, he never officially joined the Communist Party. This saved him during the 1950s, when he was called before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to answer to allegations of Communism. His interest wasn’t deemed deep enough for any serious consequences.

Langston Hughes in 1943 (Wikimedia Commons/Gordon Parks)

Langston Hughes in 1943 (Wikimedia
Commons/Gordon Parks)

6. Though he had published a number of Socialist and otherwise political verse in his younger years, the scare of McCarthyism resulted in Hughes distancing himself from politics. The poems of his later life were lyric rather than political.

7. Though he may be best known as a poet, Hughes was prolific in a wide variety of writing styles. In addition to 15 books of poetry, he published a number of novels and short story collections, nonfiction books such as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America, plays, children’s books, and more. He edited the literary magazine Common Ground, co-wrote the screenplay for Way Down South, and wrote two autobiographies.

8. Hughes was given many awards and honors – a Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to travel to Spain and the Soviet Union, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for distinguished achievements by an African American. He was awarded honorary degrees by Lincoln University, Howard University, and Western Reserve University. After his death, the City College of New York began awarding an annual Langston Hughes Medal to an influential and engaging African-American writer.

9. Langston Hughes was 65 years old when he died on May 22, 1967, of complications after surgery for prostate cancer. Fans wishing to visit his final resting place should head, of course, to Harlem, where his ashes are interred at the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

10. One of Hughes’s best-known poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” was published when Hughes was still in his teens. Its famous line, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers,” was used as his epitaph.

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

5 African American Artists Not Named Jean-Michel Basquiat

jacob-lawrenceVisually, Jacob Lawrence made a point that Cam’ron could be proud of — Harlem is in the building.

Jacob was born in Atlantic City and moved to Harlem when he was 13. His mother quickly enrolled him in an arts and crafts settlement house in Harlem in order to keep him busy.

Mr. Lawrence showed immediate potential and scored a scholarship to the American Artists School as well as a paid gig with the Works Progress Administration.

He deemed his style “dynamic cubism” and credited the shapes and colors of Harlem as being more influential than his French predecessors.

Lawrence was an astute observer who used his art to tell the story of struggling African Americans from the Civil War period up until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Jacob excelled at visually expressing complicated narratives.

His subjects ranged from the historically grandiose, depicting Toussaint L’Ouverture during the Haitian revolution, to simpler portrayals of the struggle, strength, and perseverance of African Americans traveling from the agricultural communities of the South to Northern industrial cities.

While the rest of the country struggled with the Depression, Mr. Lawrence felt lucky to live during a vital period of Harlem’s history.

He claimed the 30’s “was actually a wonderful period in Harlem although we didn’t know this at the time. Of course it wasn’t wonderful for our parents. For them, it was a struggle, but for the younger people coming along like myself, there was a real vitality in the community.”*

In 1970, Jacob settled in Seattle as a professor of art at the University of Washington; he died in 2000.

*Leslie King-Hammond, “Inside-Outside, Uptown-Downtown, Jacob Lawrence and the Aesthetic Ethos of the Harlem Working-class Community,” in Peter T. Nesbett and Michelle Dubois, eds., Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001)

Posted Apr 22nd 2013 3:10PM by Sam Pattillo