By Joseph Alexiou
On a cool November morning in 1883, George J. Hardy, Deputy Sheriff of Brooklyn, marched toward the city’s most notorious slum. Behind him followed a small army of fourteen “special assistants” — nameless men in frock coats and bowler hats — Sergeant Reeves of Brooklyn’s 10th Precinct with three of his own officers and some newspaper reporters.
Upon first approach it appeared as though nobody was lived among the meandering rows of one-story shanties. The officers commented that it seemed odd. Goats snacked on bits of scrap metal and old hoop skirts that littered the dirt-path while pigs of varying age frolicked, but no people could be seen. Still they advanced on Darby’s Patch as though ready to battle an absentee goatherd.
But when Hardy’s crew reached fifty yards from the bounds of “the Patch,” suddenly “the hillocks teemed with life, every male inhabitant coming up as if from the ground, armed to the teeth with every conceivable implement,” as described one reporter from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. In 1883 this would mean metal rakes and ice picks, hammers or pokers, perhaps intentionally rusty. He added: “and the females also equipped with kitchen and other utensils, ready to defend their shanties.”
Hardy turned to the reporter, saying: “My letters must have been given to the goats and they forgot to read them.”
(Podcast) Clarence Taylor's Fight the Power: African Americans and the Long History of Police Brutality in New York City
Introduction by Nick Juravich
Fifty years ago this fall, the United Federation of Teachers went on strike three times, closing NYC public schools for more than six weeks. The legacy of these strikes continues to reverberate through the city's schools today.
By the fall, the conflict in Brooklyn had engulfed the city. Nearly 57,000 teachers walked picket lines, and over 1 million students were out of school.
New Yorkers have battled over school governance for more than two centuries, and the struggle continues in ongoing debates over mayoral control. The 1968 conflict, however, did not simply transform the school system. It reshaped political alliances, social movements, and labor organizing in the city for decades to come.
The Board of Education abandoned the community control experiment one year after the strikes, but the school system was decentralized by the state legislature into quasi-independent districts with elected community school boards in 1970. This system, in turn, was eliminated in 2002 at the request of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who won control of the city’s schools from the state legislature.
This centralization has not gone unchallenged. Parents regularly demand more democracy and transparency from the city, and state lawmakers now reconsider mayoral control nearly annually. Fifty years on, many of the questions that New Yorkers struggled with in 1968 remain urgent and unresolved.
Who will teach the city’s children and how will they do it? How will the city address persistent racism, segregation, and educational inequality in its schools? Who will be held accountable to the children and parents schools serve, as well as to the teachers employed by the system?
Gotham, in partnership with Chalkbeat, asked eight historians and scholars of education to reflect on how this history remains relevant for NYC public schools today. Here’s what they told us.
Remembrance of Things Not Yet Past: A Report from “Difficult Histories / Public Spaces: The Challenge of Monuments in NYC and the Nation”
By Arinn Amer
A year after white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia in a deadly riot they framed as a protest against the planned removal of a bronze rendering of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park, monuments loom large in our national consciousness. With new memorials and markers raising awareness of America’ dark history of racial terror and hundreds of Confederate flags and generals retreating from public view even as thousands more remain firmly entrenched, the incredible power of the stories we tell about the past in shared physical space has never been more apparent.
“Difficult Histories/Public Spaces” is an ongoing public programming series conceived as a forum to bring New Yorkers together to grapple with questions about historical representation and memory in our city and beyond. I had the privilege of co-organizing and moderating the first event, a contentious yet illuminating conversation between invited speakers and audience members centered around New York’s long-protested memorial to 19th-century gynecologist J. Marion Sims, whose disputed contributions to medical science were based on experimental surgeries on enslaved women who could not give their consent. The memorial’s centerpiece, a nine-foot-tall bronze statue of Sims, was recently removed from its granite plinth at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street for transportation to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is interred.
These are my takeaways from the June 13 panel.
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