It begins some 4,000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico and Central America with the chocolate tree, Theobroma Cacao, and the complex processes necessary to transform its bitter seeds into what is now known as chocolate. This was centuries before chocolate was consumed in generally unsweetened liquid form and used as currency by the Maya and the Aztecs after them. The Spanish conquest of Central America introduced chocolate to Europe, where it first became the drink of kings and aristocrats and then was popularized in coffeehouses. Industrialization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries made chocolate available to all, and now, in our own time, it has become once again a luxury item.
Dr. Michael D. Coe, Mesoamerican Expert at Yale University
“…I knocked on doors and left my number, but I never heard from anyone. So I put the album on my bookshelf. A few years later, my landlords got an offer they couldn’t refuse, and my short time in Crown Heights was up. I stumbled upon the album while packing and pulled it off the shelf. Now I really had to reckon with it.
Gentrification was transforming the neighborhood — soon there might be no one left who recognized the world in these pictures. And the album was literally falling apart in my hands. If I was ever going to try to get to the bottom of it, this was the time.
I decided to uncover its story. I thought it would be simple. But chasing the album would become something of a journey, one that would take me far from present-day Brooklyn to the Jim Crow South, from a remote island in the Pacific to the packed tenements of Harlem, before returning me to Lincoln Place at another moment of great change.
Last spring, I began the search.
The photos were arranged on black blotter-paper pages with little mounting corners and Scotch tape that had turned yellow with age. There were 167 pictures, and they covered both sides of the pages, as if to save space. But the photos stopped about halfway through the album. The rest of it was blank….”
“…In Etta Mae’s day, the magic of Harlem reached the South through newspapers, relatives’ letters and the radio, and in the 1940s, another wave of Southern migrants moved to New York, drawn by Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington as much as by the promise of factory jobs.
“New York was the place to be,” Ms. Barnes said.
While Ike was in the Pacific, Etta Mae joined her sister Mildred and her husband, along with her brother Charles, in Harlem, and the sisters found jobs pressing drapes at a factory in the garment district. “They were pressers,” Ms. Barnes said. “That was kind of the going job at the time.”
When the war was over, Ike and Etta Mae were reunited in New York. On weekends, they would go dancing — at small clubs and at the blocklong Savoy Ballroom on Lenox Avenue, where thousands of couples did the jitterbug.
From the time she was little, Ms. Barnes would take the train every year to visit the Taylors. “I was a Southern girl; I used to go every summer with my grandmother,” she said. “When I would see them dressed up, it was exciting. Like these were some movie stars or something.”
Of her two aunts, Ms. Barnes said, Etta Mae was the serious one. “Mae thought she was the boss. She always thought she was smarter than everybody else. She was always saying, ‘Sister, you shouldn’t do that; Sister, you should.’”
But she loved to dance, Ms. Barnes said. “And she could sing, too.”…”