Black Woodstock circa 1969

Black Woodstock circa 1969

 “I left because I didn’t feel that Black people were going to get their due, and I still don’t.”  Nina Simone 1997


Black Woodstock aka “The Harlem Cultural Festival” was a series of music concerts held in Harlem during the summer months of June – August 1969. Black Woodstock celebrated Black music and culture and promoted Black pride during the period during which saw the Watts Riots and the deaths of Malcolm X, February 1965 and Martin Luther King, April 1968.

Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson

A young Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke at the festival and said “As I look out at us … today, I was hoping it would be in preparation for the major fight we as a people have on our hands here in this nation. Some of you are laughing because you don’t know any better … but you need to know that some mean stuff is going down. A lot of you can’t read newspapers. A lot of you can’t read books because our schools have been mean and left us illiterate or semi-literate. But you have the mental capacity to read the signs of the times.” Well said Jesse..it meant a lot then just as much as it holds true today.

The series of six concerts were held at 3pm on Sunday afternoons at Mount Morris Park, Harlem and featured  Nina Simone, B.B. King, Sly & the Family Stone, Jesse Jackson, Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach, The 5th Dimension, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, and Moms Mabley, among many others.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder

The Harlem Cultural Festival concerts were originally broadcasted on New York’s affiliate television station WNEW Metromedia Channel 5 on Saturday evenings at 10:30 PM in June 1968-August 1969. The festival was hosted and promoted by Tony Lawrence, a New York night club singer. The festival was originally inaugurated at 129th and 7th Ave in Harlem, at Vest Park in July 1967.

The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers

Reverend Roebuck Staples, of the Staple Singers, provided the following sermon during his performance: “You’d go for a job and you wouldn’t get it. And you know the reason why. But now you’ve got an education. We can demand what we want. Isn’t that right? So go to school, children, and learn all you can. And who knows? There’s been a change and you may be President of the United States one day.”

The NYPD refused to police the events and security was left to the Black Panthers, who earlier had 21 of their members indicted for planning a bombing campaign in Manhattan to mark the first anniversary of Martin Luther King’s death. Despite the controversy surrounding the Black Panthers all the concerts were peaceful with some 100,000 people in attendance.

Black-Woodstock

The events were all captured on film by TV producer Hal Tulchin who had wanted to sell the footage to the TV networks but none of them showed any interest. Some 50 hours of footage has still not seen the light of day. A few clips have popped up on You Tube such as the ones we have below but otherwise it has never been shown on TV or released on DVD.

Source: Voices of East Anglia and Wikipedia

To read more on Black Wood Stock please visit Smithsonian Magazine – http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/black-woodstock-146793268/?no-ist

 

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