Un-making the Ghetto: The History of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 2:00 PM
Washington Room 4 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Brian Purnell, Bowdoin College
Historians have documented carefully how all over the nation, from Oakland to Newark, Boston to Los Angeles, public and private sectors, national and local interests, made black American ghettos. Banks, real estate corporations, homeowner associations, local, state and federal legislators, specific government programs such as the Home Owners Local Corporation, specific government agencies such as the Federal Housing Administration, massive urban renewal funding, and racial discrimination in nearly all job sectors: all of these, and many other institutions, policies, and practices created America’s black urban ghettos. Residential discrimination trapped black citizens into economically underdeveloped urban spaces. Unscrupulous realtors profited from the exorbitant rents black residents paid to live in substandard, overcrowded housing. Urban industries discriminated against black workers and resigned them to being “last hired and first fired.” But while we know what made racial ghettos, historians have focused little attention on political attempts since the mid-1960s to unmakeblack American ghettos.

This paper is an overview of the first decades of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation’s history. It examines how a panoply of political actors – from unemployed black women on welfare, to US Senators; from neighborhood-based Black Nationalists up to leaders of the Ford foundation and IBM – came together in the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and attempted to reverse the economic and political processes that made one of America’s largest black ghettos: the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, New York, known as Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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