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A Primer on Harlem's Avenues Named After Prominent African Americans

An illustrated map of Harlem explaining its epically-named avenues for visitors (and the perpetually confused)

Manhattan's amazing grid system makes navigating the city a breeze for locals and tourists alike—except when you find yourself on a part of the island where the numbers suddenly vanish.

Take Harlem. The streets running south to north are all numbered, but things get a bit trickier on the avenues.

Over the years, three in the neighborhood's center—Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Avenues—have been renamed after prominent African Americans.

Visitors may find the sudden lack of numbers in Upper Manhattan confusing. But it's not that hard. Just memorize the following and you'll never get lost:

Malcolm X Boulevard = Lenox Avenue = Sixth Avenue

North of Central Park don't even think about calling this major thoroughfare Sixth Avenue (although that's exactly what it is). In 1887 it was renamed Lenox Avenue after philanthropist James Lenox, and the name has stuck. One hundred years later, it was co-named Malcolm X Boulevard in honor of the civil rights leader who was assassinated not too far away in Washington Heights. If you need a mnemonic to help you recall its position on the grid, just remember that Malcolm X and Lenox both have Xs in them—just like the number six. Got it?

Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard = Seventh Avenue

This wide artery was given the name Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in 1974 in recognition of the Harlem pastor, civil rights leader and first African American congressman to represent Harlem. But don't be surprised to hear longtime Harlemites call this avenue by its original name. Take this 2012 quote from William Hamer, director of senior services with the Abyssinian Development Corporation: “A lot of people remember what Seventh Avenue used to look like. It was a place where you strolled down the avenue after church.”

Frederick Douglass Boulevard = Eighth Avenue

In 1977, the section of Eighth Avenue that runs from Central Park North to right past 155th Street was renamed Frederick Douglass Boulevard after the famous 19th century abolitionist and writer. There's even an inspirational statue dedicated to him at its start on 110th Street. Interestingly, although the name has been around for forty years, many African immigrants in the community still say Eighth Avenue. In this article from 2014, a Senegalese man who works in Harlem insisted that "[Ninety] percent of them don’t know the real name.”

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