JEWEL-BRIGHT: Kaleidoscope of Neighborhood Gems

“Silent Protest” Parade, New York City, July 28, 1917

“Silent Protest” Parade, New York City, July 28, 1917

JEWEL-BRIGHT: Kaleidoscope of Neighborhood Gems
On-view October 12, 2017 - September 16, 2018

Our proud Sugar Hill community begins at 145th Street and extends north to 155th Street, between Amsterdam and Edgecombe Avenues. For almost a century, daybreak has delivered an undeniable glow over residents of both 409 and 555 Edgecombe Avenue. During the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, these two buildings were beacons of culture along the breezy Harlem River. These two addresses are treasure troves of exceptional biographies--our neighborhood gems.

Across the street from the Museum, 409 Edgecombe overlooks the foliage of Jackie Robinson Park on the corner of 155th Street. During its prime in the 1940s, this building was home to activists like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963). Librarian Pura Belpré (1899-1982) also resided in this building during the 1950s. These residents transformed the world for countless generations of children by legislating civil rights, orchestrating protests to amplify communal power, and attesting to the importance of multiculturalism in storytelling. Their multifaceted work can be seen as a veritable kaleidoscope a creative lens encouraging us to pick up where they left off, and seeing the endless possibilities within our community.

A sister site to 409 Edgecombe, five blocks north at 160th Street, is 555 Edgecombe. There the heritage of music, art and culture remains firmly intact. Tenants in their 80s and 90s vigorously recall childhood memories of being star struck upon entering their front door with such celebrities as singer Lena Horne (1917-2010), composer Count Basie (1904-1984), and civil rights activist and bass singer Paul Robeson (1889-1976), all living here during the 1940s and ‘50s.

Jazz pianist, playwright, actress, and teacher, Marjorie Eliot, is another true gem. She currently lives in a third floor apartment at 555 Edgecombe Avenue. For the last 25 years, 52 Sundays a year, at 3:30pm, Eliot has opened her apartment to friends and strangers alike. Eliot’s parlor speaks to a time when shared experiences could only occur in person, and cultural movements were strengthened through friendship. Eliot’s music, jovial presence, and generosity have made her an international attraction with thousands traveling from overseas to attend her living room concerts!

Throughout the duration of this exhibition, the Museum celebrates the wisdom of our elders and privileges the pride within our distinctive enclave, Sugar Hill. This year we encourage children and families to reflect upon history, notions of social responsibility, citizenship, and making art together. We invite all to use their imagination and the materials provided near the mirrored walls to build on the kaleidoscopic reflection, and continue to transform the world from right here in Sugar Hill.

For more information and a list of tenants who have lived at 409 and 555 Edgecombe, click here.


Jewel-Bright: Kaleidoscope of Neighborhood Gems has been conceived and co-designed by Lauren Kelley, Director and Chief Curator, and Jennifer Ifil-Ryan, Deputy Director and Director of Creative Engagement. Exhibition-based curricula have also been designed by Ifil-Ryan.