Herb Boyd’s Harlem History class, City College, at Jumel Terrace Books
The first young man to arrive at the shop for my annual guest speaker turn for Herb’s Harlem History class lives in the Lionel Hampton Houses here on St. Nicholas Avenue but had never seen a picture of or heard Lionel Hampton. He left here Flying Home. Despite their nearly all being New York City kids, I don’t know that any of the thirty-five students here today for school had a clue of the neighborhood’s importance in Revolutionary America’s history. In 2014 you can grow up in the neighborhood, go to local schools, attend the local libraries, and have no no more an idea of Harlem’s place in American history than most American’s have of Harlem’s place in their history.
Their teacher, Herb, may be from Detroit but he is of Harlem and, to my mind, its best spoken historian. I’ve been reading him in the Amsterdam News, since long before I had any business here. Since opening my business here, Herb’s one of the very few people to come around the shop to talk about Harlem History for fun. He may not look it so much in this picture but Herb is not only one of the our greatest authorities but fun. We went from a fly-speckled copy of Melvin Van Peebles’s Don’t Play Us Cheap: A Harlem Party to his gifting me a copy of his most recent publication from Haik R. Madhubuti’s Third World Press, The Diary of Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, 1964. Malcolm’s travel journal to Mecca might have been subtitled ‘Malcolm Gets Hip and Murdered’. The Harlem Renaissance, followed by a Reformation of sorts, was on the brink. Malcolm’s Enlightenment, chronicled herein, was more than the time could stand.
With Ben Webster’s Soulville playing on the Marantz, we took off from there on a point by point examination of a flea market find of a Harlem nightclub girl’s scrapbook circa 1940/41. A girl from his block who’d garnered the autographs of Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Horace Henderson, Step’in Fetchit, Roy Eldridge and etc & etc with the cool signatures, mixed with party invites, one to a Harlem fashion show in honor of and hosting Haile Selassie, an invite to the Savoy, a party hat from a Lindy dance, a dried flower in a glasine envelope from a lover boy, a headline clipped on the Japanese bombing Hawaii, the telegram informing her of her soldier boy brother’s death on the battlefield.
Herb’s taken a stand with Malcolm, with Jimmy Baldwin (read his Baldwin’s Harlem if you don’t believe me), with Dr. King, with Sugar Ray Robinson, with all that’s tall in the neighborhood’s tale. We should all be so cool. He always buys a book when he’s here. Today it was Ishmael Reed & Al Young’s editing an anthology from the rad’ lit mag Yardbird Lives! You could be so cool.
Buy a book. I got one for you.