Press Releases

Saturday, June 23, 2007
No. 81

A New Tree of Hope Takes Root

A Tree Planting Commemorates the Original Site of Harlem’s Historic Good Luck Charm

Commissioner Adrian Benepe today joined The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Lloyd Williams, the Reverend Dr. Julius Clay of the Williams Institutional C.M.E. Church, Apollo Theater Historic Tour Director Billy Mitchell, elected officials, and community members to plant a new Tree of Hope and to unveil two new plaques. The crowd also enjoyed tap dancing by the Copasetics Connection and the seven-piece band of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem All-Stars.

“The Tree of Hope offered thousands of entertainers hope and good luck as they entered the famous Lafayette Theatre during the Harlem Renaissance,” said Commissioner Benepe. “Although the stump still ushers Apollo Theater performers onto the stage, until today, little commemorated the original site. The new Tree of Hope, along with the plaques to mark the site of the tree that Bill “Bojangles” Robinson planted and Algernon Miller’s sculpture, commemorates and continues the spirit of the ‘Harlem Renaissance’.”

“The history of the Tree of Hope dates back to the Harlem Renaissance when musicians of that famed era adopted a tall elm tree tucked between Harlem’s famous Lafayette Theatre and Connie’s Inn nightclub as a source of luck and inspiration,” stated Lloyd A. Williams, President & CEO of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce. “HARLEM WEEK and the Harlem Jazz & Music Festival are honored to be a part of this historic replanting and continuing the original tree’s legacy of offering hope and encouragement for a future generation of Harlemites.”

The Tree of Hope came to symbolize the promise that Harlem held for so many African Americans and performers such as Ethel Waters, Fletcher Henderson and Eubie Blake were said to have visited it. But in 1934 what was then called the Boulevard of Dreams was widened and the tree was removed. Today, thanks to the suggestion of the Copasetics Connection, a new tree stands near the original site to commemorate this important piece of Harlem’s history. Although an American Elm, the original type of tree, could not be planted because it is susceptible to disease and pests, the new tree is a member of the elm family, a Zelkova.

With funding from Lloyd Williams of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, two plaques have also been created to commemorate the site. One is a replica of a long-missing plaque that was commissioned and signed by the famed tap dancer and entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson to mark the spot of the now-deceased replacement tree that he planted in the median. A second bronze plaque will identify Algernon Miller’s colorful, abstract 1972 sculpture, Tree of Hope III.

The new Tree of Hope is located on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard between West 131st and 132nd Streets.

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