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Different views of Sugar Hill Historic District
Photograph by Kathy Howe, courtesy of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Sugar Hill Historic District:
New York, New York

The Sugar Hill Historic District's historical, architectural and cultural richness reflective of multiple themes over a long period from the mid 19th to the mid 20th centuries culminates in its extraordinary importance as the preeminent African American residential enclave during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. It was perceived as a place where life was "sweet," where its residents enjoyed prosperous and comfortable lives. 409 Edgecombe Avenue was a center of Sugar Hill society as the home of New York City's African American intellectual and cultural elite. Walter Francis White, Chief Executive of the NAACP, lived at this address from 1927 until 1947. Another resident, Jules Bledsoe, was a noted concert singer, actor and composer. Best known as a member of the cast of Show Boat, Bledsoe created the role of Joe and sang the famous song "Ole Man River." Other notable residents include Aaron Douglas, a leading painter and illustrator of the Harlem Renaissance; W. E. B. DuBois, a world-renowned scholar; Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to be appointed a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; pianist, singer and composer C. Luckeyth (Luckey) Roberts; and society pianist and band leader Caroll Boyd. Sugar Hill was not only home to many notable people, it was also a crucial place in the development of several figures. Among these are Paul Cadmus, a major "magic realist" painter and novelist Ralph Ellison, who produced his award-winning novel Invisible Man while living in Sugar Hill. Sugar Hill was celebrated by many, including Duke Ellington, a resident of the district, and Billy Strayhorn in "Take the A Train," (1940) where lyrics recommend "…take the A train…go to Sugar Hill," and in "Sugar Hill Penthouse." Sugar Hill remained a symbolic focus of black achievement as late as 1965 when Malcolm X's funeral was held here.

Barton Heights Cemeteries:
Richmond, Virginia

Barton Heights Cemeteries in Richmond, Virginia
Courtesy of Sarah Pope, National Register of Historic Places

The Barton Heights Cemeteries are composed of six adjacent cemeteries--Cedarwood (formerly Phoenix Cemetery), Union Mechanics (formerly Union Burial Ground), Methodist, Sycamore, Ebenezer and Sons and Daughters of Ham. These cemeteries were established between c.1815 and c.1865 by black churches, fraternal orders and benevolent organizations and represent early efforts by African Americans to establish their own cemeteries through burial societies that offered death benefits. During the late 1880s "Negro Memorial Day," celebrated on April 3 and commemorated as the day freedom came to Richmond with the city's fall to Union forces, became a community-wide ritual centered on the cemeteries. Processions made their way to the cemeteries to decorate the graves and to listen to speeches by local ministers. The City of Richmond acquired the Barton Heights Cemeteries in 1934 and a metal fence was erected in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project. Burials at the Barton Heights Cemeteries continued until the 1970s and include graves of a number of Richmond's prominent African Americans, including ministers, doctors, barbers, city councilmen, tradesmen, craftsmen, undertakers and their families.

Lorraine Apartments:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Exterior and interior views of Lorraine Apartments
Photos by J.E.B. Elliott, courtesy of HABS

Designed and constructed between 1892 and 1893 by architect Willis G. Hale, the Lorraine Apartments is one of the most luxurious and best preserved late 19th-century apartment houses in Philadelphia. In 1900 the building became the Lorraine Hotel when the Metropolitan Hotel Company purchased the apartments. Father Divine, leader and head of the Divine Peace Mission Movement, acquired the building in 1948 from the Metropolitan Hotel Company, renaming it the Divine Lorraine Hotel. Over the subsequent fifty years, the Divine Lorraine Hotel served as the center of the Peace Mission's international religious, civil rights and social welfare activities. As the largest property owner among African Americans in Philadelphia, the Peace Mission employed many black Philadelphians in restaurants, hotels and small business, while also providing meals, clothing, barbers' services, transportation and lodging at reduced prices. Following Father Divine's death in 1965, the Peace Mission continued to own and operate the Divine Lorraine Hotel until 1999, when it was sold. The photographs presented here were part of the documentation of the Divine Lorraine Hotel undertaken by the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record (HABS/HAER) during the summer of 2002--part of a larger program to record historic landmarks and historically significant structures in North Philadelphia.

Pearl High School:
Nashville, Tennessee

[photos] Pearl High School Facade
Courtesy of Tennessee Historical Commission

The building occupied by Pearl High School during the Great Depression was found to be grossly inadequate. Therefore, through the Public Works Administration, a new building was commissioned in 1936. The new school was designed by McKissack and McKissack, the nation's first architecture firm owned by an African American. With these new facilities, Pearl High School became an educational center for the fine arts, music and sports. The school developed a nationally known football and basketball program, which produced such notable players as the NFL's Joe Gilliam, the NBA's Ted McClain and UCLA's Ronald Lawson. In 1966 the Pearl High Tigers won the first integrated state basketball tournament. Five Pearl High players received college basketball scholarships, including Perry Wallace, the first African American to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). The music program at Pearl High, led by Bandleader Marcus Gunter, was also second to none. The marching band was known for its vigorous, high-stepping style. He developed a respected choral and vocal music program and a fine orchestra band, which even recorded albums for Century Records in the 1960s. Marion Moore, an opera star of the 1960s, graduated from Pearl High School, as did Milton Turner, a jazz drummer who played with Ray Charles, trumpeter Joe Davis who played with James Brown and Charles Dungey, who played in Duke Ellington's band.

In addition to athletic and musical distinctions, Pearl High School maintained close ties to the Civil Rights activities at nearby Fisk University and Tennessee A&I State College. On April 19, 1960 a student march on Davidson Courthouse passed by Pearl High School where many Pearl students joined the demonstration. The marchers publicly challenged Mayor Ben West to end the segregation of lunch counters. The mayor agreed and the following day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed a mass meeting at Fisk University that included hundreds of Pearl students. Pearl High School remained largely a black school until 1971. The school closed in 1983, but reopened in 1986 as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Magnet School for Health Sciences and Engineering. It was renamed the Martin Luther King Magnet at Pearl High School in 2001.


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