Rev. Dr. Eugene S. Callender (Retired)
St. James Presbyterian Church
“Harlem, to me, is excitement and joy. There is hope and opportunity here.”
“I was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by parents who came from Barbados in the British West Indies. They were literate people, but not educated. In turn, they were very interested in their children’s education.
In 1944, I begged my mother to let me come to Harlem. I had read a book called New World A-Coming by Roy Autley all about Joe Louis, The Savoy, Small’s Paradise, Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., and others. Finally, I was permitted to go to cousin Alma’s house at 141st Street and 7th Ave. When I walked up those subway stairs at 145th Street, all I saw was black people. I saw more black people in that one block than I’d seen in my whole life. And I said, “Cousin Alma, is this ours? She said, “No, Gene, we don’t own it. We just enjoy it.”
My mother wanted me to become a doctor so I took pre-med at Boston University. A friend asked me what I wanted to do upon graduation and I said, “I want to participate in the struggle for equal opportunity and social justice for people of color in this country.” And he said, “Then you ought to be a minister.” So, I changed my course of study to pre-theological.
When I went to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, I was the first colored student they ever admitted. And this was 1947. I couldn’t believe it. Upon graduation, my first job offer was in New York at an all white Dutch church. But that’s how I got here, and to Union Seminary in 1950. The Lord made a way for me.
I’ve worked for 56 years in this community. I’ve been a part of everything – church, civil rights, education, government, etc. My mission was to be here on the streets serving the community. I am convinced, in my heart and soul, that they will never destroy the soul of Harlem. Never. I don’t think there’s another place in the world like it – it’s the greatest. ”Reverend Dr. Callender has had Harlem on his mind since he was teenager. Now, in his 81st year, he still speaks of this community with youthful enthusiasm and great hope. Of all of his achievements, he is most proud of the legacy of Harlem Prep.