Monday, August 8, 2016

City Scene - Harlem's Neighborhood Action Paper

Sam's organization, We Care Media Arts, was one of the programs to help the youth of Harlem.  Below is a letter written to Reverend Alanson Haughton in Feb. 1977 to further Sam's cause.

I am the director of WE CARE Neighborhood Action Center which is a community action group in the St. Nicholas Park Urban Renewal area located in central Harlem in the basement of St. Luke's Episcopal Church.  We have been in operation since 1969 with youth programs including bus outings to parks, beaches, cultural institutions, as well as communication workshops and cultural awareness projects.

WE CARE selected communication workshops in Journalism because of all the projects in operation, it had the greatest potential for motivating youth leaders to examine society and express themselves.  Currently, we have one program in operation, CITY SCENE, We Care's neighborhood action newspaper. CITY SCENE is dedicated to diminishing the poverty of information that pollutes our area.  CITY SCENE is published as a training vehicle for high school and college students in the craft of journalism.

Last summer, City Scene published five bi-weekly issues with a distribution of 10,000 copies and sold retail advertising to local merchants.  A readership survey was also conducted throughout Central Harlem.  May I mention at this point that in 19672 Dr. Burton Thomas and the women of the Church of Heavenly Rest gave seed money to start our venture City Scene.  We are in the process of developing a neighborhood ministry for the St. Nicholas Park Urban Renewal Area which will utilize the energies of young people to survey and monitor specific breakdowns of municipal services in the area.  There is a crying need for municipal services due to the fact that St. Nicholas Park was designated for revitalization in 1960.  The plan was abandoned by the NYC Planning Commission due to the city's fiscal crisis.  For an area that was already on its way to physical deterioration, the cessation of the revitalization plan has brought the area to the edge of  disaster.

We are developing the neighborhood ministry as an instrument to call attention to the plight of the area to our city fathers and to the community by gathering facts.  Specific surveys will center around the number of inoperable and broken fire hydrants, dated garbage, gas leakage, running water, and decaying animals in abandoned structures, etc. The young people's findings will be reported in City Scene in its coming issues for distribution to the entire community.

This is a short sketch of what we are trying to do to help the residents who are experiencing hardship due to the trying conditions of their neighborhoods.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Harlem - Life in the 70's in Black America

What was Harlem like in the 60's, 70's, and 80's?  One man who knew very well what it was like is Sam Walton - Harlem youth and community activist.  He grew up in Harlem, eventually became a victim of the streets of Harlem, then pulled himself up to inspire and promote education in Harlem and to its youth.

Sam had begun to promote plans to help the people of Harlem.  He fought the constant battle of keeping youth out of the streets and inspired them to not become a victim of drugs and crime that plagued the streets.  Below is his introduction on how to improve the quality of life for people and how to begin the process of self-elevation.  His plea to Harlem would not fall upon deaf ears.

Harlem, the political heart and social capital of black America is a culturally rich and vital community with strong neighborhood spirit and impulse toward self-help and improvement of the community's chronic physical and social problems that cry out for public attention.  Harlem is a densely populated and economically poor community whose populace is on the whole the beneficiaries of the cumulative  effect of poverty, overcrowded and sub-standard housing, under-employment and unemployment, inadequate education, illness and neglect belying society's failure to cope with basic human and social problems.

There were encouraging signs during the 60's through local, state, and federally funded programs to improve housing, regenerate commerce and industry, develop jobs, enrich education and recreation, and increase public service in the health care field.  Many of these efforts have since eroded due to changes in federal policy and the city's fiscal crisis.  Harlem is showing signs of losing its sense of community.  There is general dissatisfaction with the functioning of the city's municipal services, and a feeling of apathy and hopelessness has begun to permeate the community.  

As a neighborhood agency dedicated for the past eight years to stemming the tide of helplessness and hopelessness, WE CARE proposes to work inside its own community, St. Nicholas Park, as a centralized clearinghouse and neighborhood assistance center for all residents, public and private agencies, and self-help improvement programs in the area.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Oral History Projects

Sam Walton, Harlem activist and oral historian, felt strongly about teaching the youth of Harlem the legacy of the elders that came before him.  Sam filmed many documentaries and interviews with the political and inspirational leaders of Harlem.  It was important for the youth to appreciate and understand how history had progressed.  One of the best interviews was with Charlie Rangel, a prominent New York politician.  Sam had interviewed other leaders such as Bob Magnum, James Haugton, Dr. Lourdice, and Councilman Jackson.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

My Experience with Frederick Douglas High School

Sam Walton was a strong community advocate for the Harlem Youth.  As a youth himself, here is just one of his experiences that shaped his beliefs.  

Frederick Douglass High School was four blocks from my house in the middle of Harlem.  On the first day of school, I had mixed feelings about being there; I was happy and fearful.  I was happy because I was leaving behind all the bad experiences of my elementary education, and I was hoping my new school would help me forget some bad memories.  I also liked the idea of it being an all boys' school.  The school was going to represent a challenge - we were going to see if we could "save face" .  Could we survive the hazing?  That school had a reputation of bullying new students.
      I heard stories of many fights at Frederick Douglass High School.  As time went on, things were not as bad as I heard.  The administration had stopped most of the bullying by the time I arrived, and was, in fact, trying to make gentlemen out of us.  They accomplished this in a number of ways.  Some teachers were very tough in drilling into our heads the concept of being gentlemen.  We had to wear ties, clean shirts, and pressed pants.  The tough dean enforced all the regulations to keep us mannerly.
      In grade school, teachers stressed we were only children; now our task was to become young gentlemen.  However, in the classroom, there was always chaos.  I can remember one teacher who looked like the three stooges - Moe.  While "Moe" was on hall duty, we always threw books at each other and sometimes chairs.  When he came into the classroom, we would calm down for only a minute and then start back up again.  When the dismissal bell rang, we all ran out like wild men. I went to this school three years, and finally the system was changing a bit.  New teachers were coming in who didn't share the same values as the older teachers.
     On a serious note, Frederick Douglass High School taught us NO black history.  This was a shame because it would have solved some of  the discipline problems and promoted self-identity.  In early 1963, some new neighbors moved into the building where I lived.  They were a group of black and white students who identified themselves as the Harlem Education Project (HEP).  They told us they received a small grant for their project.  One day, one of these boys, who was dressed in overalls, was washing the windows outside their apartment.  I stared at him for a moment and then started a conversation.  He said his group was there to do whatever the community needed them to do.  It was refreshing knowing someone had come to help the community.
      At this time, my friend and I was fourteen years old.  Despite being young, the boys at HEP invited us to their storefront office.  They told us each day they held a meeting, and they were interested in us.  They listened to our problems, our ambitions, and our interests, big and small.  They let us hang out in their office and use the typewriter. 
      This was one of the many experiences in my youth that made me want to be an advocate in my community for other youths, so they could learn their past and appreciate the experiences of their elders who came before them.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Genevieve Doyle & Sam Walton

Genevieve Doyle had a tremendous impact on Sam Walton's life.  She helped Sam with his studies, she helped him improve his abilities to read and write, and positively influenced Sam in all aspects of his life.  Sam had once told me a story of Genevieve and her unwavering bravery of the times (the 60's and 70,s) in Harlem.  Genevieve wasn't afraid of much at all.  Sam had told me of the time when he and a friend of his, Sam Gaynor, walked quite a ways through Harlem, with Genevieve in the middle of them both.  See, Genevieve was white.  She insisted she could walk by herself, but Sam and Sam had none of it, and escorted her anyway.  That's the kind of man Sam Walton was - generous to everyone and giving back to his community of Harlem.  I came across an old letter that was written to Genevieve many years ago, and here it is in its entirety:

Dear Sister Doyle,

It was great talking with you a few days ago.  I am getting back to you to tell you more about the projects I mentioned. 

We are grateful for the contributions you have made for the Dr. Mamie Clark and Ella Baker memorial.  You are one of the earliest - and longest - of our supporters.  It was due to you that the project was such a success in our early celebration.  We were able to get Dr. Kenneth Clark and his family to attend.  By spring, the city will have started refurbishing the square.  Then we will add the benches, the trees, and the plaques as symbols of those two great women so that they will remain in our memory. 

In addition, for the last five years we have been working on the Community History Project.  It has been a struggle to get a proper focus and to raise the money.  We know this project will be of great value to our community.

You have been a pioneer in your work in Harlem.  Coming out of an elite Catholic Order, you built a bridge to our community.  You did fantastic things for the children and for the adults.  You brought hundreds of people to the theatre who had never been there.  We want to record your interactions in Harlem.  You are one of our heroes.  We want to save this contribution for others to learn about.  I am looking for someone to interview you for our oral history.  Do you know someone there who can do it?  Later, we will bring you back to Harlem to put it on visual tape.  I would also appreciate any of the photographs you may have that will help document that experience.  We really need them.

I will follow this up in a couple weeks so I can discuss this further with you.

From Sam, with love.

Friday, September 14, 2012

We Care Media Arts: How it All Started

In the late 1960's, Dr. Mamie Clark, Director of Northside Center for Child Development, took under her wing two young men who had grown up in Harlem and helped them build a community based organization called We Care, devoted to helping the people of one Harlem neighborhood help themselves. Between 1969 and 1980, the organization succeeded in creating a walk-in center for the community to provide information about jobs, job training, health issues, housing and legal issues as well as help with many other problems.
It soon became apparent the community lacked a means of keeping its members informed.  So We Care's young people published the first neighborhood paper to make the community aware of local events.  This newspaper meant that youngsters were employing their talents to benefit their neighborhood.  It was a vehicle for building leadership among the young people and by involving them with their community.  The paper was published from 1973-1977.  In the course of these years, the two young men, Sam Walton and Sam Gaynor, received a unique education and the activities of We Care were documented in the 1975 film called "Sam, Sam and Harlem".
We Care has been reconstituted as the We Care Media Arts Center to provide local Harlem teenagers with education and experience in the production of films and videos.  The objective of the Center is to inspire Harlem's young people to use the screen as a means of self expression and to employ the documentary form as a means of accurately depicting life from their own perspective.  We hope to encourage greater involvement in the community as well as provide practical skills and an opportunity to be creative.  Possible projects include an exploration of Harlem's evolution over the past thirty to fifty years and the impact of urban renewal on the community.  We would also like to produce short biographies of neighborhood achievers, exploring what it really means to be a hero.  The Center would offer workshops on the technical and artistic aspects of producing documentaries.
We plan to begin with a pilot oral history project focusing on the neighborhood where Sam Walton, the executive producer of the media project, lived and where We Care was born.  The period we will begin documenting spans some thirty years between 1950 and 1980.  The focus will be on the St. Nicholas area from 130th Street to 145th Street between St. Nicholas and Seventh Avenue.  A group of volunteers, a mix of professionals and students will work with us, trained by the staff of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University.  The work is being organized with the support of St. Nicholas Historical Committee with whom we are working to bring the community back together.  Individuals on this committee will serve as volunteer interviewers to begin the project and later we will train young people from the St. Nicholas community to assist in the inerviewing and research process.  Recently, we have begun working with students from the Thurgood Marshall Academy and the Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School co-located, coincidentally, next door to the old We Care office.
Much of what we know of the history of Harlem is the broader and less personal factors that made, unmade, and remade the community over the years.  We know little of the daily life of smaller areas of the community and those areas that represent continuity rather than abrupt change.  We also do not know the detailed and long term effects of the various institutions of the community in that daily life.  This pilot project is an attempt to start looking at the history of a community through the eyes of those who have played a vital role, both in the community and its institutional life.  9-29-98

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Harlem Headlines of the 1960's

Aug. 17, 1958 - The Savoy Ballroom, nightclub and one of the jewels of Harlem Renaissance, is       closed.
July 4, 1959 - rent strikes break out over rat infestations, a liquor store whose owner refuses to buy from Negro wholesale liquor salesmen and a demand for improved bus service uptown.
Aug. 6, 1960 - Elijah Muhammad speaks to 8,500 Harlemites for two and a half hours at 369th Regiment Armory, calling Democrats and Republicans hypocrites.  "Stop begging and licking the boots of White America!" he says.
Oct. 6, 1960 - Cuban Premier Castro Fidel and his entourage walk out of Shelburne Hotel in midtown and move to Hotel Theresa in Harlem, complaining of "unacceptable cash demands".  Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Egyption Premier Gamal Abdel Nasser, also in town for United Nations conference, visit Castro.
June 30, 1963 - Martin Luther King's car comes under egg-throwing attack as a crowd gathers at Salem Methodist Church where King was on his way to speak.  Police blame "Muslim sympathizers" for the attack.
Dec. 2, 1963 - Malcolm X says the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was "the chickens coming home to roost".  Spoke at Manhattan Center.  Black Muslim leaders rebuke Malcolm.
Dec. 7, 1963 - Amsterdam News reports 55 Harlem buildings are taking part in rent strike.
July 17, 1964 - James Powell, 15, of 1686 Randall Ave. in Harlem is shot to death by off-duty police Lt. Thomas Gilligan in Yorkville.  Policeman says boy pulled knife.  Thousands riot in Harlem for several days.
Feb. 6, 1965 - Malcolm X tells of an attempt on his life teh previous week in Los Angeles and says "my death has been ordered by higher ups in the Movement."
Feb. 21, 1965 - Malcolm X is assassinated during a speech at the Audubon Ballroom at 166th Street and Broadway.  Police arrest Thomas Hagan and charge him with the slaying.  Three people are wounded by some of the 30 rounds fired at Malcolm.  Hagan is beaten and wounded by a bullet before police rescue him.
Nov. 14, 1965 - Martin Luther King gives sermon at Abyssinian Baptist Church, urging a negotiated settlement in the Vietnam and asserting that the Vietnam issue cannot be separated from the Civil Rights movement at home.
Feb. 12, 1966 - Amsterdam News reports that despite presence of a police precinct on the same block, merchants on 135th Street are forced to hire their own guards.
Sept. 3, 1966 - Black Panther Party holds membership drive on 125th Street as Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee stages a rally featuring Stokley Carmichael, head of the organization.
Nov. 18, 1967 - Harlem on My Mind exhibit opens at Metropolitan Museum of Art.
April 5, 1968 - Sporadic violence breaks out in Harlem and in parts of Brooklyn over assassination of Martin Luther King.  Mayor John Lindsay walks streets to urge calm but has to be hustled into Percy Sutton's limousine because of unruly crowd at 125th and 8th Ave.  Lindsay returns to Harlem short time later.  Members of HARYOU, NAACP, CORE, Harlem Cadets Corps and other groups are praised for roving neighborhoods for two days asking residents to keep their cool.
April 23, 1968 - Students take over much of Columbia University in protest against plans to build a gym in Morningside Park on border with Harlem.  New York Times first editorial on the matter calls protestors "hoodlums".
Nov. 16, 1968 - Amsterdam News reports that thugs and addicts have brought on a reign of terror along 116th Street.
Nov. 3, 1968 - Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. loses bid for reelection with Charles Rangel winning in a six-way race for the Democratic nomination.  His defeat followed a Congressional attempt, later ruled unconstitutional, to deny him his seat in the House.