Harriet Tubman, an American hero, was born this month in 1822 into enslavement. Her work as a spy, activist, abolitionist, feminist, and advocate is rightfully considered some of the most consequential and daring of the 19th century.
Harriet Tubman undertook an incredible 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using and fortifying the Underground Railroad. Every moment her daring work took her into the slave-holding south was one where capture would have meant certain death.
Additionally, during the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army.
Her work for justice did not end with the conclusion of the civil war. Later in life, Harriet Tubman worked as a women’s sufferage activist.
Born enslaved in Maryland, Tubman was devoutly religious and passionately political. In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, and later met John Brown in 1858, and helped him plan and recruit supporters for his 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman was instrumental in a raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 enslaved people. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents.
Harlem’s monument to this amazing American hero presents a determined Harriet Tubman, striding towards to the south to bring yet another group of enslaved Americans, northward.
Tubman’s statue, also known as “Swing Low,” was commissioned by the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Percent for Art Program, and designed by the African-American artist Alison Saar. It was dedicated in 2008 at Harlem’s Harriet Tubman Triangle on 122nd Street. In her memorial sculpture, Saar chose to depict Tubman “not so much as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, but as a train itself, an unstoppable locomotive that worked towards improving the lives of slaves for most of her long life.” She told the Parks Department, “I wanted not merely to speak of her courage or illustrate her commitment, but to honor her compassion.”
Artist A. Saar’s (who also did work on the platforms of Metro-North at Park/124) work is bolstered by some of the most political horticultural plantings I know of – cotton, for example – perhaps the commodity inextricably linked to the slavery economy.
Silent Procession – NYC4PR – Has a New Website
“Estamos Contigo Puerto Rico” – “We are With You Puerto Rico”
Silent Procession has a new website dedicated to expressing solidarity with Puerto Rico and maintaining the spotlight on the response to, and consequences of, Hurricane Maria.
Neighbors, If you are able, I ask you to attend a community candlelight vigil at the 32nd Precinct tonight at 6:30 pm to show support for our officers at a time of great loss to the NYPD and to the Harlem community. Your presence will mean a tremendous amount to the officers and to me. As a volunteer NYPD community liaison, I regularly speak to rookie officers as they get assigned to the 32 Precinct about the Harlem community as well as lessons learned from my 23 years in the NYPD. We have lost one of our best, Officer Jason Rivera, and another officer, Wilbert Mora, is fighting for his life as I write this to you. Thank you for sharing this with our community. Sincerely, Keith
Art In The Park
Earlier, in the fall, we attended a reception for the sculpture Renaissance Women that was located in Marcus Garvey Park, in front of the pool entrance. The artist, Alice Mizrachi (pictured above) was on hand to answer questions, pose in front of her work, and help with a fun participatory art project.
If you’re in the park, make sure to stroll past and check out her hand-forged steel piece.
We Still Here
The Silent Procession (NYC4PR) is co-sponsoring a documentary film (fundraiser) on February 24th.
The documentary examines how in the absence of federal support from the previous administration, Puerto Rican communities were forced to rescue themselves in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Today is Adam Clayton Powell Jr.’s birthday and I wanted to share two of my favorite photos of him:
This first one is from the 1930’s at Colby where he studied. The contrast between the sharp image on the right, and the ‘brushed’ image on the left is fascinating.
This second image comes from 1968 as his political star began to wane:
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. represented Harlem as our congress member from 1945 until 1971. He was the first African-American to be elected to Congress from New York, as well as the first from any state in the north.
Powell supported emerging nations in Africa and Asia as they gained independence after colonialism and in 1961 became chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, the most powerful position held by an African American in Congress. Powell supported the passage of important social and civil rights legislation under Kennedy and Johnson.
Following allegations of corruption, in 1967 Powell was excluded from his seat but he was re-elected and regained the seat in 1969 but promptly lost his seat in 1970 to Charles Rangel and retired from electoral politics.
Some great stonework on the outside of Ephesus Church – Lenox and West 124th Street.
A short distance north, and under the street, are these great mosaics:
Faith Ringgold is the artist behind these amazing works.
Ms. Ringgold took inspiration for the title of her mosaic from a Lionel Hampton song, Flying Home. First recorded by the Benny Goodman Sextet in 1939, the tune is based on one that Mr. Hampton hummed earlier. As a member of Mr. Goodman’s band, Mr. Hampton, along with the other band members, was waiting to board a flight from Los Angeles to Atlantic City to play an engagement. To calm his nerves, because he had never flew in an airplane, Mr. Hampton hummed a tune. When asked what it was by Mr. Goodman, Mr. Hampton said he did not know. The song was developed from those innocent beginnings. It would go on to become Mr. Hampton’s theme song.
Becoming Othello at The Harlem Rose Garden
Saturday, October 9, 2021 at 2PM
The Harlem Rose Garden is delighted to host a special event by the acclaimed Harlem actor/producer/director Debra Ann Byrd. We will present a free special sneak peek preview of her solo show based on her life. Attendees will also have the chance to purchase a limited amount of discount tickets to her upcoming performance in November at the United Solo Theater Festival at 42nd St. in November. “Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey” was presented this summer at a sold-out show at Lincoln Center and received a standing ovation. Debra Ann is the founder and director of the Harlem Shakespeare Festival and Take Wing and Soar Productions a theater company presenting award-winning classical theater for actors of color.
Please see more details below along with some video links:
OFFICIAL SELECTION OF THE UNITED SOLO THEATRE FESTIVAL – NYC 2021Award-winning classical actress Debra Ann Byrd performed her one-woman show, BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl’s Journey, in Lenox, Massachusetts, this July and Lincoln Center Restart Stages in August. The autobiographical show is about the period in Byrd’s life from her tumultuous childhood in Harlem to her founding of a classical theater troupe after discovering a love for Shakespeare. Byrd incorporated hundreds of lines from the Bard’s own writing into the story. In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout praises Byrd’s “limitless charisma” and compares the “riveting” show to Hal Holbrook’s Mark Twain Tonight.
In addition to her current show, Byrd has played the lead in three all-female productions of Othello. She will be performing
Becoming Othello: A Black Girl’s Journey at the United Solo Theatre Festival in NYC on November 4 at Theatre Row, produced by Voza Rivers/New Heritage Theatre Group for the Harlem Shakespeare Festival.
Protest the Treatment of Harlem
STOP GOVERNMENT SPONSORED CHILD ABUSE Tell the NYS Office of Addiction Services and Support (OASAS) that is NOT OKAY to put over 20% of NYC’s drug treatment facilities in our community. OUR STREETS BELONG TO OUR CHILDREN. Not drug dealers who prey on vulnerable substance abuse patients, shelter residents, and the street homeless. JOIN OUR MARCH AND RALLY ON OCTOBER 8, 2021 FROM 3:30PM-5:30PM TO CELEBRATE CHILDREN’S ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH DAY Ways to participate: 3:30pm – meet on the corner of 126th Street and Lenox to start the March. Or 4pm –meet in front of 290 Lenox ave in recognition of substance abuse disorder victims. Or 4:30pm- rally in Marcus Garvey Park surrounding the baby playground to show solidarity with city, state, and law enforcement representatives who support our demand for equitable distribution of treatment facilities throughout NYC. Sponsored by The Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association (MMPCIA) in collaboration with the Greater Harlem Coalition, the 125th street Business Improvement District, and The Nation of Islam.
Walking along 5th Avenue a while ago (notice the bare branches) I wanted to photograph the plywood shroud over the Dr. Sims sculpture location.
You may recall that the sculpture celebrated a doctor who experimented on unanesthetized enslaved women, and after years of activism from many East Harlem women, the sculpture was removed and a plan developed to replace it.
Here is the new work – Victory Over Sims – that has been commissioned:
Vinnie Bagwell’s new work will replace the Sims sculpture.
Why I Took the Covid-19 Vaccine
By Geoffrey Canada
Six weeks ago, I received my second shot of the Covid-19 vaccine and I am now fully vaccinated. I cannot articulate the relief I feel knowing that I pose less of a threat to my wife, our children and grandchildren, and the community around me. I still wear my mask in public, but the fear that I might get sick and pass it on to my 91-year-old mother, who lives with me, is gone. I got vaccinated because I missed holidays with my family. There were funerals and graduations I couldn’t attend.
I did not decide to get vaccinated without reflecting deeply on the relationship between Black and Brown communities and the health-care system in the United States. However, I’m confident I made the right decision for myself and my family, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you with the hope that you will do the same.
The federal government has a history of exploiting Black and Brown people, and health care is no exception. In the 1930s, Black bodies were used as the equivalent of lab rats when the federal government decided to study Black people with syphilis in the Tuskegee Experiment, instead of treating them, and tracked them for 40 years without their consent. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, unknowingly became the source of what is now known as the HeLa line. Her cells were, for many years, the only cell line that could reproduce indefinitely. They were used without her consent in a myriad of medical research projects worldwide, which still go on today.
But the Black community doesn’t have to look to the past to find reasons to view the medical profession with skepticism. Dismal mortality rates among birthing mothers still create a daunting childbearing experience for Black women and women of color. Breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer rates remain highest in our communities. You would be hard-pressed to find a person of color of a certain age who does not have a story of a medical encounter filled with micro-aggressions and substandard service and attentiveness.
Now we are being called to willingly inject a foreign substance into our arms — seemingly developed at lightning speed under an administration with a record of being dishonest and which was distrusted, with reason, by Black and Brown communities.
While acknowledging these reasons to feel cautious, I strongly encourage you to join me in receiving the vaccine and asking the community around you to do so as well.
We must look, just as critically, at what we have lost in the past year to the pandemic. Our community is under assault; we face the equivalent of war. I have lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the war in Afghanistan. The number of Covid deaths in the United States is higher than the casualties of all these wars combined. As of March 2, 2021 the Latino community has suffered over 89,000 deaths. As of March 7, 2021 the Black community has lost 73,462 lives.
We know the heavy impact of Covid is attributed to several factors that cannot easily be changed. Our communities have high rates of chronic illnesses that make them susceptible to Covid’s worst complications. Many are employed as frontline workers and dwell in cramped living spaces, to name a few variables.
The post-traumatic stress we now have to combat from living through the pandemic will impact our communities for years to come. There is no way to normalize this amount of sickness, death, and loss. For too many of us, the suffering caused by Covid-19 is just beginning. Our children missed a crucial year of education, heads of households lost their jobs, and evictions still loom.
I think about how wealthy people, who had the lowest risk of illness and death because of their access to resources, have jumped at the chance to take the Covid vaccine. More than 109 million doses of vaccines have been administered nationwide as of March 15, and there is no evidence of vaccine-related deaths or serious injuries. People often report mild discomfort for a day or two after being inoculated, but I had no side effects. As more people get vaccinated, hospitalizations and the death toll are decreasing.
The government must make a concerted effort to make vaccines more accessible for communities of color. But it is also the responsibility of the people within our communities to advocate for the vaccine.
It would be a tragedy to see the virus recede among the wealthy and well-off yet still ravage our communities. To watch others going back to work, to school, and to family celebrations while Covid continues to devastate Black and Brown communities is my worst nightmare.
We will have to work hard to recover from the past year. First, we must stop this virus in its tracks. The safest, quickest, most effective way to do this is to get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible to do so, and encourage the people around you to join you.
Geoffrey Canada is the President and Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone.