The Lucky Corner is located on East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue, a site that represented both a crossroads and a borderline. Located on this corner was a subway stop for East Harlem’s sole subway line, and cross-town as well as north-south buses traversed this corner. Lexington Avenue also signified the informal border between Italian Harlem–America’s largest Little Italy—and Jewish East Harlem which was gradually replaced by El Barrio, the largest Puerto Rican community in the United States. Also, East 116th Street is East Harlem’s major shopping street. Closer to the East River it served as Italian Harlem’s corso, the street where the prominenti—the doctors, dentists, and political leaders lived. From 1924 until the 1960’s, the Lucky Corner was the site of Election Eve rallies. The first took place in 1924 when “Marcantonio introduced FLG,” who was running for his second Congressional term from the East Harlem district. [“Marcantonio Ends at ‘Lucky Corner’” NYT (11/8/49), p. 8.]
When the Little Flower became mayor in 1933. his protégé, Marcantonio, who served in Congress from 1934 until 1950, continued this tradition. Until Marcantonio’s defeat in 1950, the Lucky Corner hosted an unbroken series of eleven election eve rallies four to promote LaGuardia’s candidacy and seven for Marcantonio. There were also four mayoral rallies—three for LaGuardia and one for Marcantonio. Although the great mass rallies, were held to promote LaGuardia and Marcantonio’s candidacies, this site continued for some time to be used for election eve rallies by Alfred Santangelo, who represented East Harlem in Congress from 19 until 19.
Marc was one of only two boys who graduated from his elementary school to go on to high school, and the other dropped out. His elementary school principal praised his “tenacity of purpose, his initiative, his courage, and his innate leadership.” Italian Harlem had no high school so Marc traveled across town to attend De Witt Clinton High School. He was only able to continue his studies by hiding his books in a nearby candy store before reaching his block so he could escape the taunt “little professor” from the other neighborhood boys. Alfred Santangelo, also held rallies at the Lucky Corner.
The Lucky Corner rallies resembled Italian feste and Puerto Rican fiestas. There was always a band and huge electric-light signs urging the people “Vote for Marcantonio.” On more than one occasion, the immortal Paul Robeson sang. The Lucky Corner rallies gave all the people of East Harlem a sense of solidarity and the conviction to send to Washington, candidates who would serve the people. They provided “luck” to La Guardia and Marcantonio, because their supporters gained a sense of their power when they joined together in such large numbers.
Today the thousands of people who each day pass by the Lucky Corner are unaware that this is one of the most important sites of people’s politics in the City of New York. It would represent a very positive step if this spot could be appropriately commemorated so that the people of East Harlem and the entire City could be reminded that there the people once united to manifest their determination to elect progressive candidates who in fact became not only leaders of this community but of the entire nation.
In the recently published The American Mayor: The Best and the Worst Big-City Leaders, LG was ranked by first by 38 of the 61 historians polled. [Holli, p. 5.] Ernest Cuneo, a protégé of LG described the Lucky Corner rally in 1932 as: “A great ceremony… Thousands of people were on hand, a moving demonstration of faith by people who regarded Fiorello not only as their own champion, but as the champion of humanity as a whole. There was almost a religious fervor about it. Fiorello spoke, and his soul was in every word. Never had his integrity, all his gifts, found better expression. He was a charging loin. As he concluded, a searchlight played down on him from somewhere above. And at the end, the tumult of the crowd was such as must have toppled the Walls of Jericho.” [Cuneo, p. 133.]
His final meeting of the campaign, Lexington Ave, and 116th Street, “which he calls his lucky corner. It is the site where he has always wound up his previous campaigns. At this corner, a crowd of more that 12,000 persons were waiting to hear him. There was an elaborate display of red fire and much enthusiasm… “ [La Guardia Wind-Up,” NYT (11/5/29), p. 1]
Received an ovation from the partisan crowd… The police estimated the crowd at fifteen thousand, as against the ten thousand reported last year. Speech broadcast over WCBS, WNBC, and WJZ. “Marcantonio assailed those responsible for the 10-cent subway fare as the same men who perpetuate slums and segregated housing, “the same men who jack up mortgage rates for family homeowners, who fight public housing, and force up rents. [There is] “a conspiracy to keep Negroes and Puerto Ricans in Jim Crow ghettoes, a conspiracy to block new housing in those areas, a conspiracy to keep up mortgage interest rates… The men responsible for the ghettos and the slums, the m en responsible for the higher fare, these men back my opponents… My commitments are to the people of New York City, the little people the men and women who are the victims of this biggest of all rackets and this most desperate and vicious of all conspiracies.”
“Marcantonio Ends at ‘Lucky Corner’” NYT (11/8/49), p. 8.
“Yes, I do defend the Puerto Ricans as our most recently arrived against the kind of discrimination that was practiced against the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians in the past.” [Text of speech, (11/7/49), MP Box 22 Folder “1949 Campaign 3 of 3.]
La Guardia and Marcantonio had defied the powers-that-be. This meant not only the Wall Street tycoons, but the leaders of the two major parties. There castigation of wealthy and their denunciations of the “system” caused them to be red baited and denounced in the press. La Guardia lost the Republican Party’s nomination in 1924 when he supported Robert La Follette’s candidacy for the president on the Progressive Party line. When he ran in 1922 against a Socialist, he stated that he was a radical running on a conservative ticket, and his opponent was a conservative running on a radical ticket. Then in 1924, he himself successfully ran on the Socialist Party and the Progressive Party ticket. Marcantonio When the American Labor Party first ran candidates in 1936, La Guardia announced he would vote for Roosevelt on the ALP line and both these mavericks registered in the new party in 19378, which was the first possible opportunity.
They were able to maintain the loyalty of their constituents only through their successful advocacy for their causes in Congress and the delivery of prodigious amounts of service.
There was much that sustained the oppositional culture of East Harlem.