HARLEM WEEK began in the summer of 1974 as a “one-time only,” one-day event (HARLEM DAY) with the huge objective of creating a much-needed “positive vibe” and pulling the greater Harlem community’s residents, businesses, religious, educational, arts and cultural institutions out of the most severe economic and social doldrums that New York City and the nation had faced in generations.
A diverse array of visionaries — made up mostly of Harlem leaders, luminaries and their staunch supporters — saw beyond the abandoned buildings, derelict cars, litter-strewn streets, and shuttered storefronts – to envision a more prosperous future for greater Harlem.
This event was organized by Hon. Percy Sutton, then the Manhattan Borough President and board chairman of what was the Uptown Chamber of Commerce (predecessor to The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce), who expressed strong interest in creating a one-day event to revitalize Harlem by lifting the spirits of neighborhood residents who were suffering disproportionately from the nation’s economic hardships. The event was produced by Blackfrica Promotions, a Harlem-based Arts and Cultural organization, key members being Joseph Roberts, Voza Rivers, Marvin Kelly, Larry Frazier, Tony Rogers, Stephanie Francis, and led by Lloyd Williams.
Other historic HARLEM DAY co-founders, included Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, Ornette Coleman, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Lloyd E. Dickens, David Dinkins, Basil Paterson, Tito Puente, Charles Rangel, Max Roach, Vivian Robinson, “Sugar Ray” Robinson, Hope R. Stevens, Bill Tatum, Barbara Ann Teer, Rev. Wyatt T. Walker and others who shared the vision. With their efforts, along with other well-known Harlemites as well as “everyday people,” the first HARLEM DAY was held.
It began with the cutting of a ribbon at 12:00 noon on the N/E corner of West 138th Street and Seventh Avenue which officially renamed 7th Avenue to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard, the first time that a major street in New York City was named after a person of color. Building on the many positive spirits of the first day (as well as the day being the historic grand opening of the Harlem State Office Building), WBLS-FM’s renowned radio personalities Hal Jackson and Frankie Crocker hosted a HARLEM DAY concert on the plaza of the State Office Building, featuring artists Tito Puente and Chuck Jackson.
Utilizing the well-known reputation of the 1st Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s, HARLEM DAY was decreed “THE BEGINNING OF THE SECOND HARLEM RENAISSANCE” by the legendary Ossie Davis, who said the day “provided a much-needed spiritual boost” for the entirety of Harlem.
That “spiritual boost” will continue through HARLEM WEEK 2024’s conferences, sporting events, cultural events and festivities, offering multiple positive benefits for Harlem, New York City and the “Harlems of the World.”