An Email I Received from Dr. John Hewitt With his Personal and Highly Entertaining Memories of Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, Madame Stephanie St. Clair and Society Life on Sugar Hill in the 1950s
Just read, with great interest, Sugar Hill. It really took me back.
I grew up, from birth in 1952 through 1965, in our family home at 459 W. 144th Street (between Convent & Amsterdam). My family was the first of us to move into the block – and that wasn’t until after the war.
I remember when the Convent on Convent Ave. at 144th was still a Convent – with the Sisters, and Sister Charles especially.
I loved growing up there; before they paved over the cobblestones and trolley tracks, when the fish store on Amsterdam got two deliveries of ice a day in the summer from a horse-drawn truck with a gas-powered chopper on the back. Those chips would go flying as they filled bushel baskets! When the cop on the beat knew everyone and smiled as he flipped his baton, when we got three deliveries of mail a day and the postman was always the same and also knew everyone.
Elizabeth Mayfield nursery school (on Convent btwn 143 and 144 [located along the strip below]), Class of ’57!
Stephanie St. Clair was living on Convent Ave. at the time and had quite a crush on me as a baby – played with me often when she walked through the block. My Aunt, Christine Browne, had been in her wedding. My mother, Vivian, quotes her – in her French accent: “I am no niggerrh. I am a Black, Fronch woman”. I remember, when I was a few years old, loving to go around to her house because she not only had a Chapel, but crystal bowls all around filled with hard candy.
My father, John, used to write letters for her to the Mayor. Approx:
“Dear Mr. Mayor,
The dogs here make the toot toot on the sidewalk. Please see to it.”
And, believe me, it was seen to!
My Aunt, Adele Glasgow, was Langston’s close friend/typist and became co-executor of his estate. He gave me signed copies of his childrens’ books hot off the press, which I have to this day! For me, he was never a big deal, just Uncle Langston.
We had Robeson’s 65th birthday party there – when most of his so-called friends had abandoned him. W.E.B. DuBois gave his last, public lecture before departing for Ghana right there in our living room.
Adele also worked for the Amsterdam News and was close to Adam. He arranged for her to receive theCongressional Record daily.
Thanks for the memories,