Caribbean Heritage

CELIA CRUZ (1925-2003)

The “Queen of Salsa” was born in Cuba, but left her native land in 1959 following its takeover by Fidel Castro. For over fifty years, Cruz performed with several celebrated bands. Her most enduring performances were with “El Maestro,” the legendary Tito Puente. The Grammy winning artist was also known for her flashy stage costumes, colorful wigs and signature line, “Azucar!”




Archbishop George A. McGuire was the founder and first patriarch of the African Orthodox Church. He was born on the island of Antigua in 1866. He was a graduate of Mico College in Antigua and of the Theological Seminary at St. Thomas. Baptized an Anglican, at various times he served as a minister in the Moravian Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1895. George Alexander McGuire was consecrated the first Bishop and Primate of the African Orthodox Church. On November 10, 1934, he dedicated the Holy Cross Pro-Cathedral. At the time of his death, the new church had over 30,000 members and 50 clergy in the United States, Africa, Cuba, Antigua and Venezuela.




Born in St. Croix, Harrison came to New York in 1900 where he built a reputation as a writer, educator and political activist. He was a founder of the Liberty League and The Voice, a newspaper that promoted the “New Negro” movement. Harrison considered himself a “radical internationalist,” and is known as the “father of Harlem radicalism.” As a writer, he contributed to the New York Times, The New York World and The Evening Post. His gravesite was recently marked by his descendants; his epitaph reads “What a Change Thy Work Hath Wrought.”



JULIO J. HENNA (1848-1924)

A member of the medical faculty at Bellevue Hospital, this Puerto Rican native designed a plan to liberate his country from Spanish colonialism. He was pushed out of the country because of his radical views and settled in New York where he studied medicine at Columbia University.




Known as the “Bolito King,” Casper Holstein was an infamous figure during an era of numbers running and racketeering. He was extremely generous to black colleges and donated funds to help the poor in the Virgin Islands, the place of his birth. This legendary figure was kidnapped in 1928 and according to the New York Times he was Harlem’s “Favorite Hero” because of his philanthropic activities.




He brought the Calypso sound to New York in the 1930s and earned the name “Calypso King.” The native of Trinidad was a regular performer at the Caribbean Club on 7th Avenue in Manhattan. Among his songs was “Stone Cold Dead in the Market.”




The son of immigrants from St. Croix, Lee was a Harlem boxing champion and after retiring from the sport he turned to acting for a career. He starred on Broadway in Native Son, and then moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in film where he appeared in Lifeboat (1944), Body and Soul (1947), Lost Boundaries (1949) and Cry, the Beloved Country (1951). His promising career ended during the McCarthy Era when he was listed among “The Hollywood Ten.”




A Cricket player from the British West Indies, McMorris made his living as a messenger for an oil company. He lived in Harlem and was very involved in celebrity tournaments, fund raising events and the promotion of the sport.




Of Puerto Rican and Cuban parents, Carmen De Mantilla moved to New York with her family in 1870. She ran a boarding house at 51 E. 29th Street where she housed friends and Cuban exiles known to be revolutionists. Among those who stayed in the house was Jose Marti, leader of movement to free Cuba. Many believe that the couple had a daughter, Maria (mother of actor Cesar Romero) Marti raised and educated the young girl who was his legal goddaughter. In a letter, written right before his death, Marti wrote of Carmen: “I’ve never known a better woman in this world. I can’t nor will I ever, think of her without seeing how clear and beautiful life is.”



LUTHER T. POWELL (1898-1978) MAUD MCKOY POWELL (1901-1984)

The Powell’s emigrated separately from Jamaica and settled in New York City. Luther Powell worked as a shipping clerk and the couple raised their children in the Hunt’s Point area of the Bronx. Their son, Colin Powell, became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first African American to serve as Secretary of State.




His Eminence, the Most Reverend Frederick Augustus Toote was born in the Bahamas in 1899. He immigrated to the United States and served as one of Marcus Garvey’s most trusted lieutenants. Before his ordination, Toote served as a director on the board of the Black Star Steamship Company. Toote was the second man to serve as the President-General of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) The UNIA was founded by persons desiring to work for the general uplift of the people of African ancestry. The Church, which is a member of the Anglican community, was originally organized as the Independent Episcopal Church.



HENRY A. TOPPIN (1887-1965)

Born in Barbados, Toppin came to New York as a child. He started as a chef, working at the Waldorf-Astoria and on the Pennsylvania Railroad. In 1926 he became a licensed undertaker and eventually the manager of the Henry A. Toppin & Son Funeral Home. He was active in politics for many years serving as a member of the state Democratic Committee, a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1952 and a member of the Electoral College.



ASHLEY TOTTEN (1875-1963)

In 1925, the immigrant from the Virgin Islands was instrumental in the founding of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This group of activists was the first African American organization to receive a charter from the American Federation of Labor. He was the founder and president of the American Virgin Island Civic Association.



BERT WILLIAMS (1873-1922)

One of the most popular entertainers in the nation and born in the Bahamas, Williams appeared in numerous Broadway productions and with the Ziegfeld Follies. His trademark character, “Mr. Nobody”, was popular for many years and a staple of the Ziegfeld shows. He was a singer, comedian and all around performer, being the first to take the stage in integrated shows.

JOHNNY PACHECO (1935-2021)

The Dominican-born bandleader and songwriter helped bring salsa to the world. The acclaimed musician was co-founded prominent Latin music label Fania records.