Late Bronx historian and activist honored in Bronx River Forest tree planting

The late Morgan Powell standing in front of River Park’s waterfall.
File Photo

Though the Bronx still mourns the sudden loss of one of its great heroes, Morgan Powell’s memory will always live on in the Bronx River Forest.

On Saturday, April 11, the Bronx River Alliance hosted ‘Morgan Powell Tree Planting Day’, an event honoring the late Bronx activist and historian.

This event saw over 80 people come out to lend support in planting trees along the river’s bank.

“After five days of constant ugly, gray weather, this past Saturday was the first sunny day we had and it was the perfect to day for this event. This was a sign he was there watching over us,” Mike Gupta, East Bronx History Forum local historian expressed.

Volunteers met in front of Powell’s former Olinville Avenue residence before traveling to Bronx Park East and Burke Avenue.

Nilka Martell, Getting Involved Virginia Avenue Efforts founder, was present for the event honoring her late friend which saw 215 trees planted.

Both Gupta and Martell revealed volunteers aided in a park cleanup effort and some utilized canoes to traverse the Bronx River in cleaning its river banks.

Martell revealed this cleanup saw the removal of a shopping cart, a tire, foam, plastic, and aluminum cans from the local river.

Volunteers arrived around 9 a.m. and stayed until after 2 p.m. despite the tree planting lasting under a hour.

Martell explained people stayed at the park to share their personal stories of the late Powell with one another.

“He was a selfless and giving man who was always looking for ways to help. This was a very pleasant day to have this event and ultimately it conveyed what was so important to him which was people developing relationships outside of the Internet and becoming much more involved in their community,” Martell expressed.”

“This is a perfect example of how a river can inspire people just like it did Morgan and how it can also help bring everyone together,” Maggie Greenfield, BRA deputy director divulged.

A Bronx River Ramble was also held where local historians ventured deep into the Bronx River Forest to uncover traces of the long-lost French Charley’s Island.

On September 29, the body of Powell, 40, was discovered floating in the Erie Basin in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

According to Julie Bolcer, NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner’s public affairs director, OCME concluded its investigation into Powell’s death ruling it a drowning, but the manner was undetermined.

Powell founded Bronx River Sankofa dedicated to cataloging Bronx African American history and was a community researcher with the Bronx African American History Project.

Unfortunately, BRS left with Powell, but efforts will be made to keep his memory and BRS alive through the tribute group, Friends of Morgan Powell.

Passionate about ecology, Powell volunteered at the Bronx River Alliance, the Bronx River Restoration, G.I.V.E., and the New York Botanical Garden.

He donated his work and research to Fordham Library and Fordham University and was considered to be very knowledgeable of the Bronx and its history.

His trademark was his free Bronx walking tours which witnessed hundreds of people journeying through the borough to uncover its hidden history.

His final Bronx walking tour was held three weeks prior to September 29 and he was reportedly in great spirits and very eager to be working.

Martell and Gupta said over $17,000 was raised to fund a Powell memorial at Woodlawn Cemetery and a ceremony honoring him is slated for next month.

Powell was cremated and his family has agreed to have some of his ashes buried at this cemetery.

Ann Grant tends to a tree she planted in memory of the late Morgan Powell.
Photo by Walter Pofeldt

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