Edgar Leon Abrams, 77, lived a groundbreaking life


Edgar Leon Abrams, who died on Jan. 21 at the age of 77, lived a life of firsts. According to his son, Edgar Rafael Abrams, He was among the first African Americans to attend Stuyvesant High School. He was also the first in his family to go to college and among the first African Americans to become a Wall Street broker.

It’s not surprising, then, that when he moved to Riverdale in the 1960s he was also among the first to take an apartment in the Skyview on Hudson housing complex that dominates the skyline north of West 256th Street.

Mr. Abrams’ mother, Mattie Abrams, brought him into the world on Aug. 26, 1937 in Shelby, North Carolina in the midst of the Great Depression. As a single mother, she migrated to Harlem and found a career in administration at Sydingham Hospital.

As a high school student at the time when the Supreme Court issued its historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling on school integration, Mr. Abrams developed a life-long interest in civil rights. At the time of his death he was still an active member of the NAACP.

He was a large man and at Michigan State University, he was a defensive lineman on a football team that played in the most highly rated bowl game in American history, the 1956 Rose Bowl. His team, the Spartans, and their legendary coach, Duffy Daugherty, captured the national championship by defeating UCLA, 17-14 with an audience of 41.1 percent of American households. 

The game was also notable in that it featured two of the most racially integrated college teams of the era, with six African American starters for the UCLA Bruins and seven for the Spartans. In contrast, Georgia Tech threatened to boycott the 1956 Sugar Bowl because their opponent, the University of Pittsburgh, featured a star player who was black.

After graduation, Mr. Abrams returned to New York and took a job selling Plaid Stamps to merchants in Brooklyn. The small paper coupons were part of a loyalty program that predated today’s store loyalty cards.

In the mid-1970s he came to the attention of a recruiter for the E.F Hutton & Co. stock brokerage firm. He became a stockbroker and remained with Hutton until his retirement about seven years ago. “They used to call them stockbrokers,” his son Edgar quipped, “nowadays they’re called financial advisors.”

While in Brooklyn, Mr. Abrams also came to the attention of Yolanda Manrique, an immigrant from Guayaquil, Ecuador. The couple met at a party and their son recalled, “It was pretty much love at first sight.” They made their home in Riverdale, but they developed a passion for world travel, especially European capitals like London and Paris.

Mr. Abrams stayed in touch with his classmates at both Suyvesant and Michigan State and he was active in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity and the alumni associations of both schools, occasionally participating in raucous reunions with his Spartan teammates.

He was an avid fan of New York sports teams, notably the Yankees, Giants and Knicks, and a doting father and grandfather.

He is survived by his wife and son, his daughter-in-law Lana Munoz-Abrams and grandchildren Gabriel Edgar Abrams, Ava Marie Abrams and Lia Avery Abrams.

A wake is scheduled at Riverdale Funeral Home on Wednesday, Jan. 28 from 5 to 9 p.m. and a funeral mass will be said at St. Margaret of Cortona Church on Thursday, Jan. 29 at 9:45 a.m. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent to the American Lung Association.

Edgar Leon Abrams, obituaries