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“Battle for Bed-Stuy” book launch
Jun 12, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm| free
Author Michael Woodsworth reads from his newly released book, Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City, and talks poverty policy, civil rights, and gentrification with Suleiman Osman, author of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York (2011).
About Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City:
Half a century after the launch of the War on Poverty, its complex origins remain obscure. Battle for Bed-Stuy reinterprets President Lyndon Johnson’s much-debated crusade from the perspective of its foot soldiers in New York City, showing how 1960s antipoverty programs were rooted in a rich local tradition of grassroots activism and policy experiments.
Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood housing 400,000 mostly black, mostly poor residents, was often labeled “America’s largest ghetto.” But in its elegant brownstones lived a coterie of home-owning professionals who campaigned to stem disorder and unify the community. Acting as brokers between politicians and the street, Bed-Stuy’s black middle class worked with city officials in the 1950s and 1960s to craft innovative responses to youth crime, physical decay, and capital flight. These partnerships laid the groundwork for the federal Community Action Program, the controversial centerpiece of the War on Poverty. Later, Bed-Stuy activists teamed with Senator Robert Kennedy to create America’s first Community Development Corporation, which pursued housing renewal and business investment.
Bed-Stuy’s antipoverty initiatives brought hope amid dark days, reinforced the social safety net, and democratized urban politics by fostering citizen participation in government. They also empowered women like Elsie Richardson and Shirley Chisholm, who translated their experience as community organizers into leadership positions. Yet, as Michael Woodsworth reveals, these new forms of black political power, though exercised in the name of poor people, often did more to benefit middle-class homeowners. Bed-Stuy today, shaped by gentrification and displacement, reflects the paradoxical legacies of midcentury reform.
Praise for Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City:
“In this engaging and powerful book, Michael Woodsworth recasts the War on Poverty as the fruit of a long community-based struggle against urban disinvestment and racism. By showing just how much of 1960s urban reform percolated up from the grassroots, Battle for Bed-Stuy offers fresh insight into the relationship between activism and policy and the promises and perils of place-based politics.”
—Mason B. Williams, author of City of Ambition: FDR, LaGuardia, and the Making of Modern New York
Michael Woodsworth teaches history at Bard High School Early College, Queens. He was awarded the Bancroft Dissertation Award for his doctoral thesis at Columbia University.
Suleiman Osman is Assistant Professor of American Studies at George Washington University. He grew up in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and now lives in Washington, D.C. His first book was The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York.