Traveling While Black

Make sure to visit the Schomburg Library before the end of the year to see the fantastic exhibit “Traveling While Black”. The Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Kevin Young notes:

Since the start of their experience in the Americas, Black people have been defined by travel, displacement, and resistance. 

Whether in the horrors of the Middle Passage or the rebellion of Maroon communities made up of escaped slaves, travel has meant much—and something much more—for Africans in the Americas. This exhibition, our first as we celebrate The New York Public Library’s 125th anniversary and the Schomburg Center’s 95th, explores over a century of travel. Moving from the Great Migration of African Americans north and west at the start of the twentieth century to the restrictions and resistances of travel in the Jim Crow South and the Jane Crow North, Traveling While Black examines a history of travel, from those who found themselves exiles within their own country down to the pilgrims and pleasure seekers of our time. 

War marks many of the peregrinations of the last century, often offering African American soldiers their first glimpse of other cultures beyond the United States. They returned with a new energy and renewed hope, whether in the offerings of jazz after the Great War, or the opportunities abroad for expatriates after World War II. The freedom that African Americans sought at home and fought for abroad they often found in travel. Returning Black officers and recruits started motorcycle clubs and organized tour groups, traditions that continue today. The somewhat open road and the mostly great outdoors provided Black sojourners with literal and emotional vistas to revel in. 

While confronting restrictions from Jim Crow laws and surveillance by would-be law enforcement agencies stateside, everyday travel meant obeying unspoken rules of the road. Domestic journeys involved ingenuity, often employing the Green Book, that guide for Black travelers developed in Harlem by Victor Green. Carry your Green Book with you…you may need it! reads one tagline for the guides. The Schomburg Center retains the largest and most complete collection of Green Books in the world; in many cases we hold the only known copy. But as any number of African American guidebooks found here indicate, from runaways to resorts, the idea of escape has had larger resonances for Black culture. Questions surrounding Black bodies in motion—whether driving, walking, or traveling while Black—still persist, asking us to consider the meaning of migration, movement, and freedom. 

—Kevin Young

It’s My Park Day

West 124th Street Library

Landmarks has recently moved closer to landmarking the NYPL on West 124th Street on the north side of Marcus Garvey Park.

Completed in 1909 and funded by Andrew Carnegie, the branch “nurtured African-American cultural and intellectual life, especially during the Harlem Renaissance,” said Timothy Frye, the LPC’s director of special projects.

The library once housed the groundbreaking Rose McClendon Players theater group and is the only one of Harlem’s five Carnegie libraries that has not been designated a city landmark.

The beautiful limestone facade has faced the park for decades. High up, however, you might have noticed that there are 4 open books, carved into the limestone. While my photo (below) isn’t clear enough to show the books in detail, they are not blank books.

Each of the left-hand pages begins with the alphabet, has some text and: “This New York Public Library, No. 37, Will Contain Wholesome Books.”

The carving also includes “What Boy Cut Letters On These Pages To Give Texture To the Surfaces,” and “Why Does It Matter. Drawing The Whole. Lamkin Robson,” followed by however much of the alphabet would fit. The ending on the western-most book is ”Does It Matter? Drawing These, Patrick Clune. Where Does Reason Commence [Illegible] Does End.”

And there are more oddities. In some of the text on the left side of the spreads, you find the word ”Paddy,” in others ”Benny.”

East Harlem vs. UES

NY1 has an interesting article on disparities between East Harlem and the Upper East Side.

Below 96th Street, more than a quarter of all adults have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19. 

Above it, about 13% are fully immunized — and there are fewer than half as many sites at which to get the vaccine, including sites at local pharmacies.  

In East Harlem, COVID death rates for the pandemic are more than triple that of the Upper East Side, according to city data. One of its ZIP codes, 10035, has the highest death rate in the borough. 

The map (below) is somewhat difficult to parse, but essentially the intensity of the red color indicates COVID-19 death rates, whereas the percentages shown in the 3 zip codes, indicates what percentage of residents have been vaccinated.

For the full article, see:

https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2021/03/18/new-program-could-help-bridge-vaccine-divide-in-east-harlem