June 27th, 2012 § 0 comments

Harlem is making a comeback. In a big way. Marcus Saumelsson’s Red Rooster restaurant is a hit. (HG used to drink at the original Red Rooster bar on the Lenox Avenue site during HG’s college days. Then it was a hangout for Harlem intellectuals and artists). Harlem brownstones and condos are selling for millions. Gentrification isn’t happening, it has happened. HG remembers a much older Harlem. The main drag was 125th Street anchored by Blumstein’s Department Store. Harlemites didn’t go uptown to shop. They went to Blumtein’s even though the store didn’t hire African-Americans. It took a vigorous campaign by Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Benjamin Davis Jr. (forgotten Communist New York City Councilman) to get Blumstein’s to integrate its workforce. The star restaurant on 125th Street was Frank’s. For most of its history, Frank’s wouldn’t serve African-Americans (with the exception of a few politicians and well known entertainers). Joe Louis, the great heavyweight champ (and a onetime publicity client of HG) changed all that. Louis would go to Frank’s with a big crowd of friends and hangers-on. Frank’s couldn’t say no to The Champ. HG lunched at the integrated Frank’s often in the 1950’s. Great steaks.

It may be forgotten, but New York was a viciously racist city in the 1950’s. HG was a journalist at that time and remembers riding with a police official on Central Park South. The policeman spotted an African-American man walking on the street. He pulled over the car and shouted at him: “What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. Get back to Harlem.” The humiliated man walked away rapidly. Did ultra-liberal, leftist HG protest? No. The cop was a top source. So HG kept his mouth shut. HG is still ashamed.

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