Back In The USSR

During the interwar period – the 1930’s in particular – several Black intellectuals and artists were both attracted to the USSR and courted by the USSR. For all Black Americans experiencing everpresent racism and violence in this country, the Soviet Union looked intriguing as an alternative society that espoused racial equality. The Soviet Union, in turn, welcomed the opportunity to highlight racial inequality in the United States and to demonstrate the multiculturalism of the Soviet republics.

A number of Harlem residents traveled to the USSR and returned with a wide range of experiences and impressions. Here are a few that took that journey:

The Jamaican-born American writer and poet Claude McKay (1890-1948) was involved in left-wing politics from a young age, seeing socialism as a pathway to liberation for Black Americans. In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik’s rise to power, McKay traveled to the Soviet Union for the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, where he delivered his speech “Report on the Negro Question.” In the speech McKay outlines the struggle of Black workers in the U.S. and their role in the labor movement. McKay would later become disillusioned with communism after the Soviet Union failed to sanction Italy for Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia.

Zentralbild- We-Fr 23.11.1960 VII. Bundeskongress des DFD. 1. Tag – In der festlich geschmückten Berliner Dynamo-Sporthalle wurde am 23.11.1960 der VII. Bundeskongress des Demokratischen Frauenbundes Deutschlands eröffnet. An dieser Tagung der größten Frauenorganisation in der Geschichte Deutschlands nehmen weit über 1 400 Delegierte und Gäste teil. Die Bedeutung des Kongresses wird durch die Anwesenheit von Vertreterinnen der Internationalen Frauenbewegung aus 17 Ländern der Erde unterstrichen. Der dreitägige Kongress wird sich mit dem Beitrag der Frauen und Mütter im Kampf zur Sicherung des Friedens und zum Aufbau des Sozialismus in der DDR beschäftigen. UBz. Mrs. Petterson aus den USA während der Konferenz im Präsidium.

Louise Thompson Patterson (1901-1999) was a civil rights activist and college professor who helped found the Harlem Branch of the Friends of the Soviet Union in 1932. She was instrumental in the resistance to injustices faced by Black women due to their gender, class, and race that she called “triple exploitation.” Patterson founded the left-wing Vanguard group and hosted its concerts, readings, and Marxists discussions from her Harlem apartment. She traveled to the Soviet Union in 1932 aboard the same ship as her close friend Langston Hughes, and wrote about the conditions of minority communities and women in the Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine. Patterson later said that Russia was the only place where she could forget she was Black.

Langston Hughes (1901-1967) is one of the most famous figures from the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. Like many of his contemporaries in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes was drawn to communism as an alternative to the United States’ government and society. In the early 1930s, Hughes was invited to the Soviet Union with other Black Americans to make a film about racial discrimination in the United States. While the film was never made, it allowed Hughes to explore parts of the Soviet Union largely closed off to other Americans at the time, namely throughout Central Asia. Langston reflected on these travels in poetry and prose, like in his 1934 book “A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia.”

The multi-talented Paul Robeson (1898-1976) is remembered as a singer, actor, two-time all-American football player, academic, staunch political activist, and 20th-century civil rights figure. While working in London in the 1920s, Robeson became involved with striking miners and came to identify strongly with the communist cause. Robeson first traveled to the Soviet Union in the 1930s. When asked by Soviet reporters about his experience, Robeson said: “Here I am not a Negro but a human being for the first time in my life … I walk in full human dignity.” During the McCarthy era, Robeson was blacklisted for his Black nationalist and anti-colonialist advocacy. Robeson’s U.S. passport was revoked in 1950, leaving him unable to travel or perform abroad for the following eight years.

Natu Camara at MGP

Natu Camara brings her energetic and very unique blend of West African rock and soul to Marcus Garvey Park on October 16, 3-7pm.

Her blend of rock, soul, and singer-songwriter tunes are infused with rhythms from Guinea, Mali and West Africa more generally. The stories she tells are personal ones that invite listeners into her experiences. The result is Natu builds a unique bond with her audience and transports them into her world. Commentary includes the struggles of personal loss, and the challenge of finding herself alone in a strange city.

Natu Camara will perform several songs from her upcoming album, the most notable transporting listeners back to her youth while spending time with her grandmother in her village. Palatable in the new songs is the sense of longing, distance, and time from this world traveler.

As Seen In Harlem

Langston Hughes on E. 117th Street.

Mount Sinai and Methadone in Our Community

With new data from a FOIL request to OASAS, we are able to contextualize the size/impact that Mount Sinai has on our community with their two major methadone hubs – West 124th Street, and East 125th Street (The Lee Building at Park Avenue).

Looking at the screenshot below, you can see how large Mount Sinai’s presence is in Harlem and East Harlem.

To see the entire city and the uneven distribution of Opioid Treatment Programs, see the map below:

Celebration of Langston Hughes

   Join AGM Theater Company for an evening of laughter, joy and lively music; as we celebrate the phenomenal work of Langston Hughes.

*Click the link below to register for the presentation*

Candidate Forums on Monday, March 1

HNBA Zoom Meeting on Tuesday (7pm)

On Tuesday at 7pm we’ll meet on Zoom to learn more about strategies for buying a home, refinancing, and more ways to build generational wealth in these complex times. We will also have a candidate for Manhattan DA – Tali Farhadian Weinstein – join us to talk about how she wants to reform the DA’s office.

Lastly, we’ll have the new Parks Department administrator for Marcus Garvey Park stop by to introduce herself and her plans for MGP.

Cotton Comes to Harlem

Some of the joy found in the classic Cotton Comes to Harlem is seeing how many of the scenes were shot in our community. From the Rolls Royce driving west on East 115th Street:

To the protest that moves up Madison Avenue to East 129, and turns towards Park Avenue. This scene shows the (now silent) funeral parlor that is still located on Madison/E. 129 as a Madison Avenue, white facade, brownstone in the top right of the photo below.

Here is the same building with the white facade, today:

The protest concludes in front of the police station that the police officers Coffin and Gravedigger are stationed in – a building which has never been anything other than a residential apartment building.

When shots from the precinct or of the riots are shown, the distinctive porches of buildings on the north side of East 129th Street, across from the BP station, are visible (here, behind the heads of the actors):

These location shots were close to home – very near the movie studio on 2nd Avenue at East 127th where Cotton Comes to Harlem was filmed.

Below is the film’s ‘precinct’ as it appears on East 129th Street, today:

To buy some Cotton Comes to Harlem memorabilia from the 1970’s see:

Two Central Harlem Parks Named After East Harlem Writers

The Parks Department has renamed two parks on St. Nicholas after Langston Hughes and James Baldwin:

The lawn at St. Nicholas Park is now James Baldwin Lawn. The entrance to the park located at 135th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue has been named James Baldwin Lawn. Baldwin who was born in New York City was a world-renowned author, essayist, playwright, scholar, activist, and speaker with childhood associations with Harlem and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. Baldwin later resided in Greenwich Village.

Langston Hughes Playground

St. Nicholas Playground North is now Langston Hughes Playground. Background: Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. Though not born in NYC, he is most closely associated as a leader in the Harlem Renaissance, and lived in a now landmarked Harlem townhouse for more than two decades.

In honor of the 51st anniversary of Black Solidarity Day, NYC Parks proudly announces it has named 10 park spaces in honor of the Black experience in New York City, memorializing that which is locally, nationally, and historically relevant. In June, the agency pledged to continue to demonstrate how it stands in solidarity with the Black Community in its fight to combat systemic racism. The naming of these park spaces is among the many ways NYC Parks is acknowledging the legacies of these Black Americans, encouraging discourse about their contributions, and working to make the park system more diverse and reflective of the people it serves. The spaces named now represent five Black Women, four Black Men and one Black settlement group; and represent arts, culture, education, sports and more.

To learn more about the newly renamed parks, see: