MO WALKED UP MORNINGSIDE DRIVE counting the number of cars that had been stolen the night before. The sun was rising over East Harlem, which shone like a scattering of copper pennies in the light, and glinting off the little piles of shattered safety glass that lay along the curb next to the empty parking spots. Four so far. An average night, he thought. Mo used to walk up this hill nearly every morning during his days as a graduate student who drifted through the hallways of the big, ivy-laced buildings of the University. But that morning he wasn’t walking to campus, he was walking towards his car.
The morning was as calm as it was bright, and as he passed the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Mo could hear the sound of the waterfall spilling down off the sheer schist cliff towards the pond below. There was something defiant in that flow, something about the way the water and gravity could traverse the stern land in a way that the Manhattan street grid was never able to do. That thin strip of natural architecture had always been something of a bulwark between the Ivy League and the streets of Harlem, and Mo was one of very few people who were able to pass through it as if it were nothing more than a membrane. Back in ’68, the University had wanted to collaborate with the city in building a gym there, but the plans sparked protests and were eventually scrapped. The gym was to have two entrances, one on the East side and one on the West side. Combined with the physical geography of the park and the neighborhood demographics, that would have resulted in having one entrance (the West) for the white university crowd and a separate entrance (the East) for Blacks and Latinos from the neighborhood. Interestingly enough, the neighborhood folk were largely in favor of the project, because of what it would add to the community, while the righteous, rebellious students would rather have a fight on their hands than a gym. Bobby Womack hit that note in the early 70s, singing The family on the other side of town . . . Would catch hell without a ghetto around. And as Mo walked along that rampart of a street, in the shadow of the Ivory Tower rising high to his left, with the gleaming East Harlem rooftops down and off to his right, he knew that note still rang true that morning.
—Ezra E. Fitz, The Morning Side of the Hill