Frederick Douglass Opie on Sylvia Woods and Sylvia's in a Changing Harlem

On the occasion of Sylvia Woods’s death last week, Frederick Douglass Opie, author of Hog and Hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America, looked back on her life and the important role her restaurant Sylvia’s played in the life of Harlem.

Writing for his blog Food as a Lens, Opie outlines the history of Sylvia’s from its beginnings in 1962 when Sylvia Woods started the restaurant as a distinctively soul restaurant based on South Carolina cookery. Around the corner from the Apollo theater, it became popular with entertainers and then later with such stalwart Harlem politicians as Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, and David Dinkins.

An iconic institution of Black Harlem, it continues to thrive despite the many changes and gentrification in the neighborhood. Opie writes:

In the 1970s, Sylvia’s became a stop on tourist junkets full with foreigners who toured the streets of Harlem. This was before white elites living in New York City would consider dining there. I started noticing a lot more white faces on the streets of Harlem and in Sylvia’s shortly after President Bill Clinton opened an office there. After he arrived, gentrification in Harlem started in full force signaled by the arrival of a new Starbucks just around the corner from Sylvia’s. The hard-working Woods and her family built a successful restaurant business that included the branding of her own products, such as collard greens, seasonings, and sauces. Today the restaurant continues under the leadership of Ms. Woods’ children and it’s still a destination for politicians seeking to identify with black voters. Can you imagine the food at the repast of Ms. Woods’ home going service?

6 Responses

  1. I had the great opportunity of meeting Sylvia Woods,She was excited when I shared with her on my endeavors to share our history and culture of growing up in the segregated south. I am also a native of South Carolina. I visited Sylvia,s last Sept. while on my way to present a copy of my booklet to the Schomburg Center “South Carolina,s Black,a great migration to NYC” This work is to recognize the many contributions made by S.C. to the making of NYC the great City it is today!I pray through Sylvia,s the recognition will be recognized,this quest has been ongoing for awhile now! Sylvia has left us with a rich legacy,she served us well with her life! A-shaa to the “Queen of Soul Food” [homegirl] RoMavins Bogar

  2. I am honored to share with South Carolina that on Oct.21st 2012 governor Mark Dayton proclaimed “Black Fashion History Day” in the state of Minnesota. This was an integral part of the fashion scene in Mn. from the 70’s through the 90’sThis is what is consider the “epicenetr” of black fashion shows in Minnesota. I was involved in these shows for twenty years.”read some of the articles” I am a native of South Carolina.Hope to share more about the shows “Minnesota is more than”white” snow we “black” folks did some outstanding contributions in fashion. Thanks, Rosa Bogar

  3. “When Maya spoke I drank up every word and still I thirst.” One thing for sure Maya taught us that one can be educated without a college education and one can teach college without a college degree.We all can LEARN from that. Maya kept her head wrapped tight she never wore wigs as she weaved her way through life Thanks, for everything DR. Maya Angelou.I cherish the letter she wrote me26 years ago. A-shaa to beloved poet Maya Angelou. Thanks, Rosa Bogar/poet

  4. Maya lived with herself long enough to know who she was.We can learned from that. “Maya knew that to touch one will be touched back” Thanks, Rosa Bogar author of “Black Woman Sorrow”

  5. I am saddened by the loss of Ruby Dee. she sent me a beautiful card for Christmas. She always encouraged me to keep writing. She and Ossie were very appreciative of my work in civil rights.They both served us well with their lives. I am sure that they are dining once more. This is delicious. I must say A-shaa to Ruby Dee. She and Ossie will not be forgotten and always remembered. Thanks for everything. Rosa Bogar’poet

  6. I am still in pursuit of seeing NYC pays tribute to South Carolina Blacks who migrate to the City for a better life from the segregated south. I do know those opportunities led to great success but I also know many contributed greatly to the greatness of NYC today!!”Please see my booklet “South Carolina’s Black-a great migration to NYC during the segregated south” I had a reading at the Beauchamp Branch Library in Syracuse, New York on Sept. 17th. A wonderful event!! THANKS, REMEMBER’ IN THIS COUNTRY WE CELEBRATE IMMIGRATION WHY NOT MIGRATION??

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