Sylvia the face of a "new Harlem Renaissance"
Transported to 2012, that commentator would have felt right at home on Lenox Ave. as well-appointed black families took their time going from church to one of the many restaurants.
In many cases, the destination was Sylvia's Restaurant, where one would wait with tourists from five continents during the gospel brunch.
For much of the last 50 years, Sylvia's was the one of the few destinations which could draw people into Harlem.
But in the same fashion as another New Yorker of great faith and perseverance, Harriet Tubman, Sylvia Woods led Harlem out of the wilderness. As a waitress who bought the diner she worked at, Woods put her mother's' South Carolina farm on the line and never looked back.
Part of her genius was not only to attract thousands of tourists to "the world's kitchen," but also to package and project Harlem around the globe by selling her recipes as grocery items. In the process, she restored the respect and dignity which black cooks had enjoyed at the beginning of the food industry in the United States.
With four children and 18 grandchildren, Woods, being memorialized with two funeral services Tuesday and Wednesday at Abyssinian and Grace Baptist Churches in Harlem and Mt. Vernon, respectively, cast off the glass ceiling for family owned black restaurants, leaving a global brand to the generations following her.
Aunt Jemima was the only face of black cooking, Malcolm X was still preaching when Woods first purchased the diner, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell was still in Congress and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a year to go before the Lincoln Memorial "I have a dream speech." Woods' resilience stretched to a day when a picture of the first African-American president could hang on the same wall as her iconic picture. When Sylvia's face appears on a can of greens or cornbread mix, one knows it is the picture of the brand's owner.
As hundreds of other historic African-American neighborhoods face demographic shifts, the example of Sylvia's is a model of patience and fortitude that creative African-American companies can compete and serve as anchors for neighborhood revitalization.
Eat proudly from her restaurant or the dozens of products available in supermarkets nationally. She is the face of a new Harlem Renaissance.