The Jewish presence in Harlem before The Depression has given us a number of landmarked structures that have (often) since been converted into churches. One of the most elegant of these buildings is, of course, the Mount Olivet Baptist Church which was once Temple Israel.
But Jewish Harlem had more than houses of worship, they also had houses of amusement. This article from the New York Times details the construction of a new Harlem Yiddish Theatre:
Note the transition from a white church, to the First Colored Church, to a Yiddish theatre.
As the neighborhood changed, this building, 11 West 116th Street, would also change hands and become a church, again.
Today this location is a construction site where a residential building (with commercial below) is being built.
A few doors east – The Mount Morris Theater – would also start as a Yiddish theater and Harlem movie house, but by the 1930s, become probably the most popular of several Spanish-language movie houses in New York. Spanish-speakers from all over the city would come to “Spanish Harlem” to enjoy the stage and screen shows offered at the Teatro Campoamor, which would later be known also as the Teatro Cervantes, Teatro Hispano and Radio Teatro Hispano.
This former theater/movie house is now an Apostolic Church
The image (above) from The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is of Wesley A. Williams, a Black mail carrier/driver from 1915. Wesley was photographed under the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a notoriously racist American President who re:segregated the Post Office (from Vox – https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2015/11/20/9766896/woodrow-wilson-racist):
Easily the worst part of Wilson’s record as president was his overseeing of the resegregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been surprisingly integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier. At an April 11, 1913, Cabinet meeting, Postmaster General Albert Burleson argued for segregating the Railway Mail Service. He took exception to the fact that workers shared glasses, towels, and washrooms. Wilson offered no objection to Burleson’s plan for segregation, saying that he “wished the matter adjusted in a way to make the least friction.”
Both Burleson and Treasury Secretary William McAdoo took Wilson’s comments as authorization to segregate. The Department of Treasury and Post Office Department both introduced screened-off workspaces, separate lunchrooms, and separate bathrooms. In a 1913 open letter to Wilson, W.E.B. DuBois — who had supported Wilson in the 1912 election before being disenchanted by his segregation policies — wrote of “one colored clerk who could not actually be segregated on account of the nature of his work [and who] consequently had a cage built around him to separate him from his white companions of many years.” That’s right: Black people who couldn’t, logistically, be segregated were put in literal cages.
I, of course, don’t know what Wesley’s take would be on our current president and his efforts to sabotage the US Postal Service in order to give him an electoral advantage, but I hope that in Wesley’s spirit (if you are going to vote by mail) that you vote as early as possible, and as carefully as possible, in order to insure that your vote counts in 2020.
This image is a part of Photoville – this year an outdoor exhibition of photography throughout the 5 boroughs. See: https://photoville.nyc/exhibitions/ for more information.
The photo of Welsey is featured in St. Nicholas Park.
Photoville’s exhibit on 145th Street at Bradhurst features a number of wonderful images of mid-century Black America. Billy Eckstine was ‘a neighbor’, living at the corner of 5th Avenue and 126th Street:
25th Precinct Officers and Community Council Clothing Giveaway