Enough Is Enough, Is Enough
Sophie Johnson Charles: â€œ Never mind the congressman. We are going to sue honey. And, if our action kills the whole darn project, so be it ! Weâ€˜ve talked and held meetings for 20 years, only to be treated like dirt.â€
[Notes From The Frontlines]
Harlem, there’s no place else quite like it!
Last night, Tuesday, was a wonderful example of just how much neat stuff there is to do here.
I was supposed to start at an “emergency” community meeting at 7 PM. But more about that later.
Showering, shaving, dressing, I hurriedly walked to keep an 8 PM date, to catch the 125th Street bus, to the 5-train, to 110th Street.
Marilu Menendez, my chic Harlem friend, who plans events for Lord and Taylor, had kindly invited me to celebrate Cuba’s national liberation day, May 20th. That was when the United States finally ended its Cuban occupation, following the Spanish American War. Starting in 1889, it was only concluded in 1902.
Amor Cubano, an intimate candle-lit restaurant at 111th Street on 3rd Avenue, was my destination. Wow, wherever they go, what a wonderful gift the Cubans have, for taking their island home with them! Savory and enticing, hearty aromas hit one even a block away.
Packed with people of every age and color but all speaking Spanish, all laughing, drinking, flirting, joking and fanning; it is a spot where right away, you feel at home.
Did I leave out eating? What am I thinking! The entire time I was there, food kept coming, in vast quantities: sweet, sugar-coated, crispy fried plantains, dome-shaped mounds of rice--to eat with saucy black beans, a salad of diced green beans, onions, tomatoes and bacon. Beef, pork and fish were all prepared to perfection in ways reminiscent of Haiti or Jamaica but noticeably less hot and otherwise different.
The only real problem was the incredible live music. The superb singer, the magnificent guitar players, the hypnotic rhythm, they were all fantastic and one really wanted to dance; only there wasn’t any room!
Fortunately, dashing for my next stop, at 9:45, I knew there would be dancing galore and plenty of partners. The Alvin Ailey Dance Company’s annual gala at the Apollo Theatre is among my favorite social events in the city. Only a couple hundred dollars, it includes a performance, unlimited drinks, a buffet supper and dancing!
Armed with my press pass, I was able to avoid the crashing resorted to in years past to enter the enormous tent pitched on a lot behind the hallowed auditorium. What a slamming party! Everyone, but everyone, is looking great, exuding an aura of hotness and festively dressed. Rich, poor, Black, White, straight, gay, young, old and other; there’s not any kind of person you won’t find here. “Damn,” I always think, a little awed, “this is New York, in all its glorious diversity; the way it could be all the time, if only…”
What’s with young men anyhow? The DJ is a genius at subtlety mixing the best of old school disco, hip-hop and reggae. Gay or straight, you don’t want to dance, at a party? Stay at home! Right?
Really, it’s a good thing, because it means that those of us who do dance can have our pick from among a vast array of eager men and women. So, from 10 PM to 1 AM, I got to dance all I wanted and to feel gallant in the process. One raving beauty after another thanked me with as much intensity, as if they‘d been rescued from a dragon and I was St. George! Little else makes the years fall away like raising one’s heart rate, moving to the downbeat, of beloved tunes from your past.
Meanwhile, at the emergency community meeting that I missed, The Friends of the Hamilton Grange gathered. For over a year now they’ve been trying to remain polite and negotiate with the Department of the Interior. They were warned that their opponents were powerfully allied with the upper echelons of local government; that they were unscrupulous. They hated hearing this.
Well educated ladies and gentlemen abjure being told that some people, especially other ladies and gentlemen who hold counter opinions to their’s, can’t be reasoned with. Only as a last resort, did they decide to proceed with legal action, to stop the pending move of Alexander Hamilton’s onetime country house, scheduled for the end of the month.
Why? Well, it all started two years after the house was completed and its builder, the first Treasury Secretary, died in a duel, in 1804. Moved from 143rd Street in 1889, it became squashed between two buildings, on Convent Avenue near 141st Street.
Twenty years ago, the National Park Service, that now owns the house, decided it should be moved again, in order to be restored. Several local historians who lived close by, agreed. The best way to make the house look like it did when Hamilton lived there would be to relocate it, in St. Nicholas Park.
Most other long-term neighbors strongly and loudly dissented. It was a tedious, nearly thankless task convincing a majority to side with the history buffs, who stressed how important it was to replicate the builder’s original intentions.
You really never expect it, do you, when after you collaborate, in a long and difficult effort, you’re dumped and betrayed in the end?
Without the work of the Community Board-9 Landmark’s Committee or the Friends of the Hamilton Grange, this comely wooden villa, designed by John Mc Comb, Jr. who helped design city hall, would never be moving at all.
Made partners in the Grange restoration, contractually, by Federal law, the community was cast aside last year by new Bush administration bureaucrats. Anxious to make the historic site a major tourist attraction, these new comers, who unlike their predecessors are all White, have decided to ignore the structure’s original south-facing orientation and rotate it 180-degrees to face 141st Street.
“What‘s any of it matter to most people. Will anyone really care which way it faces, once it‘s been moved?” That was the response when Congressman Charles B. Rangel’s office was appealed to.
It was a hard sale getting Congressman Rangel’s help to secure funding for the move 20 years ago, but it was done. It seemed then, that he got it. It seemed that he agreed too, that having this great man’s house as much like it was when he knew it, offered visitors and children not yet born even, the best opportunity to understand Hamilton and his time.
Now, preoccupied with burnishing his legacy, disregarding both historical integrity and community hoodwinking, Rangel stands poised to assist the Bush bureaucrats at the National Park Service.
“Shoot, that‘s what always happens when people get old. They loose touch ,” says vibrant 92 year old, Sophie Johnson Charles, who helped to found the friends group. “ Never mind the congressman. We are going to sue honey. And, if our action kills the whole darn project, so be it ! We‘ve talked and held meetings for 20 years, only to be treated like dirt.”
Do you know what? I think she’s right! Isn’t it better, even after two decades, to wait even longer, to do something right instead of “compromising” in the face of betrayal, to do something wrong, something that, in every likely-hood, will never be undone?
Similarly, to hell with all these threats about Senator John McCain. Thinking of America’s great legacy of using and abusing Black people, doesn’t it seem that should Senator Hillary Clinton somehow successfully steal the Democratic nomination, that it might be a good idea to take a stand, to stand up, as a people and say, “enough is enough?”
After all you’ve done to defame us, we work hard too and we will never support you!
For those interested in inspecting for themselves what's at stake in the controversy surrounding the pending Hamilton Grange move, Michael Henry Adams will be conducting a walking tour of the villa's environs on Saturday May 31st at 11:o'ck
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