By MATT A.V. CHABAN
It is hard to go almost anywhere in Harlem with Michael Henry Adams, at least not in a hurry.
Every block offers a moment of contemplation, every corner a revelation, every step an interruption.
“I love you, my brother,” a man walking his dog told Mr. Adams as they crossed Frederick Douglass Boulevard last week. “You’re a mentor and an icon.”
Mr. Adams, a historian and rabble-rouser who has called Harlem home for the past 30 years, was making his way down West 136th Street, to a former funeral home — designed by the state’s second black architect, site of the funerals of the performers Florence Mills and Bill Robinson, and since replaced by a homeless shelter — when he stopped again. Standing across 136th Street from No. 267, he let out a sigh, one of many during a nearly three-hour tour of his beloved and bedraggled neighborhood.
This used to be the home and hangout of Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman and so many of the literary luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. Their former rooming house stood here until 2002, when New York City sold the peaked-roof brownstone, one of six in a matching row, to an investor from Rye, N.Y. The home came down, and a new one, no bigger, was built in its place, its most distinguishing feature being a driveway.
“This would never be allowed to happen in the Village or the Upper East Side,” Mr. Adams lamented. “Yet in Harlem, it’s a fact of everyday life.”