Visiting the Audubon Ballroom’s Malcolm X Memorial

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Malcolm X, Maeve and me. Life size statue of Malcolm X at the Shabazz Center at the Audubon Ballroom - the site where Malcolm X was assassinated.

Malcolm X, Maeve and me. Life size statue of Malcolm X at the Shabazz Center at the Audubon Ballroom – the site where Malcolm X was assassinated.

Yesterday, Carrie and I took Maeve across (actually under) the Hudson River for the first time. We visited New York City, specifically the Audubon Ballroom and attended the Bronx River Alliance’s annual Upstream Soiree event – at the Bronx Zoo. The Audubon Ballroom is the site where Malcolm X was shot and killed on February 21st 1965. It’s now the site of the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center.

This post will be sort of travelog – telling the dadblog experience of travelling in the city, and a few thoughts on Malcolm X, whom I am big fan of. I chose (about 20 years ago) the style of my glasses based on Malcolm’s. Read my earlier blog post about Malcolm X here.

Getting going - Carrie, Maeve and stroller - ready for our first trip into the big city.

Getting going – Carrie, Maeve and stroller – ready for our first trip into the big city.

The day began at our place in Jersey City. Carrie and I packed up diapers, portable changing pad, baby carrier, blankets, a change of clothes, etc. We don’t use a stroller all that often, generally enjoying carrying Maeve against our bodies, but we figured it was a big long day, so we took the stroller. Unfortunately a lot of NYC and NJ area subway stations aren’t built with strollers in mind, so we lifted the stroller over the turnstiles and carried it up and down stairs in a few locations.

Carrie Maeve waiting for PATH 13Sep19

Carrie holding Maeve at the Grove Street PATH train station.

Here’s a shot of Carrie and Maeve waiting for the PATH train, which goes from New Jersey into New York City. Babies are sort of magnets for attention in public. Maeve gets interested looks from all sorts of people around her.

Joe demonstrating the face-down carry that Maeve seems to like most these days.

Joe demonstrating the face-down carry that Maeve seems to like most these days.

Maeve seems to be fine with the stroller while it’s moving… but ended up crying a bit on the train. I held her with the face-down body carry, that I described earlier here and here, and rocked her a bit and she fell back to sleep.

We took the PATH train to 33rd Street, then came to the surface. We walked west a block and go onto the 1 train (subway) uptown. Maeve slept while Carrie sketched her and I read.

Carrie Maeve 168th Street 13Sep19

Exiting the 1 train at 168th Street in Harlem

We got off at 168th Street station, then walked south on Broadway to the Audubon, which extends from 165th Street to 166th Street on Broadway – in the Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem or Washington Heights. At least the facade of the building does this. As we learned later, there had been a plan to tear down the Audubon when the site was purchased by an adjacent University Medical Center (Columbia, I think.) They ended up tearing down most of the building, but leaving a sort of shell facade only. It’s a nice facade, but it’s a little sad that this site that once thrived is now just the husk of what it was.

The front facade of the Audubon Ballroom. This was the entrance to the movie theater there.

The front facade of the Audubon Ballroom. This was the entrance to the movie theater there.

The corner of the Audubon Ballroom at 166th and Broadway. This shows the second story windows, which are empty - there's literally no window glass and now building inside them. Behind them is the contemporary medical research building that occupies most of the block that the Audubon had occupied.

The corner of the Audubon Ballroom at 166th and Broadway. This shows the second story windows, which are empty – there’s literally no window glass and now building inside them. Behind them is the contemporary medical research building that occupies most of the block that the Audubon had occupied.

Another image of the Audubon Ballroom facade from the corner of 166th and Broadway. On the left is the contemporary medical building. Looking up into the second story window you can see the sky - because there's no window and no roof, just a facade, in this corner of the building.

Another image of the Audubon Ballroom facade from the corner of 166th and Broadway. On the left is the contemporary medical building. Looking up into the second story window you can see the sky – because there’s no window and no roof, just a facade, in this corner of the building.

While I am glad that the facade was preserved, I did have a sense that this once-elaborate building really wasn’t there any more. The Audubon (as we learned from the staff at the Shabazz Center) had two large ballrooms, a movie theater, and surrounding retail stores. Now it has a narrow strip of first-floor retail and an even smaller second story – basically just one open room on the second floor.

We entered the Audubon Ballroom lobby, formerly the entry to the movie theater. In the lobby there is a series of computer touch-screens that show scenes from Malcolm X’s life, and at the end of the lobby, atop a short flight of stairs, there’s a life-sized statue of Malcolm X (shown in the photo at the top of this post.)

The main Malcolm X memorial is on the second floor. It’s one large room, which is a preserved portion of a former large ballroom. This includes the actual site where Malcolm X was shot.

The actual location where Malcolm X was shot and killed in 1965 - near the southwest corner on the second floor of the Audubon Ballroom.

The actual location where Malcolm X was shot and killed in 1965 – near the southwest corner on the second floor of the Audubon Ballroom. The pieces of wood below are from the original floor, which was later rebuilt.

There was a helpful staff person who explained a lot what it’s taken to establish the Shabazz Center, and, against the threat of demolition, to preserve this corner of the Audubon Ballroom. He told us plenty of history about the objects on display, the site, and the work it has taken to create the memorial.

Shabazz Center staff explaining some of the Malcolm X materials on hand.

Shabazz Center staff explaining some of the Malcolm X materials on hand.

The memorial site includes a large mural depicting scenes of Malcolm X’s life, some memorabilia in a case, and a series of large photo boards with Malcolm X quotes. Only a portion of the ballroom (one of two large ballrooms at the Audubon) remained, and we learned that the only original objects in the room were two columns. While it’s good that this site has been preserved, again, it felt a bit hollow… like we were seeing a somewhat thin somewhat sparse re-creation, not really the true historic place. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the folks who established and run the Shabazz Center. I assume that it took a lot of work to get it to where it is today… but, frankly, there’s just not all that much there right now. It’s worth a visit for longtime Malcolm X fans like me – just to see – but it’s probably not something I would recommend for everyone.

Maeve got hungry, so Carrie breastfed her in an adjacent conference room. She soiled her outfit, Carrie changed it while I talked and photographed the site.

Maeve Harlem Walk 13Sep19

Lots of kids and strollers on the Harlem sidewalks.

We walked around Harlem a bit, enjoying a part of Manhattan that feels more down-to-earth, more a residential (actually mixed-use) neighborhood than lower Manhattan where Carrie works.

Maeve on Carrie's lap, taking the bus to the Bronx

Maeve on Carrie’s lap, taking the bus to the Bronx. Note the little girl across from us with her baby doll. She was very interested in Maeve – checking her out and smiling at her.

On the bus, Maeve got hungry again and breastfed.  I zipped on the lower part of my pants (converting them from shorts to slacks), and put on a collared shirt, to arrive halfway presentable. We got to the Bronx, took one more train and a Bronx River Alliance shuttle to arrive at the Bronx Zoo for the Bronx River Alliance Upstream Soiree event. From the start of the 2013 until a few weeks ago I worked at the Bronx River Alliance.

Maeve and Joe with the Bronx River Alliance beaver mascot

Maeve and Joe with the Bronx River Alliance beaver mascot

At the event, we were greeted by my former co-workers and a very large beaver! (A colleague of mine inside a beaver suit, of course.) Beavers were once very plentiful on the Bronx River, but were later hunted (and developed) away, then, in recent years, have come back to the Bronx River. The soiree was fun. Great to see co-workers and community folks I’d been working with.

Though we had a good time at the Soiree, we called it a night a bit early, hopped on the subway and PATH train back home. All in all Maeve did really well.

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