By Andrew Rudansky
Oliver Holder, M.D. has been around for a long time and he has seen the changes of two different communities. This weekend, he will be honored by the Eastville community at their annual Harlem in the Hamptons II celebration.
“It’s a nice gesture, I guess some of the things that occurred in my life bear repeating,” said Holder.
Born in Harlem on 133rd Street, Holder was one of five kids. He was educated in public schools and grew up in a working class family. “We were not in good shape financially,” he said. In his time growing up in Harlem he saw the construction of the Eighth Avenue subway and the tunnels from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
After spending most of his childhood in Harlem his family moved to the Bronx where Holder attended Clinton High School. Upon graduating, Holder received a scholarship from Clark Atlanta University. He attended the historic Howard University Medical School where he eventually became board certified in obstetrics and gynecology.
He first moved to Sag Harbor in 1948 and has been living at the same house part time, and now more recently full time. “[When I first came here] this whole area was underdeveloped,” recalled Holder.
“We have always been an integrated community in Sag Harbor,” said Holder. He notes that many African Americans were deeply involved with Sag Harbor’s whaling history.
Despite moving out to the East End Holder insists that he “never left Harlem… Harlem was a wonderful place for mental development, cultural development for its residents.” Holder remembers the Harlem of the 1920s and 30s as a place of relative opulence. His memories are of an exclusive neighborhood with minority populations just moving in. “When I was a boy I remember seeing, inside some of the houses, doormen and maids,” said Holder.
“I love the topography of [Harlem], the grand avenues and the streets, I love the many parades and demonstrations, I love the churches and the cathedrals and I love that everything that happens, happens in New York City,” he added.
Holder is a living encyclopedia of Sag Harbor and Harlem, shooting off historical facts and lessons. He gets a little bit more vague when asked about his precise age, “I’m in my 90’s,” he said. “I want keep my age a secret so 100 can take people by surprise.”
For his contribution to the communities and church groups in both Harlem and Sag Harbor, Holder will be the special honoree at the “Harlem in the Hamptons II” event this Saturday, August 22, from 1 to 5 pm at the Eastville Heritage house.
The Heritage house is a restored one-story building that houses the society’s collection of artifacts, including letters, journals, photographs and furniture. A collection that dates back to the 1800’s and tells the rich history of Eastville.
Holder jokes that he is only getting honored because, like the items in the heritage house, he is getting older. “All I think is that if you live long enough you become history,” he quipped.
The Eastville Heritage House is located on 139 Hampton Street, Sag Harbor. Harlem in the Hamptons II will feature entertainment for the whole family, including displays, a food court, vendors, book sales and live music. The event will celebrate the vibrant culture of Harlem.