Save Harlem’s Liberation Bookstore!

Save Harlem’s Liberation Bookstore!

by Laura Douglas
October/November 2000

I am one of the many persons who believe it is imperative that a way be found to save Liberation Bookstore from eviction at 131st Street and Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. I feel this intensely not only because of the great value to the community–and indeed to the world itself–of this Black-owned bookstore, but of its founder and owner, Una Mulzac. I consider both of them national treasures, and I want to join with others in doing everything I can to assist in this struggle.

In brief, some of the facts are as follows: During the first 10 years of the store’s existence, the building was privately owned, but because the landlord was tax delinquent, it was taken over by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). In 1978, the title was transferred to the building’s residential tenants under the Tenant Interim Lease Program. In April 1999, HPD brought in Imani Management Inc. to manage the building. In January, Ms. Mulzac stated, the management company said that they can get 700% more for the space she’s renting and is trying to force her out.

Una Mulzac
Photo: Una Mulzac
Credit: A. Williams

Different from many people in Harlem who have had the good fortune to frequent Ms. Mulzac’s store over the past 33 years since it first opened its doors in 1967, I only came to know of Liberation Bookstore last December. That’s because I’m a white woman living downtown who, until a few months ago, could count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’d been to Harlem.

As some of you may remember, it was shortly before Christmas last year that the state appellate court dropped the bombshell that they were moving the trial of the four policemen who killed Amadou Diallo to Albany. Like thousands of others, I was mad as hell (and still am) at this horrible miscarriage of justice and was looking for every constructive way possible to make my anger felt by the powers that be.

One of the things Dr. Reverend Al Sharpton strongly recommended was that people protest this travesty of justice by boycotting white-owned establishments: we should either buy nothing or do all our Kwanzaa and Christmas shopping at Black-owned stores. (It was the precursor of the brilliant “Hold Your Wallet” campaign which Rev. Sharpton, Alton Maddox, and the Amadou Diallo Coalition launched that caused the dip in this year’s Easter profits.) This suggestion really hit the spot, and I asked someone on National Action Network’s Buy Black Committee where to find a Black-owned bookstore. She told me about Liberation Bookstore.

Coming up Malcolm X Boulevard, when I first spotted the store from across the street and down the block, I could tell already that this was no ordinary bookstore whose sole interest in the community was how much profit they could take out of it–this was a store owned by a community activist, a person with a deep commitment to the people. I saw, for instance, in the window a large poster of Malcolm X with Adam Clayton Powell, and another stating the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. There were diverse flyers: “Justice for Amadou Diallo” “Free Mumia Abu-Jamal” and “Stop Bush’s Execution Frenzy–Stop the Execution of Shaka Sankofa” as well as: “AFRICAN speaks to the source of our strength / AMERICAN speaks to the test of our strength.” And featured in large letters on one side of the door was: “…IF YOU DON’T KNOW, LEARN” and on the other side: “…IF YOU KNOW, TEACH!!!”

Upon entering the store and looking around, I knew immediately that I was in the right place to do my gift buying and also to find what I needed to continue filling in the enormous lacks in my own education about Africa and the diaspora and about the African American experience. There are sections on African studies–History & Culture, Religion, Language, Art–as well as African American studies–Origins of African American Nationalism, Slavery, Reconstruction, Music, Arts & Theater, the Family. There are also sections devoted to White Supremacy, Biographies & Autobiographies, Novels, and a section with books for children.

Liberation Bookstore
Photo: Liberation Bookstore
Credit: A. Williams

I was also very affected by the photographs of persons such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and Maurice Bishop which grace the inside of the store, and the additional fliers and sticker showing a decades-long commitment to social justice: “Abolish Apartheid NOW” “Forward Ever, Backward Never!” “Bring the troops home now! No War for Oil Company Profits” “No Justice No Peace” and the very meaningful: “An oppressor never voluntarily grants FREEDOM / It must be DEMANDED / By the OPPRESSED”.

As to my becoming acquainted with the storeowner herself–you know how it is when you meet a person and from the get-go you have this feeling you’re going to hit it off really well? That’s how I felt when I met Una Mulzac. We struck up a conversation and I’ve cared for her ever since. She’s like the store itself: no frills, nothing fancy, just serious dedication to the cause of justice, beginning with her own people. Each time I go there it’s such a pleasure talking with her that it’s hard to tear myself away! She really knows her stuff: she has a grip on the important things afoot in the African American community, is knowledgeable about what’s going on throughout the whole country, and has an extensive awareness of global happenings.

Ms. Mulzac also knows her stock. I’m grateful for the way she’s been able to lead me to what books I ought to read; yet, she doesn’t force things on one. She is helping me to educate myself.

It would be a crime for Liberation Bookstore itself to fall prey to what is explained in one of the tremendously important books I bought there: Mamadou Chinyelu’s Harlem Ain’t Nothin’ But a Third World Country: The Global Economy, Empowerment Zones and the Colonial Status of Africans in America. Harlem–and the world–need Una Mulzac and her Liberation Bookstore!

Note from the author: As we go to press, I am glad to say that, due to the tremendous groundswell of community support the Liberation Bookstore has received, the future looks very promising in terms of Ms. Mulzac keeping her store.

Copyright © 2000 Laura Douglas and The Multiracial Activist. All rights reserved.

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