in the Public Realm
Harlem River Park Mural 'Harlem River'

Harlem River
Janet Braun-Reinitz
Sites at this Tour Stop...

Harlem River

About this Tour Stop...

The goal of this mural is to draw attention to some of Harlem's illustrious history across the 'rivers' of time. Moving from right to left, we start with the famous Langston Hughes line, "My soul has grown deep like the rivers,"to signify the rich legacy of Harlem and African American life in our present culture. A preeminent figure in the mural, Jan Rodrigues, looms large amidst the starry night and the idyllic hills and plains of what New York must have looked when he first settled there in 1613. As someone long forgotten by historians, Rodrigues resurfaces here and is recognized as the first non-native settler to the island of “Mannahatta”. As a pioneer who lived among the Native Americans, he was a merchant who negotiated transactions between native tribes and the Dutch. He represents peace and coexistence in a land that would alter be marred by genocide and slavery. Next to the North Star and tree, Harriet Tubman holds a lantern up to us in mid-pose as a guide and fighter for freedom, as well as a bridge between past and present and a symbol of possibility, much like the Underground Railroad she once led. To the left of her is the “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz in mid-song, perhaps crying out the joy of our shared history and describing the trajectory that led us to where we are today. Above her are blues and jazz musicians in the collage style of iconic Harlem artist Romare Beaden. Referencing a piece Bearden made for Brandford Marsalis, out of the horn player’s instrument rises not a woman, but a phoenix, a universal symbol of rebirth. This is also a reference to the Sankofa bird from the first wall on the site, which represents the bridging of generations. The heart-shaped Sankofa symbol is also a reoccurring pattern which complements the other patterns loosely inspired by African conscientious, the Jan Rodridgues side of the mural is also a celebration of our more “natural” past and possible future.