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To his close friends, he was affectionately known as “Big John,” but the ordinary person in the street, with whom he could relate, knew him as attorney John L. Edmonds, the real estate developer.
Many in the world of New York politics were aware of his prowess in two mayoral administrations, where he specialized in civil rights and urban administration. Edmonds, 87, joined the ancestors Saturday, Sept. 14.
One of the things that immediately struck you about Edmonds was his comportment. A tall, imposing man, there was always a dignified presence about him, and he had a polished way of explaining the issues of the day without overwhelming you with information. Central to many of his endeavors was making sure Harlem got its fair share of resources from the city and the state.
Edmonds was a pioneer of affordable housing; he was chairman of Edmonds Community Development Group and became the largest minority developer in New York City. As a prominent real estate developer, he built and rehabilitated numerous housing units for low- and moderate-income families in the Harlem area. Among his signature projects are Lakeview Apartments, Logan Plaza, St. Charles Condominiums, Charles Hill and Striver’s Row.
Moreover, he was appointed to housing positions during the administrations of two city mayors, Robert F. Wagner and John V. Lindsay. Edmonds served as director of rehabilitation for the New York City Rent and Rehabilitation Administration, deputy commissioner of the city’s Community Development Agency and director of the Model Cities Neighborhood program for the Harlem-East Harlem area. As a member of Harlem’s Law Association and New York County Lawyers, he was a consultant for the Harlem Consumer Education Agency and president of the Baptist Brotherhood of the Union Baptist Church of New York.
Readers of this paper know that Edmonds, along with Clarence Jones, Wilbert Tatum and Percy Sutton, acquired ownership of the Amsterdam News in 1971. Edmonds was also an owner and partner of Inner City Broadcasting, which purchased WLIB/WBLS as one of the nation’s few Black-owned broadcasting companies.
Born in Manhattan on Sept. 2, 1926, to Pearl Walters Brunson Edmonds and Leonard Edmonds, John L. Edmonds was the third of eight children in the family and the second-oldest son. Growing up in Harlem and Sumter, S.C., Edmonds had a passion for helping others. As a boy, Edmonds was always caring, using reasoning to keep his other siblings out of trouble.He attended New York and Sumter public schools and served in the United States Army and received an honorable discharge. Edmonds earned his undergraduate degree at Howard University. Afterward, he worked as an investigator with New York City’s Department of Welfare while paying his way through Brooklyn Law School, from which he earned his law degree in 1955.
Edmonds married the love of his life, Dr. Edith Reid, an attending cardiologist at Jamaica Hospital. The couple had no children but doted on their many nieces, nephews and godchildren. They resided in Queens, but that never stopped the love and commitment that Edmonds had for Harlem.
Like the great musician and composer Yusef Lateef, Edmonds was a gentle giant who encouraged education, appreciated literature and loved jazz. He was always in the background helping others and was a true blessing to his family.
Left behind to celebrate his life are five siblings, Dorothy E. Robinson, Susan Webber, Gloria Williams, Charles W. Edmonds I and Mattie Perry, one sister-in-law, Georgie Edmonds, 15 nieces and nephews and a host of cousins, grand and great-grand nieces and nephews, friends and acquaintances. Edmonds’ wife, as well as his brothers Eugene Edmonds and Aaron Edmonds, preceded him in death.
Funeral arrangements are being finalized and are being handled by the J. Foster Phillips Funeral Home in Jamaica, N.Y. The funeral will be held Saturday 9 a.m. at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem.