In early December 1997, former New York City Governor George E. Pataki introduced a number of unlimited metrocards, which included the “Fun Pass.” The “Fun Pass” was a 1-day unlimited card that let straphangers ride all throughout New York City for one price, 4 dollars. Initially, the Fun Pass was only sold at stations that were tourist destinations, until it was expanded as an option for all New Yorkers. Over the years, the price of the Fun Pass was eventually hiked, until it was discontinued in 2010.
The MTA eliminated the Fun Pass due to New Yorkers that used the card to sell swipes at stations. Swipe sellers bought them in bulk: “they don’t have to re-use any of them more than once every 18 minutes—the time lag the cards are programmed for. Over the course of a day, each one could be used dozens of times, at great profit to the scammer, while the MTA only receives the $8.25 face value of the card.”
Despite the MTA’s claims that the Fun Pass “scams” led to loss in revenue, the Fun Pass was an affordable daily unlimited card that helped many New Yorkers travel at an affordable price. Its removal as an unlimited option was a loss to many working-class New Yorkers.
Although selling swipes are illegal, simply swiping a fellow New Yorker on is not, BUT there is a loophole. You cannot be caught asking for a swipe. NYPD may hit you with fines up to $50 if you are caught asking to swiped onto the MTA. If you see someone that looks like they may need to board, offering to swipe them on is a nice, courteous gesture.
Since the MTA introduced the Metrocard in 1993, the MTA has collaborated with several artists and brands to create limited edition cards. These cards are usually sold at select stations with limited quantities. In the past few years, MTA has released limited edition cards in collaboration with Supreme, Game of Thrones, Wu Tang Clan, David Bowie, and Paul McCartney. On May 21, 2022, the MTA released a limited edition metrocard to commemorate the 50th birthday of rapper, the Notorious B.I.G. Only 50,000 cards were made and were sold at select stations. Limited edition cards are considered collectables which are resold online from anywhere between $100 to $5,000. Let’s just say it is very profitable.
In October 1974, a Black couple of Trinidadian immigrants moved to the Rosedale neighborhood in Queens, New York from London, England. Ormistan Spencer, a 34-year old production manager for a photo-engraving firm, and his wife, Glenda Spencer, a 31-year old administrative secretary, brought their three sons along with them. At the time, Rosedale was a majority-white neighborhood while Black families began to settle there from overcrowded areas in New York City. Before the Spencers officially moved into their $40,000 seven-room home at 243-11 136th Avenue, it was fire bombed in July 1974 after the purchase was finalized. The Spencers did not realize what was yet to come as they tried to bring in the new year in their home.
On December 31, 1974, a fire bomb was placed on the front porch of the home at 4:30 AM, which shattered the front windows. Attached to the fire bomb was a note that read “Nigger, be warned. We have time, we will get you. Your first born first.” The note was signed “Viva Boston KKK.” When the fire bomb blasted, Ormistan and Glenda Spencer were asleep in their bedroom upstairs, while their sons, Irwin, Peter, and Derrick, were in their bedroom downstairs. The boys’ bedroom faced some damage by debris from the blast. Glenda Spencer stated that she “planned to have a party tomorrow to celebrate the fixing up of the house after the July firebombing. Now everyone can come over and see the new damage.” In response to the bombing, the Spencers reported that police guarded the home, with a police officer actually attacked. The Spencers also reported racist slurs hurled at them by cars that passed by the home, but the Spencers maintained that they would not be run out of their home or the neighborhood. Back in London, the Spencers lived in a private home in an area mostly populated with white residents. “In England, you hear about this happening in the South, but you don’t hear about it happening in New York City,” Ormistan Spencer told a reporter.
By January 6, 1975, two suspects were captured by the New York Police Department after a tip led them to the 113th Precinct to be questioned and later, apprehended. Michael Biggio, a 29-year old accountant for the Board of Education hired 27-year old Arthur Zanoni, a dental technician, to bomb the Spencers’ home for $300. Michael Biggio lived at 224-19 136th Avenue, about a block away from Spencer’s home. Biggio and Zanoni were arraigned separately in Brooklyn Federal Court and was ordered to held on $25,000 bail of possession of an unregistered bomb by US Magistrate Max Schiffman. While in court, Assistant US Attorney Raymond Dearie said Biggio paid Zanoni to “manufacture, detonate, and and set the bomb” at the Spencer’s home on New Year’s Eve. Zanoni and Biggio met a month before the bombing took place in Brooklyn through a mutual friend. Zanoni was traced through the writing of the note that was attached to the bomb. The note was analyzed by the Police Department’s crime lab that connected the writing to the indentation of a notepad that was previously written on. Chemicals were used to bring out a message written on the notepad that read “Hi Nipples, call me as soon as you read this note. Love, Artie.” A number was also uncovered after the message, which was used by detectives to lead to Zanoni’s mother. Zanoni’s mother supplied his name and his Brooklyn address, 239 Nichols Avenue.
The New York Police Department staked out Zanoni’s home in Brooklyn. Zanoni later contacted the Rochdale police station, the precinct nearest to the bombing, to surrender himself as soon as he contacted his lawyer who was out of town at the time. The agents of the US Treasury Department’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau arrested Zanoni on January 5, 1975, while he drove near the Aqueduct Racetrack, with Biggio picked up some time later. Zanoni claimed he was on his way to surrender himself to the police when he was picked up by officers. Detectives and federal agents searched Zanoni’s home and found two rifles, electrical tools, and materials that could possibly be used to make a bomb. The agents also found the notepad which the note that was attached to the bomb, a note to his wife, and a third note that contained Biggio’s number and directions to his home. The two suspects brought the bomb to the Spencer home in Biggio’s car and Biggio waited for Zanoni to plant the bomb, and eventualy waited for the bomb to detonate. Zanoni pleaded “not guilty” in court and complained that he was harassed by Black prisoners during his stay at the detention.
On January 13, 1975, 200 Black people attended the AME Church in Jamaica, Queens to support the Spencers and donate $779 to the family for house repairs. Months later, a devastating acquittal of Arthur Zanoni and Michael Biggio took place at the Brooklyn Federal Court, after 20 hours of deliberation. Despite the notepad evidence and bomb equipment found at Zanoni’s home, Biggio and Zanoni were acquitted of federal gun contral laws. While at the home of the chairman of the group “Restore Our American Rights,” at 242-15 135th Street, Biggio stated “I feel terrific, I knew I would win.” He went on to say “I’m thankful to the people of Rosedale who stuck by me from the beginning when no one else would. The so-called religious, political, and civic leaders of Rosedale turned their backs on me.”
September 11, 2001 was a date that changed the political and social climate of New York City forever. The World Trade Center was attacked, which led to its collapse and the 3,000 lives lost. On the same day, Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” heralded as one of his classics dropped, which publicly started the feud between Nas and Mobb Deep. Fabolous’ debut album “Ghetto Fabolous” also dropped on September 11, 2001. President George W. Bush began his “War On Terror” in October 2001, which led to US troops in Afghanistan. Nas would return the fire to Jay-Z and other Queensbridge peers on his December 2001 release “Stillmatic.” The devastation to New York City and its inhabitants rolled over into the year of 2002. The transition from Mayor Rudy Giuliani to Mayor Michael Bloomberg commenced.
Tension was high in New York City’s rap climate in 2002, but these albums were able to please our ears.
Cam’Ron – “Come Home With Me”
Released on May 14, 2002, Cam’s third studio album, but his Roc-A-Fella debut, is one of the strongest releases from the label to date. Cam’Ron was relatively popular, but this album pushed his fame to newer heights with “Oh Boy” and “Hey Ma” being two of the biggest rap hits of 2002. The album’s standout tracks “The Roc,” “Welcome To New York City,” and “Come Home With Me,” show Cam’s ability to drive beats and his Harlem sound that no one can replicate. Features from Juelz Santana, Memphis Bleek, Jay-Z, Jim Jones, Daz Dillinger, Beanie Sigel and production from Just Blaze, Rsonist, Kanye West, paired with Cam’s flow, makes for a strong argument of a classic. The album also serves as a strong introduction to Dipset, also known as The Diplomats, the crew that would put New York City in a chokehold.
Jay-Z – “The Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse”
Jay-Z’s seventh studio album released on November 12, 2002, was the follow up to his classic “The Blueprint.” With production from The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West, Timbaland, and No ID, “The Blueprint 2” soared to number 1 on the Billboard charts. The double disc album features 25 songs total. On “Hovi Baby,” Jay-Z gets real arrogant and explains why he’s the top dog. On “03 Bonnie & Clyde,” Jay-Z and Beyonce profess their ride-or-die love for each other, and Jay enamors a woman on “Excuse Me Miss.” The album boasts features from Dr. Dre, Rakim, Scarface, MOP, Faith Evans, Lenny Kravitz and Beanie Sigel.
Nas – “God’s Son”
Nas’ sixth studio album was released on December 13, 2002. It was the follow-up to “Stilmatic,” considered his return to the fight for king of New York. The album was a year fresh off the beef with Jay-Z and the death of his mother, Ann Jones at the beginning of 2002. Nas was inspired, alongside the help of Alchemist, Salaam Remi, and Ron Browz on production, “God’s Son,” is considered a strong release. Nas’ tackles the long origins of the beef with Jay-Z on “Last Real Nigga Alive,” his mother’s passing on “Dance,” religion and societal ills on “Heaven,” and gets braggadocious on “Made You Look.” On “Get Down,” Nas flexes his immaculate storytelling abilities, and he leads the youth on “I Can.” On “God’s Son,” Nas shows his immense technical skill as a lyricist and adds a gem to his discography.
In May 1956, a Black couple faced the harsh reality of Black homeownership in the Bronx. Percy Hill lived with his wife, Cora Hill at 747 East 183rd Street between Crotona and Prospect Avenues, a predominantly white neighborhood in the East Bronx. Percy, 44 years old, was an elevator operator at the Shelton Hotel. His wife, Cora, 42 years old, was also employed at the Shelton Hotel as a chambermaid. The Hills moved into their $12,450 home on February 27, 1956. The couple’s home had nine rooms and they planned to rent out four of them. The Hills lived there without any racist occurrences until Sunday, May 6, 1956.
On Sunday, May 6, 1956, a group of white thugs threw stones at the Hills’ home and broke the front porch windows. One of the stones thrown was wrapped in a note filled with racial epithets and a threat of arson to their home if they did not move out of the neighborhood. New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr declared the incident as an “affront” to the city and ordered Police Commissioner Stephen P. Kennedy to “pursue the matter vigorously as a crime against the city.”About thirty people were questioned, but four whites were arrested in connection to the stoning of the Hills’ home on Thursday, May 10, 1956. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The Hotel Trades Council urged Mayor Wagner to take urgent action in a telegram sent to Police Commissioner Kennedy.
Amongst those arrested were two unnamed 14-year olds that were charged with juvenile delinquency in a children’s court for their appearances on the scene of the stoning. The two were remanded to the Youth House and released on $500 bails. Two others arrested were 25-year old William Pizzolongo of 2309 Crotona Avenue, viewed as the mastermind of the stoning attack; and 16-year-old Richard Ferri, an office clerk of 2426 Crotona Avenue. Pizzolongo and Ferri were charged with malicious mischief, but Ferri was also charged with violation of a penal code as the author behind the threatening letter. Both were charged in Bronx magistrate court, Ferri was released on $1,000 bail, Pizzolongo released on $500 bail.
William Pizzolongo was eventually convicted later in May 1956 as the mastermind, but later had his sentence suspended in October 1956. “This court will show greater tolerance to the defendant than he showed to the complainant, in hope that there may be some good in the defendant worth saving,” Justice Benjamin Gassman stated as he placed Pizzolongo on probation.
As 6 million Southern Black Americans migrated to the Midwest and Northeast to flee economic deprivation, New York City became the home to several Black neighborhoods, such as Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. This mass movement of Black Americans is historically known as “the Great Migration.” Black Americans in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant eventually spread throughout the five boroughs for more space. The Great Migration started in the 1910s and lasted for decades until the 1970s.
Between 1992 to 1995, Gotham Center launched an oral history project that involved various interviews of Southern Black Americans that migrated to New York City titled “African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project,” which can be found at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture archives. With stories about their trek to New York City, their work experiences, and even street life, these three narratives offer us just a slight look into the migration up North.
Mary Ruffin was born in Suffolk, Virginia in 1920 to George Ruffin, a landscaper and Grace Ruffin, a housewife. Mary was one of 7 children, 5 daughters, two sons. Mary Ruffin was interviewed by Ray Allen on March 15, 1993. She moved to New York City from Virginia at the age of 20 in the year of 1940. Mary described in detail that she traveled to New York City from Virginia by bus. She stated that the bus stopped at 50th Street and these were her thoughts when she made it to New York City:
“Well, when I looked around — I was kind of a little disappointed — when you get up in these apartments, there’s no front porch. We had been used to going out in the evening and especially in the summertime, you sit on the porch until it’s time to go to bed. There was no front porch, no back door. In a way, you had to get adjusted to it. But once you get adjusted, you make yourself contented… You’ve got to explore it and see the beauty of it. So that’s how you get full pleasure from the City.”
Mary Ruffin, African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project, Gotham Center
When Mary arrived in New York City, she moved to Harlem, specifically West 134th Street and 8th Avenue. She explained that the neighborhood was mostly populated with Southern Black Americans and there wasn’t much diversity until heavy immigration began. Interviewer Ray Allen inquired about Mary’s work experience and the opportunities she received upon her move up North. Mary started out with factory work: “Some of them were like piece work; bead factory I worked too; and I worked at a soap factory. I worked at quite a few factories before I got to nursing.”
Mary goes on to share what made her get into the nursing trade:
Well, I thought it was a better opportunity. There were more benefits there. Working at the factory you didn’t get very many benefits. So, I worked with the city. My teacher taught me to work with the city when I finished. She said you get more experience by being a practical nurse because in some of the private hospitals they don’t let the practical nurse do everything. You can only do certain things, but in a city hospital, they let you do everything because there’s always a shortage and there’s no one else there to do it. So you have to do it so you get more experience that way.
Mary Ruffin, African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project, Gotham Center
Her practical nursing program was offered at the YWCA, was a year long, and led her to work as a practical nurse for New York City for 27 years.
We went to class for three months during the day and then after the three months we started affiliating at the hospital, working at the hospital. It was getting your training, then at the hospital. So you had another nine months to get your training at the hospital, but you still went to class. You had to go to class twice a week while you were working in the hospital. So, when I finished I put in 5 or 6 applications and I got an answer from all of them to come in to work. Except the one that hired me. The supervisor told me to come back November the 16th, so I took her work and I went back November the 16th and they hired me. That was at James Hospital for Cancer Research…. I was there for 13 years and then they replaced us somewhere else when they closed it down and I went to Metropolitan because it’s here by me and I could walk there. You had three choices and they tried to give you your first preference. So I went to one beer by me and I was there for 14 years. That’s a general hospital.
Mary Ruffin, African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project, Gotham Center
Gertrude Dobson Stallings Rose
Gertrude Dobson Stallings Rose,interviewed by Ray Allen, was born in Keenensville, North Carolina on April 6, 1915 to Tommy Dobson and Needham Dobson, a farming family. She was one out of 13 children, fourth born. Gertrude’s family farmed corn, peanuts, tobacco, and sweet potatoes. The land her family cultivated crops on were owned by them, which meant they were not sharecroppers. In her interview with Ray Allen, Gertrude recalled her 5-mile walks to school, which eventually led to her paternal uncle building a school for the children to cut out the long daily commute. The school was first named “Stockinghead,” then later became “Dobson Community Center.”
Gertrude moved to New York City with her husband and six kids in 1955 by car. Her husband William Henry Stallings was a farmer. She stated the reason that she moved to New York City was because her sister insisted and already lived there. Gertrude explained that leaving the farm to work in a big city was scary: “It was, it was difficult, but it was a thing that we had to do, we had to just go.” When she arrived in New York City, all she cared about was work to provide for her family. Gertrude and her family moved to Kingston Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but eventually moved to 179 Stuyvesant Avenue. William worked in construction and Gertrude worked in a baseball cap factory. Gertrude stated that Bed-Stuy was a Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood riddled with crime that made her feel unsafe.
James Sanders James Sanders, interviewed by Ray Allen, was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina on January 11, 1941 to Mutt Graves and Rebecca Sanders, sharecroppers: “My parents? My parents, they were farmers and they did sharecrop, you know what sharecrop means? Sharecrop that means to farm.” James stated that his aunt was already in New York City and called to have him sent up when he was 11 years old: “ Yeah, cause my aunt called up and let her know that they wasn’t treatment me right down there, you know cause then I was living with my aunt, then after I left my aunt I started living with my uncle, so my uncle’s wife used to mistreat us – me and my sister – and so my mother found out about it, so she came down. My aunt sent me – my mom came down to get my sister – then my aunt sent me.”
James went into detail into how he actually made it to New York City: “No, no. It was an old man they called “Willy Frazier,” he was like a cab driver, he brings everybody to New York and then he take you back. And he’s still doing it, he’ll bring you to New York.” James stated that Willy Frazier brought millions of people to New York in a station wagon. James also spoke in detail about gangs in Bed-Stuy:
I would stay clear if that. When you come up from the South, you were taught New York is bad, that’s number one – New York is bad, you keep your distance, although they were trying to make me get into a gang, I used to fight to protect myself and to protect my family, you know because back in them days, if you didn’t join the gang, then they would you know do something with your parents, so I didn’t like that. But they tried hard, and I paid my dues in Brooklyn. I paid mine.
James Sanders, African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project, Gotham Center
He stated that the neighborhood was mixed in 1952 when he arrived. James lived on Gates and Tompkins Avenue in Bed-Stuy. James named some of the gangs in Bed-Stuy during the time by name: “The Choppers, the Bitches, the El Puentos, the Stompers.” At the time of the interview, James owned a bakery, but he did speak in detail about work experience:
I used to work in a little fish and chips, a little, small place, it wasn’t bigger than this office, and you know down in the basement I’m cleaning the fish and I’m thinking in my mind, I said, ‘one day I will have something bigger than this here.’ And that’s how it started from, because the guy he didn’t never want to learn me but his wife learned me how to you know working to cook and clean the fish and stuff, because he got sick.”
James Sanders, African American Migration and Southern Folkways in New York City Oral History Project, Gotham Center
James described the “soul food” he learned to cook for a mostly Black clientele:”Collard greens, peas and rice, fish, chicken, a little of everything, a little of everything.”
The Great Migration to New York City helped create Black neighborhoods that became meccas. The narratives of these migrants help give us in-depth looks into those who bravely fled the South in search of opportunity and freedom from Jim Crow.
In the era of Prohibition, a street-savvy Black woman reigned supreme as she created Harlem’s first female-owned policy rackets bank, and amassed wealth through illicit activity that was dominated by men. Known by several aliases such as “Queenie,” “Madam St. Clair,” the “Queen Of Policy Rackets,” and “Madam Queen,” she was born Stephanie St. Clair on December 24, 1897. Stephanie St Clair was of a French-Caribbean background, born in the island of Guadeloupe. In 1911, a 13-year old Stephanie set out to Canada and subsequently made her way to New York City the following year. According to historian Shirley Stewart, St. Clair may have been employed in domestic work, but those gigs were not enough to fund her numbers bank.
Madam St. Clair dated a few men that helped her get her feet wet in Harlem’s street life. She was attacked by a gangster she dated, stabbed him in the eye in defense, and fled Harlem to avoid retaliation. Upon her return to Harlem, she was greeted with news of his death. St. Clair then dated another man and engaged in his business of dealing illicit substances. The revenue from this business was used as an investment for her numbers bank. St. Clair parted ways with her boyfriend and attempted to seize the entire business from him. The boyfriend did not take kindly to St. Clair’s attempt to strong-arm him. The break up led to a physical struggle, which ended up in the boyfriend’s death, from a fatal blow to his head on a table edge after Stephanie pushed him. Stephanie eventually took over the business completely and subsequently joined the street gang, “40 Thieves,” as a rank-and-file member. 40 Thieves is New York City’s oldest known street gang, whose members were primarily Irish-Americans and immigrants. Stephanie’s membership developed into her leadership over the gang.
St. Clair’s street endeavors led her to invest $10,000 in the establishment of her numbers bank in 1923. Numbers is also known as policy racket, but what exactly is it?
One of the biggest money making operations regarding illegal lotteries was the policy racket. It was also called the numbers racket, the numbers game, or simply ‘playing the numbers’. This poor man’s lottery operated primarily in poor Black, Latino, and Italian neighborhoods from the late 1890’s well into the 1960s. Some cities that were major cogs in the policy racket were New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta just to name a few. The game itself consisted of a player picking any three digit number from 0 to 999. The odds were about a 1000 to 1 against winning while the pay off might be anywhere from 600 and 800 to 1 for a winner. Bets were generally a nickel or a dime, but any amount was acceptable even that as small as a single cent.
St. Clair was protected by many men, but her strongest ally was Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson. Bumpy Johnson acted as her enforcer. With the protection of men, her fierce attitude and street smarts, St. Clair was able to make $250,000 a year with the numbers bank, making up to $7,000 a day according to her.
Known for her extravagant looks and lifestyle, St. Clair resided in a townhouse in the Sugarhill section of Harlem, 409 Edgecombe Avenue. 409 Edgecombe Avenue is a historic address that has been home to W.E.B Dubois, Aaron Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, and Roy Wilkins. During this time, Stephanie wrote columns for a local newspaper on topics, such as police brutality against civilians and prisoners. Her 409 Edgecombe home was raided by police suspicious of her engagement in the policy rackets in 1928. This incident led to her writing more columns against police abuse and letters to city officials that detailed their excessive force.
On the morning of Monday, December 30, 1929, St. Clair was arrested for possession of policy slips in the hallway of 117 West 141 Street by Detective Roberts, taken to the West 135th Street police station, and held on $2,500 bail at the Washington Heights court. Detective Roberts claimed St. Clair was found with six envelopes filled with policy slips. Due to hospitalization to treat an illness, St. Clair missed her January 8, 1930 court appearance. Her attorney Frank Stanton was able to prove her hospitalization with a doctor’s certificate. She was arrested after release from the hospital, then released on bail in anticipation for the January 20 appearance.
On March 14, 1930, she was sentenced to an indefinite period, but served eight months, but she did not go down without a fight. As she fought for an acquittal, St. Clair claimed that she did not publish letters in a local newspaper that disparaged the police in Harlem. Her defense was that she was from Montserrat and unable to write in English. St. Clair was ordered to write a few words for the court to compare her handwriting to the letters sent to the local newspaper. Similarities between the handwritings led the court to find her guilty, but she continued to fight. Although she admitted her involvement in the numbers business for a short period of time, she quit in 1928 due to extortion by police officers. She claimed on the day she was arrested on West 141 Street, she was only visiting her friend Mrs. Murray, to sign incorporation papers for a new company she formed. The letters were produced as evidence to the court, but Mrs. Murray’s name was not included as an incorporator. St. Clair’s defense was weakened when the handwriting on the policy slips were also compared to the letters. Lastly, Officers Hunter, Robert, and Carter arrested several “numbers collectors” at 580 St. Nicholas Avenue. Several of them claimed to work for St. Clair. After her sentence was given, she vowed to testify in the Seabury Investigation upon her release. St. Clair served her eight months at the workhouse on Welfare Island, now known as Roosevelt Island.
On December 8, 1930, Stephanie St. Clair exposed her regular payments to police officers in exchange for protection of her policy games, while on the stand. St. Clair admitted to a time she paid a fee of $1,100 to Lieutenant Peter J. Pfeiffer. Her payment to Pfeiffer was done through “Mustache” Jones, a well-known Harlem gangster. She testified that while running her numbers bank from 1923 to 1928, she paid $6,000 to several officers. St. Clair even testified that she witnessed officers with Chile Mapocha Acuna. Acuna worked with over thirty police officers as their informer and helped to frame innocent women unless they were able to pay the officers off. Acuna testified this in court a week prior to St. Clair’s appearance. St. Clair implicated about four other officers, including one she alleged stole $400 from her.
By the 1930s, Italian mobsters started to move into the rackets in Harlem as their money sources dried up due to the Great Depression. A prominent Bronx mobster, Arthur “Dutch” Schultz, set out to strong-arm the Black policy bankers in Harlem, and became St. Clair’s biggest rival. Schultz either forcefully snatched their businesses or forced the bankers to pay him a percentage of their daily earnings. St. Clair quickly organized Black policy bankers against Schultz:
St. Clair moved swiftly against Schultz, organizing the remaining small Black policy owners in her fight against “the Dutchman.” She and her allies violently confronted white storeowners who were collecting bets on Schultz’s behalf, smashing cases, destroying policy bets and ordering their adversaries out of Harlem. St. Clair also took out ads encouraging Harlemites to “play black” and only place numbers bets with Black organizers.
St. Clair stated “It’s Dutch’s life or mine. Dutch’s men know that I am the only one that can take back the racket he stole from my colored friends.” Schultz would retaliate against St. Clair as he sent various threats to her home, murdered her soldiers, and even placed a hit on her life. By this time, St. Clair was no longer protected by Bumpy Johnson. Schultz even sent a man to her home to intimidate her, but her body guards locked him in a closet and possibly murdered him. St. Clair called on help from Mayor McKee as she feared Schultz would put her on the spot, as well as continue to terrorize the Black policy racket owners.
Schultz and St. Clair’s feud would come to an end on October 25, 1935. Schultz was murdered in Newark, New Jersey. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, head of The Commission, ordered Schultz’ hit. St. Clair sent a telegram that day, which was reportedly the last thing Schultz read as he died. The telegram read: AS YE SOW, AS YE SHALL REAP.”
After Schultz’s death, St. Clair went on to marry Sufi Abdul-Hamid, notoriously known as “Black Hitler” in August 1936. Abdul-Hamid advocated for the destruction of Jewish businesses as he advocated for more Black businesses. Sufi Abdul-Hamid was a very controversial figure and their marriage did not last long. St. Clair caught wind of Abdul-Hamid’s affair with a woman, Madam Futtam. St. Clair was arrested for Abdul-Hamid’s attempted murder on January 18, 1938. Abdul-Hamid was hit on above his mustache and he was able to disarm St. Clair, then hold her for the arrest. For the shooting, St. Clair was sentenced two to ten years. In court, she thanked the judge and was carried away to serve the sentence.
Upon release, St. Clair steered clear from illicit activity, but still lived off the wealth she made as a policy banker. She continued to advocate for the civil rights and economic progress of Black people. She remained mostly secluded and out of the spotlight. St. Clair passed away quietly in Harlem in December 1969.
On September 11, 2001, a series of four terrorist attacks took place as airplanes were hijacked by members of al-Qaeda. The first target was the North tower of the World Trade Center. The North tower was hit by an American Airlines plane at 8:46 AM. The second target was the South tower of the World Trade Center. The South tower was hit by a United Airlines plane at 9:03 AM. A third American airlines plane hit the Pentagon in Virginia, and the fourth flight was flown towards Washington DC, but did not hit its intended target and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The sight of the World Trade Center, also known as the Twin Towers, collapsing and on fire replayed constantly on news stations and coverage was given on all channels, as well as radio stations. The images of first responders, World Trade Center, and Lower Manhattan residents shocked the world as many were covered in dust and visually in distress. The President of the United States was George W. Bush and New York City’s Mayor was Rudolph Giuliani. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001’s attacks on the World Trade Center, Giuliani’s public image saw a drastic change.
In 2000, Giuliani’s approval rating was at its lowest ever according to a Quinnipiac College Poll:
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s approval rating among city voters has dropped precipitously during the past two years, and a poll released Wednesday shows the mayor’s rating is now at the lowest level ever. A new Quinnipiac College Poll shows that just 37 percent of city voters approve of Giuliani’s performance while 57 percent disapprove and six percent are undecided. Only a bare majority of 51 percent approve of his handling of crime and just 31 percent agree with his performance on education.”
Almost a week after the attacks, Giuliani attended a prayer service at the Yankees Stadium to mourn the thousands of people reported missing or killed at World Trade Center. Oprah Winfrey even coined Giuliani “America’s Mayor,” at the service.
The audience cheered wildly for Domingo, but saved its biggest applause for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, whom [Oprah] Winfrey introduced as the “man of the hour” and “America’s mayor.
Six weeks after the attacks, Giuliani’s approval rating shot up to 79 percent. Giuliani was named TIME’s Person of the Year 2001. The article was titled, “Mayor of the World.” The article gushed about Giuliani’s leadership:
With the President out of sight for most of that day, Giuliani became the voice of America. Every time he spoke, millions of people felt a little better. His words were full of grief and iron, inspiring New York to inspire the nation. “Tomorrow New York is going to be here,” he said. “And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before…I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”
The bipartisan praise of Rudy Giuliani poured in during the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. What’s not spoken about is that the measure of Giuliani’s praise poured in due to the several “feel good” patriotic moments that Giuliani was a part of. Giuliani’s several speeches and public appearances clouded the judgement of people that praised him. Giuliani’s actual handling of September 11 terrorist attacks on World Trade Center devastated many survivors and the families of victims. As there is much to expand on about Giuliani’s material efforts in regards to Ground Zero, we will touch on just a few.
Giuliani downplayed the safety of the air quality in Ground Zero
Not too long after the WTC attacks, Giuliani made public appearances speaking about the air quality near Ground Zero.
There is a lot of questions about the air quality because there are at times in downtown Manhattan and then sometimes even further beyond that, a very strong odor. The odor is really just from the fire and the smoke that continues to go on. It is monitored constantly and is not in any way dangerous. It is well below any level of problems and any number of ways in which you test it.
Radio WNYC, September 30, 2001
Let’s do the Daily News first. The Daily News today had a story about how the zone is a “toxic danger.” And the reality is that although obviously very, very close to where the work is being done there are dangers and risks, the reality is far different than the way the article described it.”
Radio WNYC, October 2001
Soon enough, the world would learn about the respiratory illnesses and other health effects from medical professionals, Ground Zero clean-up workers, residents of Lower Manhattan and first responders that survived the attacks. The toxic dust from the Twin Towers attacks consisted of abnormal levels of asbestos and carcinogens. First responders, residents of Lower Manhattan, survivors, and workers involved in the clean up were the main people exposed to the toxic dust, placing them at risk of illnesses. Lung cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, mesothelioma, lymphoma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are most common amongst those exposed to the toxic dust.
Dr. Brian W. Christman, M.D. was interviewed by Lung.org in 2016 and spoke about the adverse effects of the toxic dust on survivors and first responders:
The dangerous inhalants included both pulverized alkaline dust from fragmented building materials and chemical products from explosions and burning of building materials. Alkaline is the opposite of acidic, but can be just as harmful. The alkaline silica dust deposited in small airways causing inflammation, scarring and narrowing. When the toxic dust deposited in the nose and sinuses, similar inflammation developed. The symptoms experienced were generally worse in those with pre-existing illnesses like allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”), chronic sinusitis, asthma, etc.”
Giuliani removed control of recovery and clean up of Ground Zero from large governmental agencies.
Giuliani denounced the role of experienced federal agencies such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Occupational Safety And Health Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in efforts of recovery and clean up. The relatively unknown Department of Design and Construction was left in charge of recovery, alongside Giuliani and his administration. Giuliani prioritized a speedy cleanup in efforts to have New York City back to work and instill “normalcy” to the city and country, as he reopened the New York Stock Exchange just 7 days after the WTC attacks on September 17, 2001.
Families of WTC workers and first responders have not received closure as they were not able to recover the remains of their loved ones within the rubble and debris at Ground Zero. Many relatives of the victims demanded that construction be stopped to focus efforts on recovery of human remains.
FDNY firefighters and other department members were disgraced by Mayor Giuliani insinuating that he spent as much time as recovery workers at the site and faced the same risks as them. “FDNY batallion chief Jim Riches, who spent eight months at Ground Zero looking for the remains of his firefighter son and others who died, said Giuliani “would pass through for five minutes, so for him to say he was down there as much as the first responders is a disgrace.”
Giuliani had Congress limit the City’s payout for 9/11 lawsuits to only $350 million.
Journalist Anthony DePalma covered Giuliani’s response and work in regards to 9/11. DePalma wrote about Giuliani’s need to cap the payout to limit the city’s liability in regards to victims of the terrorist attacks:
The warning did not lead to a crackdown on workers without respirators. Rather, a month later, Mr. Giuliani wrote to members of the city’s Congressional delegation urging passage of a bill that capped the city’s liability at $350 million. And two years after Mr. Giuliani left office, FEMA appropriated $1 billion for a special insurance company to defend the city against 9/11 lawsuits.
In the same article, DePalma reveals that “FEMA appropriated $1 billion for a special insurance company to defend the city against 9/11 lawsuits.”
What a way to wash their hands clean.
In 2002, New York City’s then-comptroller, William J Thompson reported about the city’s claim $350 million claim liability:
As of August 6, 2002, approximately 1,464 claims amounting to $8.2 billion have been filed. At this time, the City’s Law Department has indicated that the City’s liability for WTC claims is most likely to be no higher than the $350 million being provided by the Federal Government through an act of Congress.37 As such, the City’s budget makes no provisions for additional expenditures that could arise from WTC related claims.
In 2021, remains of victims are still discovered at Ground Zero, while many families still have not received closure. As 3,000 people lost their lives, the ones who survived are still plagued by chronic health issues, such as cancer and other respiratory illnesses. 20 years later, people still uphold and express admiration for Giuliani’s “supposed” positive leadership. Families of victims, first responders, especially FDNY, are still scorned by the lack of preparation, care, and blunders made by Giuliani and his administration. How do we measure leaders in the event of crises? Do we value “feel good” moments over actual tactfulness, care, and responses? Giuliani’s legacy as Mayor of New York City should remain in question.
There’s no doubt about Giuliani using the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center to opportunistically fix his public perception. His actions in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, contradicted his newly found praise.
Since the establishment of Hip Hop, the amount of female rappers that have been able to thrive in the mainstream music industry, have been relatively little in comparison to their male counterparts. Women such as Roxanne Shante, MC Lyte, Lil Kim, Queen Latifah, Eve, Trina, Salt-N-Pepa, Monie Love, Da Brat are all recognized and heralded as the earliest pioneers in female rap. Each woman named brought talent, skill level, creativity, and groundbreaking archetypes that resonated with Hip Hop lovers. One particular woman became a household name with her striking looks, designer fashions, sultry deep voice, distinctive flow, delivery, and sharp Mafioso-influenced lyricism drenched in sexuality.
Inga DeCarlo Fung Marchand was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 6, 1978. Marchand was only 17-years-old when she became known to the world as Foxy Brown, as a feature on LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya” Remix alongside Fat Joe, Prodigy and Keith Murray in 1995. The following year, Foxy Brown signed to Def Jam and delivered verses on two classic albums: Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt on “Ain’t No Nigga,” and Nas’ It Was Written on “Affirmative Action,’ arguably her most critically-acclaimed verse. In the same year, Brown released her critically-acclaimed debut album, “Ill Na Na.” “Ill Na Na” featured Method Man, Havoc, Kid Capri, and Jay-Z with his feature on “I’ll Be,” her debut single. Foxy Brown flaunted her sexuality and her cut-throat lyricism on her debut album. In just a year, Foxy Brown proved that she could hang with Hip Hop’s male heavyweights at the tender age of 18.
In 1997, she would build upon her short yet impressive resume by joining The Firm, a group composed of Nas, AZ, and Cormega (later replaced by Nature.) The Firm’s only release was their debut album titled “The Album.” On “The Album,” Foxy continued to exhibit her ability to rap with her male peers. In 1999, Foxy Brown followed up with her sophomore album, “Chyna Doll.” “Chyna Doll” built on similar themes of her debut, but showcased her versatility with numerous East Coast, Southern and West Coast rap features such as Gangsta Boo, Mia X, Tha Dogg Pound, 8 Ball & MJG, DMX, Juvenile, Too Short, Jay-Z, Memphis Bleek, and Beanie Sigel. In just four years, Foxy made her unforgettable mark on the Hip-Hop industry.
By the turn of the millennium, Foxy Brown began working on her third album “Broken Silence.” The album would mark a period of transformation in her artistry, and a side of Foxy Brown listeners had not been exposed to. Foxy Brown’s Trinidadian heritage would become one of the most paramount influences of her third album, as well as a street-oriented approach that would differ greatly from her first two efforts.
The first leading single, “Oh Yeah,” featuring Spragga Benz was released on May 4, 2001. The song was produced by Eddie Scoresazy and sampled the reggae classic, “54-46 That’s My Number,” by Toots And The Maytals. Foxy Brown floated on the dancehall production and spit some of her most iconic bars, “Dark skinned Christian Dior poster girl,” and “You a industry bitch, I’m a ‘in the streets’ bitch.” “Oh Yeah” was the perfect introduction to what would become Foxy’s most influential album, as she easily floated on the dancehall production with street-oriented lyrics. The video for “Oh Yeah,” was also shot in Jamaica.
Foxy Brown released “BK Anthem,” as her second single and the B-Side to “Oh Yeah.” “BK Anthem” was produced by Robert “Shim” Kirkland and featured vocals from Foxy’s younger brother, Young Gavin. All three verses detailed the lifestyle and activities that residents of some of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn were engaged in:
BK, the home of Biggie and Jay Where niggas got Will Smith chips, get jiggy all day Bitches that boost in the city all day Heckle’ and Koch, crack spots, federal watch I grew up here, sipped Mo’, threw up here Yo, the feds snatched two up here in BK”
“BK Anthem” is amongst several songs released by Brooklyn lyricists that celebrate the borough, and is arguably one of the best made.
“Broken Silence” was released on July 17, 2001, with production from The Neptunes, Nokio, DJ Clue, Young Gavin, Dave Kelly, Robert Kirkland, and others.
The intro to “Broken Silence,” starts with clips from news reports about several plights that Foxy Brown dealt with throughout her career prior to the release of the album.Over EZ Elpee production, Foxy foreshadows her introspection throughout the album as she rapped: “Everybody wanna know my side of the story. Well here it is, the whole truth, plain and simple. This’ll finally explain all the pain I’ve been through.”
On “Fallin,” produced by Young Gavin, Foxy boasts about her luxurious lifestyle, aims at her haters and boasts about her skills over a sample of “Kol De Esh3at” by Samira Said. Over the street track, Foxy spits:
If I was to die, it be too many cowards alive
Fox Brown, Bonnie minus the Clyde And today I’ma make this one promise to God Even if I go wood, I’ma keep it so hood And I got chills when I signed my deal And I shed tears when Biggie and Pac got killed It’s only one other broad that really got skills She’s alright, but she’s not real.”
Ron Isley lends his vocals on “The Letter,” as Foxy addresses her mother and two brothers, Gavin and Anton. In the introspective track produced by Ski, Foxy addresses personal situations between her mother and two brothers, as all three verses are directed to each one individually. Aimed at her mother, Foxy raps: “And when the media said Foxy’s ill. You was there when this fame almost got me killed. When I was in the hospital, could not be still. Only you knew the reasons why I popped these pills.”
Foxy Brown acknowledges her reputation of being short-tempered on “730.” “730” is street-slang for someone who is crazy. On the track produced by Lofey, Foxy talks greasy to rivals:
I’m never ducking dames Y’all know just where to find me I would’ve killed her but it just wouldn’t be fair to mommie Imagine me doing time, Foxy behind bars Not me the crime star Y’all bitches ain’t worth it.
The Neptunes produced song “Candy,” is the third single released from the album. The song featured Kelis on the hook. “Candy” is the only song on “Broken Silence” that is solely about sex, which contrasts from the introspective content on the rest of the album. The song is about a man desiring to perform oral sex on the rapper. On the song, Foxy also boasts about how her sex appeal and looks entice many male admirers, as she affirms her confidence:
You should see me in them jeans It’s hard to describe and Being cocky is just a part of the vibe I might stop and holla and pop my collar Maybe a little conceited but that’s always needed Love attention when I’m passin’ by See I show a little cleavage then I catch his eye
“Tables Will Turn” featuring Baby Cham was Foxy’s choice for a third single, although the label pushed for “Candy.” Produced by Dave Kelly, this song would go on to become a Hip Hop/dancehall classic alongside “Oh Yeah.” On the first verse, Foxy coins the term for dancehall/Hip Hop clashes as “Yard Hip Hop:” Me and Cham do that Yard-Hip Hop and,
Y’all can’t fuck with us, We keep niggas boppin’.” On the second verse, Foxy switches between her Brooklyn accent to Jamaican patois to end it out.
On “Hood Scriptures,” Foxy lays down hard verses for a real New York aura. Produced by Livin Proof and Young Gavin, Foxy is able to add on another track to her caliber for the streets.
Foxy Brown and Baby Cham link up for another dancehall smash on “Run Dem,” produced by Dave Kelly. Foxy Brown effortlessly switches between her signature Brooklyn accent to speaking Jamaican patois in each verse. She also accuses other female rappers of stealing her style of fusing Jamaican patois into their verses:
Who the fuck told bitches they could do what I do And all of a sudden all y’all bitches got accents too Bad gyal, bitches can’t do the shit that I do Sometime a gal fi get kuff (hoo hoo hoo hoo) Whoa, I tell a motherfucker this Some niggas nowadays move worse than a bitch And as for this chick, me love bum flick on bad man dick so Got the pussy I got the lie fo’ I’m a grown ass bitch with my own ass shit Now hear dis, una wan’ chat? Me a go bust una secret Ya a big battyman, ya love look man bottom Pussy watchman, you a trace gyal pattern Fuck who, niggas wish they could fuck me Like they never seen a hot gal act like we Big bumboclaat star, push hot car Big hood, me love back way all day”
Cham’s additions with the hook make for another “Yard Hip Hop” classic.
Alongside Mystikal, Foxy makes another song for her Southern audience. “Bout My Paper” is full of Foxy spitting about her ambition to get money and avoiding anything that’s not about it.
Foxy enlists Capone-N-Noreaga for a stick-up anthem properly titled “Run Yo Shit,” produced by Nokio. Foxy holds no punches with gritty bars: “We want that straight raw, ante up my nigga. Snatch ya ye, steal your base like Derek Jeter.”
“Nana Be Like” is a return to the Yard Hip Hop subgenre on the album. Foxy Brown makes another effortless switch to Jamaican patois on the hook and in between verses. Foxy comes out swinging with very braggadocious, tough bars:
E’rybody wan’ chop 6 rock ’bout wrist, woah I’ve done this, spit hotness Na Na tote big fifth, fuck’s my name? Na Na, woah And my pussy niggas wan’ lick And my big tits una wan’ come kiss And me, una see, when them want truthness And you, una ‘ear come spit bullshit, woah I might care, but I won’t go there I might rock this, but I wan’ come stick, woah.
On “Gangsta Boogie,” the Neptunes produce a track that is in stark contrast with “Candy,” also produced by the duo. Pharrell and Chad help to arouse the street aura Foxy carries throughout the album, which shines truly on this song: Nigga, it’s not a game on the mic I’m insane. Snatch back my lane I’m a Vince Carter this. Brown pimp the game and still reign. Since the days of Kane numb ’em like cocaine.”
Foxy Brown and Kori both express their “don’t give a fuck” mentality on “I Don’t Care,” produced by Live Wire and Young Gavin.
Foxy Brown returns to her dancehall roots and patois, with the help of her brother Young Gavin on the hook. She exudes confidence on each verse as she details why men are so enticed by her and women want to be her.
Original don gargon bitch. I’m the reason bitches ride dick I’m the reason why dem like cock stiff Fox is the only reason Why them bitch wan’ run gwan’ buy fake tits like Who the fuck is y’all aimin’ for? If it’s Fox, fuck you ain’t name me for?
On the second to last track, Foxy remakes her own version of the dancehall classic, “Saddest Day,” originally sung by Wayne Wonder. Wayne Wonder joins her on the song to deliver the hooks. On “Saddest Day,” Foxy expresses contempt for a lover that betrayed her trust, by stepping out with another woman. She talks about distrust of men and heartbreak she faced from the situation. “How would you feel if I fucked another nigga. And told you that that motherfucker made me cum quicker? You’d probably grab the gat and put two in my back. One in my face, nigga but it’s one in my waist.”
The album’s title track ends the album perfectly with Foxy’s introspective lyrics and passionate voice. She speaks about her feelings towards all of the struggles she’s faced while in the industry, personal and professional:
Feel like I’ve got this black cloud hangin’ over me It’s like this pain is takin’ control of me Every move I make, determines my fate Feel like I’m dying slow, and that’s the shit I hate The constant pressure, the bullshit rumors The outcast, I’m the one they love to badge When the records stop sellin’ And the crowds stop yellin’ All I have is me
The legacy of Foxy Brown’s “Broken Silence” is understated. Not only was Foxy able to create a body of work staunchly different from her first two solo efforts, she was able to synthesize a subgenre of Hip Hop that exploded in the mainstream of the 2000s. Prior to “Broken Silence,” we saw several rappers of Caribbean descent dip into dancehall effortlessly such as Shyne, Notorious BIG, Busta Rhymes and KRS-One, but none of them were able to produce a body of work that continuously based itself around the dancehall genre. “Broken Silence” pushed the bounds that helped usher in a new dancehall andHip Hop renaissance that saw a crossover of dancehall artists into mainstream. Sean Paul and Elephant Man soared through the 2000s and joined Busta Rhymes, Lil Jon, Young Bloodz, Twista, and others to create anthems.
Foxy positioned herself as a raw street MC and a versatile artist. With her being able to spit with West Coast and Southern lyricists on “Chyna Doll,” Foxy pushed the doors open when she showed her ability to keep it street and be able to run the dancehall.
“Broken Silence” was named as the best female Hip Hop album ever created by Lupe Fiasco, back in December 2020. Such a compliment from one of the most prolific lyricists cannot be understated:
Foxy Brown’s “Broken Silence” also paved the way for the woman that has ran Hip Hop since she got her foot in the door: Nicki Minaj. Nicki Minaj has shown herself as an advanced lyricist with a wide array of deliveries and flows; as well as the ability to outrap men and hang with Hip Hop’s heavy hitters. Nicki Minaj has since knocked down the doors for women in the game by revolutionizing the “female rapper.” Nicki Minaj’s emergence has allowed women in rap to stand alone without being pushed by a male rapper.
Since Nicki Minaj’s emergence in the underground to mainstream superstardom, she always stated Foxy Brown as one of the reasons she began, with “Broken Silence” as the album that heavily influenced her. With Minaj and Brown both being of Trinidadian descent, it’s not hard to imagine the magnitude of said influence. During a show in 2012, Nicki sang her praises:
Broken Silence changed my fuckin’ life,” Nicki told the crowd. “I always loved Foxy but when she put out Broken Silence I knew she was an innovator, an intelligent, beautiful, feisty, crazy sometimes, but ahead of your time. Foxy, I want to thank you for being one of my biggest influences in the game. And a lot of times we don’t really [thank] you like we should. There isn’t a female rapper that opened more doors for me than you. You and Lauryn, thank you.
While Foxy may not receive the praises she ultimately deserves, Foxy Brown’s influence remains apparent.
In 1924, a postal worker by the name of Samuel Browne would face the hardships of being a Black homeowner in Staten Island. Samuel Browne purchased a home from Klea Evans, a white woman, for $8,500 in the Castleton Hill district. Upon Samuel Browne’s move into his new home, residents of the all white district discovered that a Black family replaced their white neighbor. This discovery resulted in efforts from the white residents to have Browne sell his home at a profit. Browne refused the first offer of $9,000, then refused the subsequent offers of $9,500 and $10,000. Shortly after the first refusal of $9,000, Browne’s home faced its first attack by vandals. Browne’s wife, an elementary school teacher at PS 11, stated that when Samuel was just about to accept the $10,000 offer, the conspirators managed to have the company that held the fire insurance policy cancel it. The fire insurance policy cancellation led to Samuel Brown’s reluctance to sell his home out of principle and refusal of any further offers.
In September 1924, Browne’s home was attacked yet again by a group that broke several windows with sticks and stones. A note marked “KKK” which threatened more violence if the Browne family failed to move out was delivered to the home after the attack. The case was brought to the Grand Jury and District Attorney Albert Fach when the Browne family faced conflict with other residents in the district, such as the cancellation of three insurance policies. Samuel Brown was able to have seventy witnesses called to Grandy Jury to testify for consideration of the case. Amongst the witnesses were representatives of the fire insurance companies, building, and loan associations which Browne held policies with that were canceled; as well as neighbors of Browne.
District Hill residents were concerned that the Grand Jury’s failure to return early indictments would lead to no criminal prosecution. To the surprise of District Hill residents, Musco M. Robertson, a real estate operator, was indicted by the Richmond County Grand Jury, along with five other unnamed suspects, all white men. The indictment of Robertson and the other five suspects came a month after the case was presented to the Grand Jury. Robertson happened to be Browne’s next door neighbor at 67 Fairview Avenue, while Browne lived at 65 Fairview Avenue. Robertson was released on five hundred dollar bail, pleaded “not guilty,” denied involvement, and assured he was ready to go to trial to prove his innocence. Robertson and the five suspects were indicted for the utilization of these four methods to oust Browne from his home and the neighborhood:
Attempting to have Browne transferred from duty in the Stapleton post office much further distant than his home
Committing acts of vandalism on the property from July 1924 to July 1925
Attempting to get fire insurance companies to cancel the fire insurance policies of the letter carrier
Attempting to have the Westerleigh Building and Loan Association foreclose the mortgage on Browne’s home.
With the evidence presented, District Attorney Fach claimed to already know who the five unidentified suspects could be.
Samuel Browne filed a suit with the Richmond County clerk for $100,000 against the nine neighbors he alleged had conspired to oust him and his family from their home. Alongside Musco M. Robertson was his son, Louis Robertson, Edward Hesse, Charles A. Price, William Buon, John Schimel Jr, Louis Spamer, Charles A. Kneisel, and Harry V. Carlier. According to Browne, these men met frequently to conspire against him.
It is believed that the indictment was dropped due to “insufficient evidence.”
On November 1927, the suit filed by Browne against the white supremacist conspirators was discontinued by Supreme Court Justice Scuder. Browne’s lawyer announced that the case was settled out of court without cost to the conspirators.
Since the COVID-19 shutdowns were put into place in New York City this past March, many workers in New York City were affected suddenly. Many workers were unfortunately left unemployed, some were luckily mandated to work-from-home, and others were forced to still work in the public, in proximity with different people daily, at risk of infection. Back in June, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union which represents 900,000 clients stated that about 82 grocery workers have died from COVID-19, with about 11,507 workers infected. In October, MTA reported that 126 workers died from COVID-19. Analysis from New Amnesty reported that 7,000 healthcare workers died from COVID-19 globally.
In the United States, Congress argued back and forth about stimulus packages for all Americans devastated by the pandemic. While Congress settled on a very skimp $1,200 check and unemployment to “aid” Americans in rent, mortgage and bill payments, Congress went on numerous vacations and deliberated for months on the latest stimulus package, which is proven to be even worse than the first one. Many Americans still were forced to work and sacrifice a COVID-19 infection, and be a possible spreader, even with PPE. This ended up being the case, especially in New York City. It became a tradition to make noise every evening at 7PM to show encouragement and praise to essential workers. Even though the gesture is nice, many essential workers still are being mistreated by employers, people they service, and left without any added compensation or benefits for their sacrifices.
I surveyed 7 essential workers in New York City. These are some of their experiences.
A correctional health staff working in Queens, New York:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No hazardous pay. All I got was free hotel stay from April to June. This was granted to help prevent spreading COVID to my household.
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced?Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? The employers treated us weird at times, and other times with respect. The population we serviced were very intense and sometimes hostile. After spending time and trying to help we appreciated about the population.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Helping people get access to care in life and death incidents.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It gave me time to isolate from the general population which I felt good. It also made me feel more resilient in which I can use as motivation in my personal life
A Case Manager working in Manhattan:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced?Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Not drastic, a lot of changes. It actually works in my favor because I get to work at home which I prefer.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Some co-workers are becoming very complacent and lazy
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? Working more independently actually helped the most
A Food Worker in Staten Island:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? Hell No!
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? Terribly by employers because they didn’t care about how hazardous it was. Not making sure the business followed Covid related laws and restrictions. The customers were rude and ungrateful that businesses are even open during a time like this but I guess privilege and entitlement go hand and hand if you’re white and live on Staten Island. Out of every 25 customers you do get a nice customer that makes your job worth it in the moment if you do enjoy customer service like I do but at this point it’s not worth it.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? I was laid off of work due to getting tested for COVID when I didn’t have any COVID related symptoms. I was out of work for a total of three weeks with no pay because I had to wait for my results. When I finally contacted Labor Laws that’s when I found out it was put into law that if you are laid off due to Covid related reasons your job has a disability clause to hold you down(forgot the name of it) until you can go back to work but my job never gave it to me, never told me about or made it accessible. Keep in mind you only have a certain amount of time to fill out those forms before the time period to file is expired. I was at a loss because I was uninformed and I am still behind on bills because of it.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It’s scared me because as an essential worker you see how careless people are when interacting with you and other people. It’s ridiculous and people need to be more aware of restrictions and staying inside. When the pandemic first began I worked at a Moes Southwest Grill. Please tell me why I was getting customers that came in almost everyday and some even confided that they lived in the area which means they could’ve gotten food delivered. Those same idiots are the reason this thing is still alive and breathing. Having to argue with people while at work who don’t have pre-existing conditions to not wear a mask but just don’t because of their own ideologies is trash as fuck.
A Heating Maintenance worker in Manhattan:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Employer was very unprepared and protocol was very slow to roll out in dealing with pandemic. Overall less in person contact when troubleshooting problems. No negative or positive change about the same.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? My employer sending email telling workers to ask tenants do they have COVID or anyone living there and if so they should wait in another room. And worker to open window when servicing apartment. This was a terrible idea and was put out in April or May 2020.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? Very depressing, less interaction with friends and family. Went from panic or great concern in beginning of COVID outbreak, but now like oh well it is what it is.
A Child Welfare Case Planner who worked in the Bronx and now in Brooklyn:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? Nothing at all
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Negatively, staff concerns ignored by management
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Being required to do a home visit the day before the shut down in March or face disciplinary action, because I wasn’t able to get in contact with my doctor to get a letter regarding my pre-existing respiratory condition. My doctor was a first responder to the pandemic so I’m sure they had other priorities, but management did not take my concerns seriously unless I had a letter.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? I was super sad. Isolation impacted my mental health negatively as I lived by myself at the time.
A Downtown Alliance Security Guard in Manhattan:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how? I’ve been treated poorly by my employer. They give us the bare minimum of protective gear. They hardly want to give us overtime. Also Allied Universal says they can’t give us the hazard pay but has money to buy a whole company for billions of dollars.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? Seeing all the businesses close down.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? I caught Covid 19 back in late March.
A Mathematics teacher in The Bronx:
Were you given hazard pay or any kind of benefits from your job? If so, what kind and how long were they in effect? No
How were you treated by your employers during this time? How were you treated by people that you serviced? Was it a drastic change negatively or positively? If so, how?Having to do double the work to meet the needs of my school. My Principal interest was more on having the schools open then the safety of staff and students. It’s been more negative being blamed for everything. Countless hours at a computer losing motivation to plan. I feel less of a person.
What was an experience that impacted you while on the job? My anxiety has been getting worse as days go by.
How did working during this pandemic affect your personal life? It’s difficult to be positive and feel like a human at the same time. When just so much work is demanded at this given time.
All New Yorkers working in different positions and boroughs, but with many things in common. None of these survey participants were given hazard pay, some were struggling with mental health, exposed to or infected with COVID-19, had concerns ignored by management and ALL expected to perform and produce during a pandemic disgustingly handled by the capitalist class. As an essential worker myself and someone sympathetic to the causes of workers, we deserve more than symbolic praise. We deserve unions that will represent our needs and not sell us out to our employers, and actual benefits that protect us while working in a pandemic that none of us expected or prepared for. With New York strong as a slogan pushed by our beloved governor, we have lost so much and gained so little, while the capitalist class increased their gains at our expense.