Women's Activism NYC

Sylvia Woods

1926 - 2012

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Sylvia Woods was crowned the Queen of Soul Food after she opened an eponymous luncheonette which later became Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, New York. Sylvia and her husband purchased the Luncheonette for $20,000 with 10% of that money coming from her savings and the rest borrowed from her mother who had to mortgage her farm. At her restaurant she offered ribs, corn bread, fried chicken, and hot cakes however her small restaurant consisted of six booths and fifteen stools nevertheless, it was highly regarded by Harlem residents and many performers like James Brown. However, in 1979 after Gael Greene published "Harlem on My Mind" in the New York Magazine, business for Sylvia went though the roof. Form that moment on Sylvia's Restaurant became the place to go to for all with many celebrities and politicians going there frequently like Chris Rock, Grandmaster Flash, Muhammad Ali, Diana Ross, and Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel. Arthur Schwartz also credited Sylvia for helping break down color barriers between the white and black residents of Harlem. She was so loved and respected that in 2000 the Clintons invited her to the White House and former President Clinton also spoke at her memorial. However, during her time she wrote two cookbooks, created Sylvia's Also Catering Hall, Sylvia's Catering Corp, Sylvia's Food Products, and the ATOC, Inc. a real estate company in Harlem. When she was 80 years old she stepped down from active management of the restaurant and developed Alzheimer's disease during the last several years of her life. " ...So you always heard about Sylvia's and it made you feel safe. Sylvia's was very welcoming to everybody."

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