Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Malls

Tree of Hope

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

The original “Tree of Hope” was an elm that stood in the center median opposite the Lafayette Theater at 131st Street and Seventh Avenue (now Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard). Many celebrated performers, including Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, rubbed the original tree for good luck.

The original tree died and was replaced by a substitute, which in turn expired. Its stump was preserved as a good luck charm, accompanied by a bronze commemorative marker placed at this location by the legendary entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (1878-1949). It included a facsimile of his signature with the quotation: “You asked for a tree of hope, so here ‘tis. Best wishes!”

In 1971 Algernon Miller (born 1945) created his permanent Tree of Hope sculpture, in homage to the earlier trees. The eight-foot high sculpture is made of Cor-Ten steel and has a polychromatic painted surface that represents a stylized, abstracted tree. The work was installed with the cooperation of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the New York City Parks Administration, the Creative Artists Public Service Program and the Harlem Cultural Council. The artwork was dedicated on October 19, 1972 and stands on the north side of 131st Street at Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th Avenue) in the center median.

In 2004 artist Miller conserved and repainted his sculpture to reestablish its vibrant surface. In 2007 with a grant from the Harlem Chamber of Commerce, a replica of the bronze plaque (which had mysteriously disappeared in the 1980s) was made and reinstalled. In a rededication ceremony a local dance troupe, the Copasetics Connection wowed the crowd with a tap-dance display that paid homage to Robinson, who had perfected this dance form.

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