Carrie McHenry Thomas, Parks Department

Carrie McHenry Thomas (1913 – 2013) was the first African-American to work at the Arsenal in Central Park with the New York City Parks Department. She was recruited in 1937 by Stuart Constable, the Director of Parks under Robert Moses. She worked in Room 100, which was then the Capital Projects division for Parks. She was one of three women working there, and started out as a Contract and Specification Writer. She worked in the Capital Projects division until 1978. She also advocated for the hiring of other African-Americans in the park department including engineers and architects. Ms. Thomas worked… Read More

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William Roche, Renaissance Ballroom

William Roche was an African American Real Estate Agent that helped build the Renaissance Ballroom in Harlem. Constructed in 1921, the combination ballroom, casino and movie theatre was touted as the first non-segregated institution of its kind. Mr. Roche (Roach) was an immigrant from Montserrat who became a major player in uptown real estate and a member of Marcus Garvey’s UNIA. He owned a house cleaning business, but bought the northeast corner of 137th Street and Seventh Avenue, now known as Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. With Joseph H. Sweeney and Cleophus Charity, they built the Renaissance Theater there in 1921. They expanded… Read More

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Molly Williams, first female firefighter

Molly Williams  was the first known female firefighter in the United States. An African American, she was held as a slave belonging to a  Benjamin Aymar, a merchant in NYC,  who was affiliated with the Oceanus Engine Company #11 in 1818. During her time in the company she was called Volunteer No. 11. Williams fought fires in a  calico dress and apron and was said to be “as good a fire laddie as many of the boys.” Her service was noted particularly during the blizzard of 1818. Male firefighters were scarce due to an influenza outbreak, but Williams worked with the men on the ropes and pulled the pumper to the fire through the deep snow. Again, thanks… Read More

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Lewis H. Michaux, bookstore owner, civil rights activist

Lewis H. Michaux (1895–1976) was a Harlem bookseller and civil rights activist. Between 1932 and 1974 he owned the African National Memorial Bookstore in Harlem, New York City, one of the most prominent African-American bookstores in the country.  Before coming to New York he worked as a pea picker, window washer and deacon in a church in Philadelphia. Michaux opened the African National Memorial Bookstore in 1932 on 7th Avenue and stayed there until 1968, when he was forced to move the store to West 125th Street (on the corner of 7th street) to give space to the State Harlem… Read More

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