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Covello and Marcantonio, two Harlem visionaries

Covello and Marcantonio, two Harlem visionaries

Frank Sinatra, Al Capone, Joe Dimaggio, Fiorello LaGuardia…all the leading figures in Italian-American immigration in States? Fortunately not, and we thank you Renato CantorJournalist expert in the history of immigration for suggesting in his book “Harlem Italy”: Covelo And MarcantonioTwo Visionaries in the Migrant Ghetto”, published by Ropettino, two important figures who have not given up on their people. The book is among the podcasts from Book corner at the meeting di Rimini 2023, organized by the Italian Association of Cultural Centers, and already usable on the main online platforms.

The action centers on the educational, social and political spheres of the two protagonists, both also of Lucan ancestry Renato Cantor He is alive Harlemespecially the eastern region, in the first half of the last century, when the settlement of Italian Americans reached 90 thousand people around 1930, constituting the main part “Little Italy” American.

Cantor describes well the serious problems of that Italian community, which had less to do with fusion with other racial realities coexisting together in a neighborhood so disastrous at the time, than with a difficult acceptance of the American model of life. The Italians had a bad reputation, and they were severely tolerated even by the most ancient Catholics. uNotoriety will accompany them for a long time, even in churches, relegating them to church vaults, while the “noble” part was reserved for the Irish. For decades, the Madonna in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, built by the Italians in Harlem at 116th Street, was relegated to the “basement”. However, the annual Mid-July Gala instantly became a community identity moment.

While the Italian identity did not find areas of appreciationConflicts arose between children born in a foreign land and their parents, The latter is hostile to a school that inculcates incomprehensible life models and at the same time disarms the necessary sustenance for the family. This is the work of Leonardo Covello’s first “visionary” (1887-1982). He understands the strategic role of education and starts a tremendous work that will lead him to establish the first high school Harlemof which he will be director for many years, and the inclusion of the Italian language among the subjects taught.

In co-operation with all the local educational realities (also in the religious sphere, and the practice of “pre-literary” ecumenism), he made his institute a “community school” where even the adult population found places to meet, discuss and carry out initiatives, which among others, as he saw, intervened. sincere Sinatra. But perhaps the forerunner for him was a young disciple of his, Vitus Marcantonio (1902-1954), who will become the second “visionary” to tell about Cantor.

Vito, gifted with a sharp mind and prone to action, was quickly appreciated Fiorello there Protect who, as a young law graduate, called him to his law firm and then campaigned for the mayoralty of New York.
Fiorello and Vito had a clear social sensitivity and common politics Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Marcantonio immediately entered politics, taking charge of the problems of the neighborhood and his constituency. Within a few decades, until his untimely death in 1954 at the age of 52, he was repeatedly a Washington congressman. He had his electoral office on 116th Street, where he would receive everyone who had a need or problem to solve. In this way, the confidence of the population who went to vote was won by rates of up to 90%. Today Marcantonio can be defined as a “progressive socialist”.

In the era of the witch-hunt, he was also considered a communist, a membership that was never his, even if he aligned himself with the communists themselves on many issues.. His political ability allowed him to run for five different parties and even win – in the same election round – the primaries of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
In 2017, New York City named an intersection in Harlem, its “lucky corner” between Lexington Avenue and 116th Street, in his honor, at the spot where he held final rallies.

And at the time of his death from a heart attack, a rosary and a cross were found in his pocket. This was not enough to give him a Catholic funeral, which D. Church denied New York for his alleged sympathies with communism. Talk about it on that occasion Dorothy Day – As I remembered in the impending interview Movement leader Catholic Factor; She criticized this situation, drawing an ironic parallel to the stories Written by Don Camillo and Pepon de Guarski – At that time he was also popular in New York – evidently not understood by the ecclesiastical establishment. To her, Marcantonio had simply practiced the works of mercy revealed by Christ.


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