Amanuensis Monday: Newspaper Articles Agnes Cully Peters (My Grandmother)

My Grandmother Agnes Cully Peters was a Fashion Designer in Harlem, New York. I grew up knowing this fact about my Grandmother, that she sewed for Marian Anderson and other well known performers, but the only hard evidence that I had was my Mother’s stories, and a couple of pictures.

When I went on my Family History Research Trip to Harlem, one of the first places I went was the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I immediately went searching for any and all articles on my family and their very close friends.  I had great success!  Below are a few articles of documentation.

New York Amsterdam News, Nov. 18, 1939
[Transcribed]
Marian Anderson’s Modiste
MARIAN ANDERSON, America’s Number 1 contralto, has engaged
Mrs. Agnes Cully Peters, Modiste, of 460 West 147th Street, to
design an make her clothes for a year.  For a long time the singer has
had many of the European experts to attend to that important detail
for her and they certainly have done an excellent job.  However, since
she could not go abroad this season, Miss Anderson has decide to
give that job to one of her own race-and she should be commended
for doing so.

(Modiste, a maker of fashionable clothing and accessories, with the implication that the articles made reflect the current Parisfashions.)

The article above stated that Agnes would design Marian’s clothes for a year, but she did many years after, and through the 1950’s.  Below is another article dated in 1949.
 [Transcribed]
MARIAN ANDERSON, best dressed women, is proud no end of the talents of Agnes Cully Peters who designs all of her street clothes. She considers Agnes a blessing to keep her in style since she has so little time for shopping. Miss Anderson will be a guest of honor when Agnes stages her “New Look” fashion show at the Club Sudan on the 23rd……

Summer Trip to Harlem (June 8-18, 2010): The Town Hall

It was always my intention to blog the updates of my family research trips as I was searching and discovering the missing pieces of my family history.  However, as life happens and I got so busy doing other things, I allowed my focus to be side-tracked away from my goals of sharing, so “blogging” had been put on hold.

Alas….I still get another chance to share with you what I have done, and I am so excited to do so…..

A prior post from April 2010, I talked about the historical significance of “THE TOWN HALL.”  During my first visit to Harlem, NY, I had the opportunity to visit The Town Hall, while my daughter documented our trip through photography.

The Town Hall   Photo by Vanessa Moore

“The Town Hall has played a central role in the cultural history of New York City since January 1921, when architects McKim, Mead & White completed the building for a suffragist organization called The League for Political Education.  Built to serve as and educational forum for the discussion of important civic issues.  The People’s Hall revealed its extraordinary acoustics on Feb 12, 1921, during a recital by Spanish violinist Joan Manen.  (taken from Town Hall 88th Anniversary program)

The Town Hall has deep history for its musical performances by many greats such as Marian Anderson who made her New York Town Hall Debut on December 20, 1935, after being denied a chance to perform at other venues because of her race.  Others that have performed on the stage were, Billy Joel, Wynton Marsalis, Bill Cosby, Lionel Hampton, Max Roach, Ellen DeGeneres, and many many more.”

The Town Hall also is known for its school programs which allows elementary school children to perform on stage to debut a recital for the people of New York.

This is what brought me to the Town Hall, as my mother Betty Mae Peters performed on this very stage as an elementary school student in her first recital in 1932.

I had the opportunity to tour the interior of the Town Hall, which at the time was closed.  When I entered the building a gentleman by the name of George, who was the elevator operator, greeted me.  I shared with him that my mother as a little girl in the 30’s performed at the Town Hall and I wanted more information on the establishment.  He had me follow him into the elevator, which was the original and required an operator.  He took me to the top floor into the administrative office and told me the President was there and he would have the necessary answers.

When I walked in, the first office I came to was the President’s, and his door was wide open.  He was a big man, and was the whitest man I had ever seen…and he was not an albino.  He looked up from his desk without smiling and in a very irritated voice asked what I wanted.  I told him that he looked very busy, and I was sorry for disturbing him, but I had traveled all the way from San Diego, California and wanted to know more about The Town Hall and to take some pictures for my documentation.  He told me he was too busy, but when I told him it was very important to me and why I needed the information, he allowed his assistant to tour me around.

The young lady explained to me that this was very unusual for him to allow her to show me around as he usually does not do that.  She let me know I should take whatever pictures I could get as this is a rare occurrence.  When we completed the tour, she had me go back to her office so she could give me a historical write-up of The Town Hall.

When my visit was over, the Elevator Operator gave me a wealth of information of the Town Hall and told me if I came back another day, he would have more for me.  I did not get the opportunity to go back as my time in NY was short.

George shared with me that his father had worked at The Town Hall when he immigrated to the U.S.  He came from a line of well known performers from Russia.  His father worked at the Town Hall in the 40’s and 50’s and wanted his son to come and work there, but George didn’t until ten years ago.

George, Elevator Operator

The two hours spent at The Town Hall was amazing and it was time well-spent.  Next time I go back, I intend on attending a performance as they still hold shows today.

Copyright
The material, both written and photographic on these pages is the copyright of Yvette Porter Moore unless stated. Material on this site may be used for personal reference only. If you wish to use any of the material on this site for other means, please seek the written permission of Yvette Porter Moore
© 2010-2011
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THE TOWN HALL (The League For Political Education)

(Program from 1933)

As I was searching through my mother’s scrapbook and keepsakes, I came across an old program that was in my mother’s possession.  This was the 1st program of which she was in at the Town Hall.  My mother was always a part of a singing group or Choir when she was growing up.  She was from a long-line of Singers and musicians in her family.
(According to Wikpedia) The Town Hall opened January 12, 1921, and was for the purpose of bringing forthe information of Political Education.  The Town Hall was built by The League for Political Education, whose fight for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution led them to commission the building of a meeting space where people of every rank and station could be educated on the important issues of the day. The space, which became The Town Hall, was designed by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, to reflect the democratic principles of the League. To this end, box seats were not included in the theater’s design, and every effort was made to ensure that there were no seats with an obstructed view. This design principle gave birth to The Town Hall’s long-standing mantra: “Not a bad seat in the house.”
Since The Town Hall (also known as simply Town Hall) opened its doors on January 12, 1921, it has not only become a meeting place for educational programs, gatherings of activists, and host for controversial speakers (such as the American advocate of birth control Margaret Sanger, who was arrested and carried off The Town Hall stage on November 13, 1921, for attempting to speak to a mixed-sex audience about contraception), but as one of New York City’s premiere performance spaces for music, dance, and other performing arts. While the lecture series and courses on political and non-political subjects sponsored by the League continued to be held there, The Town Hall quickly established a reputation as an arts center during the first fifteen years of its existence.
The Town Hall has also had a long association with the promotion of poetry in the United States, which predates Edna St. Vincent Millay’s public poetry reading debut at the Hall in 1928. The Hall has retained a close association with poets and poetry that continues to this day.
There is not a wealth of information on the Town Hall on the internet, so this will be one of the places I will go to on my trip to New York.  I called to see if there were archives of the Town Hall and I was refered to the Lincoln Center of Performing arts.  I was informed that the archives are located at the New York Public Library in the Theatre Division on 65th and Broadway, on the 2nd Floor directly across from the Metropolitan Opera.  When I heard of the location, I was so there in spirit as I have heard so much about Marian Anderson and her singing debut at the Metropolitan Opera on January 7, 1955.  She was the first African American to sing on that stage…Oh how I feel the chills and goose bumps!!!
(How The Town Hall Looks Today)

Copyright
The material, both written and photographic on these pages is the copyright of Yvette Porter Moore unless stated. Material on this site may be used for personal reference only. If you wish to use any of the material on this site for other means, please seek the written permission of Yvette Porter Moore
© 2010-2011

Historical Research Trip To Sugar Hill, Harlem, New York

 Life on Sugar Hill
I am writing my mother’s memoirs of “Sugar Hill” New York between 1926 and 1950. It is a story written from a daughter’s perspective.
Betty Peters-1929 Photo by D’Laigle

Currently I am researching the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, and will raise-the-bar of my research by visiting New York this June 2010.  My daughter Vanessa will go with me, as she is my official photographer and will document our footprints.  We will be staying in a local Bed & Breakfast which is located two blocks from the actual Apartments my mother lived. This will allow me to walk the streets my mother walked and breathe in the culture of Harlem that my mother knew so well.

Betty Mae Peters, 16 yrs old

When I was a little girl, my mother recorded her life stories of New York and the background of her family history on tape.  She would tell me that she was writing a book, but never got around to finishing her project. This is why I feel the strong need to finish her book, even though there is so much that has been taken with her in death.  For this very reason, we should never put off what we can do today.

My mother, Betty Mae Peters Porter was born in New York City on November 17, 1926 to Agnes Cully and Charles I. Peters. She was an only child. Betty grew up in the “Sugar Hill” area of New York City where she attended George Washington High School.  Always an organizer and socialite, Betty and her life time friend, Marilyn “Mickey” Sullivan formed and belonged to a club during their childhood called the “149 Street Queens.”
Her mother, Agnes, was a well known seamstress and fashion designer. Her clients included Marian Anderson, Betty Davis, Barbara Rush, Joan Crawford and other celebrities. Betty often modeled in her mother’s fashion show in New York City.
Marian Anderson and My Grandmother Agnes Cully Peters.  My Grandmother was her personal fashion designer
Betty was always an excellent student. She received a dual bachelor’s degree in English and Journalism from New York University in 1947. Her skills and clever talents in writing were evident in her unique holiday letters received by friends and relatives. Betty and her mother moved to Los Angeles, where her Aunt Zara Cully Brown was an actress, also known as “Mother Jefferson” in the television sitcom “The Jefferson’s” (staring Sherman Hensley, and Isabelle Sanford.)
My Great Aunt Zara Cully Brown

While in Los Angeles, Betty received her CA teaching credential from Los Angeles State College, and attended Pepperdine University, where she received her Master of Arts degree in Multicultural Education. Betty became very popular and active in the social and political circles of the Los Angeles Community. Betty taught at Rosewood Elementary School and later founded the Friendship Guild where she was president. This was an elite organization of women who remained as Betty’s dearest friends throughout her life.

In 1957, Betty met and married the late Dr. Walter J. Porter. They moved to San Diego, CA in 1969, and became very active in the field of education, musical and civic affairs. They also became the proud parents of two loving children. Betty taught classes for the Gifted and Talented Students at the elementary school level in San Diego City Schools for many years, retiring in 1992. She was an avid reader, and an excellent cook. A “gathering” at the Porter household was always a special treat. She was very supportive of “Wally’s” numerous activities as she shared forty-four memorable years with him until hes death in 2001. She also enjoyed spending time with her seven grandchildren.
Betty was a member of the San Diego -Tema Sister City Society, the African Arts Committee, The Chapel of Awareness in Encinitas and was an Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Silver Star, (Epsilon Xi Omega Chapter). Betty was a breast cancer survivor who tried to impress on others the importance of yearly exams. She suffered a massive stroke on Christmas Eve, which took her life.

Copyright
The material, both written and photographic on these pages is the copyright of Yvette Porter Moore unless stated. Material on this site may be used for personal reference only. If you wish to use any of the material on this site for other means, please seek the written permission of Yvette Porter Moore
© 2010-2011

P.S. 186–Historical Educational Site in Harlem: What Will Be It’s Fate?

PS 186 in it’s Hey Days.

I have searched for historical information online regarding P.S. 186, A Harlem NY Elementary School of which my late mother Betty Peters attended between the years of 1932-1938. I have been pleasantly surprised to find any mention of the school, as I have googled P.S. 186 on a couple of previous occasions with no success. Very recently, I discovered that P.S. 186 had been abandoned for over 30 years and that currently a local movement has been ensued to save the structural building from demolition and deem it as a historical building as it has been around for over 107 years.I had written one of my mother’s dear friends Muriel Ferguson requesting information on Sugar Hill and things that she could share with me about my mother between the years of 1926-1950. In Muriel’s letter, she questioned if my mother ever mentioned P.S. 186. She also stated that the school probably had been demolished by now, since the school had been closed for many years.As I continued looking for answers regarding the fate of P.S. 186, I came across Nathan Kensinger, A Professional Photographer, who documents a world that the average eye does not have the opportunity to penetrate. He enters buildings that have not seen the light of day, and have been ultimately abandoned while being a victim to the elements. These buildings and outside structures that Kensinger captures with his lens possess very distinct architecture characteristics. Nathan gives us the vision to see how these buildings and structures were used in their heyday, and what they could be if they were revitalized. For a clearer picture of P.S. 186 and Kensinger’s other photographs of art go to:

As I continued researching online, I came across Dr. Faith (Jones) Ringgold, a world-renowned quilter, who was raised in Sugar Hill. I discovered that she attended P.S. 186, and thought to myself that if she attended this school, that there must be other well-known individuals that attended this school and should give credence to the historical value of the school building and the importance of saving such a structure. Dr. Ringgold’s 6th grade graduation picture is posted on her blog @ http://mjsoulpictures.blogspot.com/2009/08/faiths-6th-grade-graduation-in-1942.html.
Betty Mae Peters graduating class of 1938 at PS 186
Top 2nd Row, 5th person on left

Other’s that might have attended this school are: Harry Belafonte and Alan Greenspan. There are many well known individuals that lived in Sugar Hill, that the likelihood of other mover & Shakers being developed from this area and attending PS 186 is quite possible. I believe that we should make an effort to save the school by notifying NY local politicians, and pleading with those that have the ultimate decision on retaining the historical value of the neighborhood.

There was a petition to Save PS 186 that was posted online, of which 300 people signed, closed as of March 2010.
Uptownflavor has posted details of PS 186 and if you would like updated information on the progress of the petition and decision of the building to link to:

Update:  I had the opportunity to travel to Harlem and see firsthand the condition of PS-186.  The buildings architect was amazing…To see post click here. 

Copyright
The material, both written and photographic on these pages is the copyright of Yvette Porter Moore unless stated. Material on this site may be used for personal reference only. If you wish to use any of the material on this site for other means, please seek the written permission of Yvette Porter Moore
© 2010-2011