THE NEW YORK YOU'VE BEEN OVERLOOKING the Spirit Is Likely to Move You in Harlem Gospel Heritage Tour

By Crumpler, David | The Florida Times Union, July 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

THE NEW YORK YOU'VE BEEN OVERLOOKING the Spirit Is Likely to Move You in Harlem Gospel Heritage Tour


Crumpler, David, The Florida Times Union


I went to New York this time with a different agenda.

It was not one I would have mapped out had I been a newcomer to the city. But after 20 years as a visitor, I wanted an altogether different set of experiences.

So I skipped the shows and the museums and the views from tip-tops of skyscrapers. I stayed close to the ground, but here's one of the crucial differences: I stayed close to nature -- for a day, anyway.

It was a weekend of contrasts. My journeys took me through unspoiled woodlands and carefully planted gardens one day, and to Harlem, where I heard a gospel choir and dined on soul food, the next.

This was the New York I'd been overlooking.

And I was rewarded with new experiences to add to the wealth of adventures this city never fails to provide.

-- David Crumpler/staff

NEW YORK -- If The Gap and Starbucks have come to Harlem, then what's to discourage the average tourist?

Tourism, in fact, has been way ahead of the gentrification that's slowly making its way into Harlem.

Tour companies like Harlem Spirituals have been taking the curious down these Uptown streets for years in celebration of the rich gospel and jazz heritage.

Along the way, you're reminded there's much more to Harlem than the crime-ridden alleys and burned-out tenements long depicted in the movies.

Within the boundaries of this "notorious" Manhattan neighborhood, you find City College, Abyssinian Baptist Church (New York's oldest black church), Dance Theater of Harlem, the Hamilton Grange National Memorial (country home of Alexander Hamilton), the Morris Jumel Mansion (once headquarters to Gen. George Washington) and the Schomburg Center for Research into Black Culture (the largest of its kind in the United States). Let's not overlook Sylvia's, Harlem's most celebrated soul-food restaurant.

Near Harlem's borders are Columbia University, Grant's Tomb and the Museo del Barrio (the only museum in North America devoted to Latin American art).

With all this in mind, how could I not get on the bus and head for Harlem?

LET ME RIDE

Harlem Spirituals offers a variety of guided gospel and jazz tours through Harlem during the week and on weekends. The Harlem Spirituals office is in midtown Manhattan, on Eighth Avenue between 43rd and 44th streets.

The tour bus for Sunday's Gospel Tour in English (tours are also conducted in Spanish, French, Italian, German and Portuguese) departs at 9:30 a.m. Reservations are strongly encouraged, and you're wise to get there by about 9; the lines are already forming. The cost of the tour is $35, and if you want the soul-food brunch at the end of the tour, $65.

The tour bus, which holds about 50 passengers, is air-conditioned and equipped with a bathroom. Though the bus makes several stops, there isn't much walking in the course of the tour. With so much ground to cover, walking is pretty much out of the question.

Our guide on this Sunday in late June is Peggy Taylor, who tells us she was born in Alabama but has lived in New York a long time. Her voice is a mixture of charm and authority -- part storybook narrator, part high school principal. You take an instant liking to her.

A LITTLE HISTORY

The bus travels uptown, along Central Park West, passing some of Manhattan's most prominent apartment buildings, including The Dakota (at West 72nd Street) and the San Remo (at West 75th Street) on the way to 110th Street, the beginning of Harlem.

Harlem, the 5 1/2-mile area north of Central Park, has been called the largest black city in America. It's actually three neighborhoods, Taylor says. Central Harlem is home to a largely black population, and there are two Spanish Harlems.

Geographically, Harlem is defined by the East and Harlem rivers, the cliffs of Morningside Heights and St. Nicholas Terrace, and by 110th and 168th streets. …

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