A historic walk through Harlem

JASMIN K. WILLIAMS Special to the AmNews | 11/26/2012, 4:24 p.m.
A historic walk through Harlem

The IHOP at the southwest corner of 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard is a popular spot in Harlem. It was even more popular years ago when it housed the legendary Small's Paradise. Ed Smalls, the descendent of a former slave, opened the club in 1925. It was the first integrated club in Harlem and was one of the big three hot spots, along with the Apollo Theater and Connie's Inn.

The basement club held 1,500 and featured big bands nightly. Small's was famous for its music and for its roller-skating waiters. Duke Ellington and Willie "The Lion" Smith performed there. Hughes and Countee Cullen were patrons. Malcolm X worked as a waiter when he first arrived in Harlem in 1943.

Small's was the longest running club in Harlem, though it changed hands a few times. Basketball star Wilt Chamberlain bought the club in the 1960s and called it Big Wilt's Small's Paradise, but Small's closed its doors for good in 1986. It was later converted to the Thurgood Marshall Academy for Leaning and Social Change in 2004.

Composer and social activist James Weldon Johnson lived in a handsome brownstone building at the northeast corner of 135th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (Seventh Avenue). It was here that he wrote "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which became the Black National Anthem.

James Van Der Zee was a photographer during the Harlem Renaissance. For 60 years, he was the "Eyes of Harlem," capturing some of the neighborhood's most glorious and iconic images. At age 82, Van Der Zee was "discovered" when a photo researcher stumbled on his collection of 75,000 images, capturing more half a century of African-American life. He died in 1983 at age 96. Evidence of his studio, G. G. Photo Studio, can still can be seen on this building on Lenox Avenue, between 123rd and 124th streets, which now houses a real estate office.

The Theresa Hotel is one of Harlem's most famous historic places. Located at 125th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, this grand hotel was once known as the "Waldorf of Harlem." Its most famous guest was Fidel Castro, who stayed there when he visited New York in 1960. Castro received famous visitors during his stay, including Malcolm X, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.


  • Look it up: Use the Internet or other reference source to learn more about the early history of Harlem and the people and places mentioned in today's lesson.
  • Talk about it: Plan a walking tour of Harlem. Visit a few of the places mentioned in today's lesson.
  • Write it down: Make a list of important Harlem events and where they happened. How did these events change the world?
This Week in Black History, Nov. 14-Nov. 23
  • The nation's first anti-slavery party, the Liberty Party, convenes in New York on Nov. 14, 1839.
  • On Nov. 16, 1873, Blacks won three state offices in Mississippi elections: Alexander Davis, lieutenant governor; James Hill, secretary of state; and T.W. Cardoza, superintendent of education.
  • On Nov. 17, 1842, the capture of George Latimer led to the first fugitive slave case. Boston abolitionists later purchased Latimer from his owner.
  • Black inventor Garret T. Morgan patents the traffic signal on Nov. 20, 1923.