Public Employee Press
Media Beat: Book Review
New Yorks postwar civil rights battle
HARLEM, 1950: Protesters battle exclusion of Blacks from Stuyvesant
Town. DC 37 was part of Northern movement that fought job and housing
In To Stand and Fight: The
Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City, Martha Biondi
examines a movement less known than the Southern struggle of the 1950s
and 60s, but historically important in making the city we know today.
While the Southern movement had to conquer the legal segregation of Jim
Crow laws and win voting rights, the vibrant Northern movement of the
late 1940s and the 50s battled police brutality and discrimination
in employment, housing, hiring and places of amusement. Economic and union
rights were an integral part of the Northern struggle.
After fighting a world war to preserve democracy and defeat racism abroad,
labor grew militant and African Americans demanded civil rights at home.
Many of the leaders were radicals who were active in both the community
and labor spheres, including African Americans Ewart Guinier of the United
Public Workers, Charles Collins of the Hotel Workers and Ferdinand Smith
of the National Maritime Union.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in Congress, Benjamin Davis in the City Council
and Manhattan Borough President Hulan Jack provided leadership from their
important political positions.
A huge battle was fought to save the jobs at the huge IRS Center in the
Bronx, which the federal government ultimately moved. Victories included
the first law since Reconstruction barring job discrimination and the
integration of the then-new Stuyvesant Town housing development.
By the end of the 1940s, the forces of reaction nationwide aligned against
the civil rights, labor and progressive movements. Caught up in the Red
Scare, many Black leaders lost their union and political positions. The
defeat of Harlem City Councilman Ben Davis, who was arrested under an
anti-Communist law, was a major setback.
Author Martha Biondi teaches us much about what a social movement looked
like in our town. Her book is $40, but it is available in the DC 37 library.
To learn more about the labor and community struggles of the post-war
period, read Josh Freemans Working-Class New York: Life and
Labor Since World War II.
Ed Fund Library, Room 211