Sylvia Woods Dead: The Mother of Harlem Soul Food Dies at Age 86

July 20, 2012 5:33 PM EDT | By Anthony Smith
Sylvia Woods
Sylvia Woods, Mother of Harlem Soul Food, Dies at 86 (Photo: Creative Commons)

There are few names as synonymous with excellence in the Harlem Soul Food scene as Ms. Sylvia Woods, who died Thursday afternoon in her Mt. Vernon home. According to her granddaughter, Tren'ness Woods-Black, Ms. Woods had been valiantly battling with Alzheimer's disease for the last years of her life.

In 1962, Ms. Woods opened the doors of the famous Harlem restaurant that carries her first name with the help of her husband, Herbert, whom she met when she was just a child in South Carolina. Since its opening, it has become a fixture of the neighborhood, offering the locals and politicians who have made the spot a part of their daily beat as much soul food as they can eat. Many credit the matriarch's joint as serving up the best corn bread, collard greens, and fried chicken in the city.

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Others, like Rep. Charles Rangel, think that the power of Sylvia's goes beyond the food. Having celebrated his victory in the Democratic primary for Congress at the restaurant, he describes the joint as "a magical place that brought the community together."

Reverend Al Sharpton goes a step further. Sylvia's, he contends, is "more than a restaurant... it has been a meeting place for Black America." Given that he has eaten there with politicians that include President Barack Obama, it's easy to see the veracity of his claim.

Even Mayor Bloomberg weighed in, mournfully remarking that "we lost a legend..."

The restaurant remains under the caring auspices of her grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have yet to be finalized.

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