In 1993 this hotel, now an office building, was declared an #NYClandmark. But, what makes the history of the Hotel Theresa so interesting? The Harlem hotel was opened in 1913 by a German immigrant named Gustavus Sidenberg (his wife was named Theresa). It was primarily an apartment hotel, but also accepted short term guests. Additionally, at the time it was the tallest building in Harlem. Initially the hotel, like many establishments of the time, was white only but it was bought in 1937 by Love B. Woods, an African American businessman, who in ended its racial segregation policy 1940. It became known as the “Waldorf of Harlem” and was integrated when most mid-Manhattan hotels would allow African Americans to perform in their venues but not to stay or use their facilities. Over the years, the Theresa became the place to stay for visiting artists, celebrities, and politicians. #FidelCastro famously stayed there in 1960 while visiting for his UN address. While he was there Nikita Khrushchev, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Malcolm X all came to visit. That same year #JFK made a campaign stop at the hotel accompanied by Eleanor Roosevelt and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. As he said that night, “I am delighted to come to Harlem and I think the whole world should come here and the whole world should recognize that we all live right next to each other, whether here in Harlem or on the other side of globe.”
X2010.11.5170 Byron Company (New York, N.Y.) Hotel Theresa, Seventh Ave. & 125th Street. DATE:ca. 1915
“This was a festival and there were horse stables so it felt like we could smell horses the whole time. We were on a leg from the US to Europe to the UK back to US to Mexico City and then back to Europe. It was almost seven weeks. Theresa had such severe jetlag. That was a really rough day for everybody and it was freezing. You’re tired from fighting off being cold. This was a fly-in date so we didn’t have a bus to go to. The whole day can be brutal, you’re surviving and I’m trying to bring some kind of happiness to it. Luckily that day they didn’t have any press – there are times when you just can’t stay awake, it’s like someone’s sucking you underneath. Unless they’re deathly ill they won’t say they can’t do something. Sometimes I have to make a judgment call if they’re losing voices or they haven’t got out of their bunk because they have a fever. They had a great show and that’s what happens. No one watching their show is gonna know what they’ve been through. After we couldn’t get out there fast enough to get to the hotel”.
“Mind you, the power structure is international, and its domestic base is in London, in Paris, in Washington D.C. and so forth. The outside or external phase of the revolution which is manifest in the attitude and action of the Africans today is troublesome enough. The revolution on the outside of the house, or the outside of the structure, is troublesome enough. But now the powers that be are beginning to see that this struggle on the outside by the black man is affecting, infecting the black man who is on the inside of that structure — I hope you understand what I am trying to say. The newly awakened people all over the world pose a problem for what is known as Western interests, which is imperialism, colonialism, racism and all these other negative isms or vulturistic isms. Just as the external forces pose a grave threat, they can now see that the international forces pose an ever greater threat. But the internal forces pose an even greater threat only when they have properly analyzed the situation and know what the stakes really are….
Look right now what’s going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But for all that violence they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we’re supposed to be nonviolent. They’re violent in Korea, they’re violent in Germany, they’re violent in the South Pacific, they’re violent in Cuba, they’re violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent.”
— African-American revolutionary El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, or Malcolm X, not long before his death in 1965. Malcolm X was assassinated on February 21, 1965. The photo shows his historic meeting with Fidel Castro at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, 1960.
The U.S. Government has NEVER Favored Independent Black Political Thought
FBI discusses moves “to increase the friction between SNCC and BPP.” (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party)
FBI considers “various counterintelligence techniques” including a suggestion to “convey the impression that Carmichael is a CIA agent.” (Stokely Carmichael)
Authorization for a publicly-operated telephone wiretap to spy on the phone calls of Bayard Rustin.
A copy of a speech that Coretta Scott King was to deliver is forwarded to the FBI BEFORE HER SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT even occurs because the informant was “of the opinion that it would be an attempt to tie the anti-vietnam war movement to the civil rights movement.”
Report of a disturbance by a group called “Five Percenters” who reportedly “had two policemen pinned up in Hotel Theresa, One Hundred Twentyfifth St. and Seventh Ave, NYC, and were threatening them.”
Notice the diversity of Black political leaders under surveillance (Stokely Carmichael; Bayard Rustin; Coretta Scott King)
Notice the varying Black political ideologies considered a “threat” (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; the Black Panther Party; the NAACP; the Nation of Gods and Earths)
Notice that none of the actions cited in the files were illegal (with perhaps the exception of #5)
Fidel Castro and Malcolm X at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem on September 19, 1960.
Castro was visiting New York City to address the United Nations. He had checked into the elite Shelburne hotel in Midtown but it allegedly demanded an exorbitant fee in hard cash. Tabloid newspapers fumed that Castro’s “uncouth primitives” had “killed, plucked, and cooked chickens in their rooms at the Shelburne and extinguished cigars on expensive carpets”.The president and his entourage of 50, almost all dressed in combat fatigues, were said to have considered sleeping in hammocks in Central Park and threatened to march to the UN and set up camp on the grounds.But Malcolm X and other civil rights leaders arranged for the Cubans to stay at the rundown Hotel Theresa in predominantly black Harlem. Malcolm X wrote in his autobiography that Castro “achieved a psychological coup over the US State Department when it confined him to Manhattan, never dreaming that he’d stay uptown in Harlem and make such an impression among the Negroes”.
“Castro’s first words were lost to us assembled around him,” the New York Citizen-Call reported. “But Malcolm heard him and answered, ‘Downtown for you, it was ice, uptown it is warm.’
“The Premier smiled appreciatively. ‘Aahh yes, we feel very warm here.’
“Then the Muslim leader, ever a militant, said, ‘I think you will find the people in Harlem are not so addicted to the propaganda they put out downtown.’
“In halting English, Dr Castro said, ‘I admire this. I have seen how it is possible for propaganda to make changes in people. Your people live here and are faced with this propaganda all the time and yet, they understand. This is very interesting.’
“’There are 20 million of us,’ said Malcolm X, ‘and we always understand.’”
Malcolm X was later quoted as saying Castro was the “only white person he ever liked”.