The Great AFRICAN AMERICAN Migration to New York City

Migration map from Pearson Education

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

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.

Harlem’s Queen Of Numbers

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.

https://discover.hubpages.com/education/History-of-the-Policy-Racket-in-Black-America

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.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/meet-stephanie-st-clair-immigrant-turned-millionaire-who-dominated-harlems-gambling-underground-180977759/

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.

3 WAYS GIULIANI FAILED NEW YORK AFTER 9/11

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.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/more-bad-news-for-rudy/

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.

https://web.archive.org/web/20061109013723/http://www.interfaithalliance.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=8dJIIWMCE&b=172143&ct=147383

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.”

http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2020227_2020306,00.html

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.

  1. 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.”

https://www.lung.org/blog/respiratory-impacts-sept-11

  1. 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.”

https://cwa-union.org/news/entry/giuliani_takes_heat_from_fire_fighters

  1.  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.

https://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/14/nyregion/14giuliani.html

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.

Click to access impact-9-11-year-later.pdf

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.

20 Years of Foxy Brown’s “Broken Silence”

Foxy Brown wearing the iconic Christian Dior denim bikini for the “Broken Silence” album cover

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.

“Broken Silence” album cover

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. 

Staten Island’s “KKK” ATTEMPTS TO RUN this Black family out, 1920s

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:

  1. Attempting to have Browne transferred from duty in the Stapleton post office much further distant than his home
  2. Committing acts of vandalism on the property from July 1924 to July 1925
  3. Attempting to get fire insurance companies to cancel the fire insurance policies of the letter carrier
  4. 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.

HOW HAVE NYC’S ESSENTIAL WORKERS BEEN TREATED DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

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.

THE NEW YORK CITY BLACKOUT, 1977

On July 13, 1977,  fifteen million New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs, parts of Long Island and Westchester County were left to endure hot summer weather without power for 25 consecutive hours. Around 8:37 PM, lightning storms in Westchester County knocked out two circuit breakers that might have drawn power from other utilities, then hit a large power transformer that resulted in an explosion. This explosion forced a nearby large plant to shut down with additional lines hit in the process. Consolidated Edison, or simply Con Ed, ordered voltage reductions to keep the power system running. Unfortunately when safety devices meant to protect against overloads stopped working at a plant in Queens, the entire network was shut down at 9:34 PM. 

New Yorkers were unprepared for the events that would ensue for the next 24 hours in sweltering temperatures with no air conditioners, low toilet pressure, and food that would spoil overnight. A line of 18 workers had to relay patients’ meals up to the eighteenth floor at Bellevue Hospital. At Shea Stadium, the New York Mets played against the Chicago Cubs with third baseman Lenny Randall at bat. As the lights at the stadium went out, 25,000 fans in attendance broke out into a chorus of “Jingle Bells.” In Grand Central Station, travelers held candles and flashlights for one another at public telephone booths. A spontaneous block party broke out in front of an Upper East Side restaurant where Andy Warhol and Woody Allen were in attendance. Riders were stranded 150 feet on the ferris wheel in Coney Island. 

Mayor of New York City Abraham Beame stated he was outraged at Con Edison’s incompetence and lack of reasoning behind the huge power outage of the New York City area. Mayor Beame prompted an investigation and declared a state of emergency: “Con Edison at best has shown gross negligence, and at worst something far more serious.” This caused United States President Jimmy Carter to order an investigation by the Federal Power Commission, which resulted in the Commission’s conclusion that ConEd never undertook any proper precautions since the 1968 blackout in New York City. ConEd attributed the natural occurrences of the three lightning strikes as the cause of the power outages, as they bizarrely called it “an act of God.” At the time, ConEd officials had no explanation as to why the devices designed to specifically protect ConEd from lightning failed. 

During the 1970s, New York City faced economic stagnation, which was intensified as large sections of its middle-class left the city for suburbs. By 1975, New York City’s officials and wealthy class saved itself by budget and policy decisions that would consequently harm poor New Yorkers at the time and years later. Conditions for neighborhoods with poor Black and Latino New Yorkers were still devastated from the economic strangulation of redlining, decrease of manufacturing jobs, unable to get high-paid jobs due to being unskilled, and were left to rely on public assistance. The Welfare Rights Movement was on the rise since the 1960s, but Black and Puerto Rican New Yorkers were still faced with urban poverty.

Brooklyn’s Broadway pictured in 1977. Photo credit: FDNY Photo Archive/Courtesy of Adam Schwartz “Up from Flames”

 As decades of racist economic deprivation tore through neighborhoods such as Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, South Bronx and Harlem, poor Black and Latino New Yorkers were left to fend for themselves, which resulted in looting of stores throughout New York City.

Harlem’s 125th Street saw stores looted between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue:

There is not a television set left in Harlem,” said Patrolman John Ryan.

The windows of stores in the Bronx were shattered with merchandise taken. Youth in the Bronx went into supermarkets and left with carts filled with goods. The streets of Times Square were filled with youth who stole radios, smashed windows of stores, and opened fire hydrants. NYPD arrested up to 3,500 people, with over 100 police officers injured. The officers profiled lots of New Yorkers and arrested them. The people who were arrested were gathered onto buses for their arraignment at Manhattan’s Criminal Court Building. Many bystanders were caught up in the crosshairs. The city’s jails populations went from 7,000 to 15,000 in a matter of hours. The eight-by-ten “standing only rooms” meant to hold up to 10 people, were packed with up to 40 people. Majority of these people ended up transferred to Riker’s Island.

Mayor Beame used language that dehumanized the poor people who rebelled as “savages,” and dubbed the 25-hour long power outage as “the night of terror.”

Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit in 1999

Kadiatou Diallo and Amadou Diallo

On February 4, 1999, four New York City Police Department plainclothes officers fatally shot unarmed Amadou Diallo at 12:44 AM, in the vestibule of his building at 1157 Wheeler Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Officers Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss let off 41 shots at Amadou, 19 of which struck him. Officer Sean Carroll claimed that Amadou matched the description of a serial rapist that he and the other four officers of the Street Crimes Unit were in search of. Officer Carroll also claimed that Amadou reached into his jacket to pull out an object that he and the other officers interpreted as a gun, then let off a bombardment of 41 bullets. The object pulled out of Amadou’s jacket was his wallet. Police spokesman and investigator Michael Collins stated that investigators did not find a weapon on Diallo’s body or at the scene of his murder.

Amadou Diallo emigrated to New York City in September 1996 from Guinea, West Africa. Diallo was a devout Muslim of the Fulani tribe from the village of Lelouma, where his mother, Kadiatou Diallo, and most of his family resided. While in the United States, Amadou resided in a community of Guineans who settled in the Soundview section of the Bronx. Described as an extremely kind, shy, and hard-working man, Diallo worked 12 hour shifts as he sold gloves,videotapes, socks, and other items on Manhattan’s 14th Street. He shared an apartment with a fellow Guinean, Momodou Kujabi, and his two cousins, Modousalieu Diallo and Abdou Rahman Diallo. Abdou stated “All he did was go to work and come home.” Amadou’s immediate goal was to obtain a degree in Computer Science, which was cut short due to his untimely death. The surrounding Guinean community responded to Amadou’s death and amongst those included his roommate, Momodou Kajubi:

Mr. Kujabi and other men from Mr. Diallo’s native country, Guinea, gathered outside his apartment building in the Soundview section of the Bronx to express quiet outrage and make grim preparations to collect his body, have it washed in the Islamic tradition and send it home.

A Hard Worker With a Gentle Smile, New York Times, Feb. 5, 1999, Amy Waldman

Immediately after the murder of Amadou, the four plainclothes officers were placed on administrative duty, while NYPD investigated the shooting. Three of the four plainclothes officers who murdered Amadou were involved in shootings at least two years prior: 

Officer Boss, who has been on the police force for seven years, is under investigation in the October 1997 fatal shooting of a man who the police said was menacing people with a shotgun in front of an apartment building on Sheffield Avenue in East New York, Brooklyn. Officer Mcmellon, A five-year Police veteran, was cleared after shooting and wounding a man in East New York, Brooklyn last June. The police said the man had a loaded 9-millimeter handgun. Officer Carroll,who has also been on the force for five years, was found to have been justified in firing his gun last August on Wilson Avenue in the Bronx.

3 of the Officers Were Involved in Shootings in the Last 2 Years, New York Times, Feb. 5, 1999, Kit R. Roane

On February 8, 1999, up to 1,000 people angered by Diallo’s murder rallied in front of his home to condemn the racially charged brutal actions of the four white plainclothes officer. In attendance at the rally were community leaders, politicians, and demonstrators from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, with most of them being Black:

Most of those in the crowd were African-Americans or immigrants from countries in West Africa, who said they felt as if they had lost a brother. Professionals stood with blue-collar workers who carried homemade posters of skeletons wearing police uniforms. Retirees and college graduates pumped their fists into the air and shouted ”Black power!” And parents coaxed their children to pay attention.

1,000 Rally to Condemn Shooting of Unarmed Man By Police, New York Times, Feb. 8, 1999, Ginger Thompson

There was a sea of chants that included “No justice, no peace,” “41 bullets,” “four officers,” and “one man dead.” The protestors demanded a federal investigation for Diallo’s murder, as they cited Mayor Giuliani’s failure to condemn the officers for the murder and order their arrests: “Mamadou Ka, who came to New York five years ago from Senegal, said of Mr. Giuliani, ‘When people shoot cops, he is there, but when cops shoot people he doesn’t show up.’”

Diallo’s mother, Kadiatou rejected Mayor Giuliani’s offer for financial help in transporting his body back to Guinea from New York City, as she and her husband preferred the help of other African immigrants and relatives. Al Sharpton spoke to Kadiatou’s rejection of Giuliani’s aid:

‘I hate to blow the Mayor’s bubble here, but they are not preoccupied with the Mayor,” said Mr. Sharpton, who has taken a highly visible role in protests over the shooting. ”They are preoccupied with how they are going to deal with political injustice and how they are going to bury someone who shouldn’t be being buried.’

Slain Man’s Mother Rejects Mayor’s Aid, New York Times, Feb. 11, 1999, Blaine Harden

Workers from the Mayor’s office sent people to pick up Saikou Diallo, Amadou’s father, from Kennedy International Airport, but Saikou decided to leave with Al Sharpton and family attorney Kyle Watters. Saikou spent time in Amadou’s Bronx apartment at 1157 Wheeler Avenue.

New York City’s first Black mayor and Giuliani’s predecessor condemned Giuliani’s reaction as “woefully inadequate,” and had more criticism for the handling of the case: ”This business of, the police always are entitled to the benefit of the doubt, should not operate in every circumstance,’ Mr. Dinkins said. ‘Clearly, the fact of this put the burden on the cops to come forward and explain. The mayor should be asking that question.’” Mayor Giuliani spoke to reporters to explain that he understood the frustration surrounding the case and handling of Diallo’s murder, but stated “there is a tendency of some people in our society to blame the police in broad strokes that is just as vicious a prejudice as any other prejudice.” Mayor Giuliani would double down on his stance on the same day Amadou Diallo’s parents transported his hearse from the National Action Network on 125th Street in Harlem, surrounded by Al Sharpton, community members and angry demonstrators, to Guinea, West Africa for burial. While demonstrators chanted “no justice, no peace,” and “Giuliani must go,” Mayor Giuliani continued to defend the New York City Police Department at City Hall:

”When people in other major urban police departments want to learn about restraint,” he said at a news conference, ”they come to the city of New York and look at the things the Police Department in New York City does to teach police officers restraint, cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity. It’s not done perfectly, it will never be done perfectly, it should be done even better, but the strategies actually are working very, very effectively and almost everybody outside New York City who is in this business understands that.”

He also challenged the notion that the police are disproportionately targeting members of minority groups. When a reporter said that 85 percent of the people shot by the police in the last five years were black or Hispanic, the Mayor responded, ”But that is actually less than the number that are actually shot in society.”

Parents Fly Back to Africa With Body of Son Killed By Police, New York Times, Feb. 15, 1999, Paul Zielbauer

Mayor Giuliani also deflected with a “Black-on-Black crime” argument: “There are more shootings involving black victims and black shooters as a percentage than there are of police officers doing it. So I know those are difficult facts for people to deal with but what we should be about in government and what you should be about in the media is leading people to the truth, not to reinforcing biases and prejudices.”

On February 25, 1999, all four officers were acquitted of all charges for their participation in the murder of Amadou Diallo by a jury in Albany. Diallo’s parent, Saikou and Kadiatou, were described as quiet upon hearing the verdict, with Kadiatou moved to tears as they swiftly left the courtroom. After the acquittal, the lawyers who represented the officers blamed Diallo for his murder and the excessive amount of bullets fired on his “suspicious behavior” and supposed failure to follow orders; rather than the racial profiling, excessive force and abuse of power displayed by the officers.

While Mayor Giuliani, the Bronx District Attorney, and the lawyers for the officers praised the “fair trial” while acknowledging “the mistakes,” former Mayor David Dinkins condemned the acquittal as he stated that ”this will send the wrong message to those members of the Street Crime Unit who walk around saying, ‘We own the night,’ ” and Al Sharpton’s claims that there would be a push for the Justice Department to bring a federal civil rights case. Kadiatou Diallo gave a statement outside of the courthouse: ‘I ask for your calm and prayers.” She added, ”As we go on for the quest of justice, life, equality — I thank you all.”

In 2004, Diallo’s family settled the civil lawsuit against New York City in the case of Diallo’s murder for 3 million dollars. The civil lawsuit was filed in April 2000 and initially aimed for 61 million dollars. Diallo’s family used much of the settlement to create the Amadou Diallo Foundation.

The NYPD disbanded the Street Crimes Unit which prior to Diallo’s murder came under scrutiny various times with criticisms from politicians and community members. The only officer involved in Diallo’s murder still employed with the NYPD is Kenneth Boss. Former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly expressed to Kadiatou Diallo that he would not restore a gun to Kenneth Boss, but in 2012, Kenneth Boss indeed received a fireman. Kenneth Boss briefly served as a Marine in Iraq in 2006. Boss was determined to receive a firearm back after several denials to his pleads for one. Kadiatou characterized it as a betrayal from the NYPD, especially on the part of Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Amadou Diallo’s legacy lives on through his family and the Amadou Diallo foundation at amadoudiallo.org. Amadou’s untimely death has also been honored by musical artists such as Bruce Springsteen, The Strokes, Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and several others; as well as in television, movies, and writing. Diallo’s high-profile case has drawn parallels to other deaths due to police brutality and racial profiling such as Sean Bell, and the thousands of cases that occur from policing in the United States.

How A Black Doctor Helped His Patients Access His Services In Queens

Dr. Thomas Matthew was an important and controversial figure in New York City during the 1960’s and 1970s, but somehow many New Yorkers haven’t heard of him. Dr. Thomas Matthew was born in a basement next to Harlem’s Knickerbocker Hospital after his mother was refused service due to her being a Black woman. Dr. Matthew’s father actually worked as a janitor at Knickerbocker Hospital. Dr. Matthew attended Bronx Science High School and Manhattan College, becoming the first Black graduate of both schools. He went on to attend to Meharry Medical College in Nashville and completed his internship at St Louis City Hospital. Dr Thomas Matthew successfully became the first Black neurosurgeon in the United States and the head of neurosurgery at Coney Island Hospital.

Aside from his wide array of accomplishments, Dr. Matthew was an activist and founded NEGRO, National Economic Growth and Reconstruction Organization. He advocated against the use of welfare programs for the advancement of Black people and pushed “Black capitalism” as the solution. 63 members of NEGRO squatted on Ellis Island which landed in a victory of the organization’s permission to develop the island as a rehabilitation center for prisoners and people with drug addiction. One of the major focal points of Dr. Matthew’s solution for Black advancement through capitalism was the creation of different businesses to employ Black people through, such as textile factories, chemical plants, and other small businesses in cities such as New York, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. Dr. Matthew would go on to found the Interfaith Hospital in Jamaica, Queens to contribute towards more jobs.

In 1967, Dr. Matthew observed the lack of public transportation in South Jamaica, Queens, the neighborhood his hospital served directly. According to Dr Matthew, 50,000 Black people in the area had to walk up to 10 blocks to reach the nearest line, then transfer to buses, and end up paying up to three fares just to get to the nearest hospitals in the area. Black patients in the area became frustrated with the complicated and costly trips to the hospital. In response to the adverse effects of this lack of convenient transportation in South Jamaica, Dr. Matthew stated “the result is that they don’t come, and they don’t get proper medical care.” Dr. Matthew began running two 1954 Ford school buses to help with community requests of additional routes, that were met with no responses from the Transit Authority and private lines in the area. The bus company only charged 20 cent fares and ran from the predominantly Black neighborhood of South Jamaica directly to Interfaith Hospital, 175-10 88th Avenue, the border of Jamaica Estates, a predominantly white neighborhood.

Dr. Matthew’s reasoning for not applying for a franchise although it was a required by the City of New York was precise and calculated: he simply did not want it to be delayed by “bureaucratic red tape:”

“Detroit is burning with $300 million worth of damage in a ‘hot’ riot, he said. “What we are in the process of doing is creating a ‘cool’ riot. The cool riot, which we purposefully undertake, is doing things that will be productive for our group and all society, but couldn’t be done through bureaucratic red tape.”

Negro Surgeon Starts Bus In Line Without Franchise, New York Times, November 2, 1967

Reporters reached out to Morris Tarshis, the Director of Franchises for New York City, but he was never reached. A representative of the Transit Authority said an application submitted by Dr. Matthew for his franchise, would most likely be discarded to rid the city of competition. Dr. Matthew’s expectation was to be arrested at the inaugural run of his bus operation known as Blue and White bus line. Officers ignored the run of the line as Black people in the neighborhood cheered happily at the sight of the new bus line. A white shopkeeper in South Jamaica stated that he believed the Blue and White bus line would increase more traffic to businesses in the area, with a Black real estate worker also claiming that property values would rise because of it. Dr. Matthew would go on to create a Blue and White Bus Line for Black residents of the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles, California.

In 1969, Dr Matthew was sentenced to six months in prison for willful failure to file an income tax return. After serving 59 days, President Nixon granted special clemency to Dr. Matthew:

Dr. Matthew had contended that he would not contribute money to a Government whose official policy was the continuation of welfare. Since being released from prison he has paid the $9,000 cited in the indictment and says that he will pay the rest, which has been estimated at $150,000, when the Internal Revenue Service sets the amount.

NEGRO’s Tactician, New York Times, August 20, 1970

In September 1972, Interfaith Hospital lost its certification and became defunct. Later in 1973, Dr. Matthew would have yet another run in with law enforcement after being charged with 121 counts of grand larceny and conspiracy, which accused him of taking $200,000 of Medicaid funds from the Interfaith Hospital and diverting it towards several of his two projects: the Watts bus line and a drug-addiction facility in Harlem, known then as Freedom Village. Dr. Matthew acknowledged that money had been spent towards both projects, but stated it provided job opportunities for people who were treated with drug and alcohol addictions at Interfaith Hospital. These charges were announced by Queens District Attorney Thomas J. Mackell. In response to his arrest, Dr. Matthew called it a “political thing to use a popular Black man to whitewash their own problems.” After a three-week trial in October and November of 1973, Dr. Matthew was sentenced to three years in prison: “The truth will come out in the appeal,” the surgeon said. Asked how he felt about going to jail, he said, “If I have to go to prison to establish justice and equality of opportunity for Black America I’ll go.”

On March 3, 1975, an appeals court in Brooklyn reversed the 1973 conviction of Dr. Matthew: “The five-member court unanimously dismissed all 71 larceny counts in the original indictment, threw out a three-year prison sentence pending against Dr. Matthew and suggested that the case against him had been so flimsy that Justice Thomas S. Agresta, who presided, should have dropped it halfway through the trial.” Following the reversal, The Appeals Court stated “there is not one fragment of testimonial or documentary evidence to suggest that the defendant acted with larcenous intent.”

Dr. Thomas Matthew viewed his ventures as preventive medicine: ““I really think that every thing that I do is part of my practice.”

Do Black lives matter in regards to gentrification?

How ironic is it to see people who barely interact with Black people from the neighborhoods they’ve moved into, hang “Black Lives Matter” banners and placards from their windows? Or in front of properties and businesses that have largely ignored the Black people existing around them? Do Black lives matter when you take over the community gardens? Do Black lives matter when that old building is renovated after Black people were evicted to now house others from other cities and different class background and/or race? Do they matter when that group of men are outside loud late at night, drinking, smoking, playing dice, and you’re calling the cops on them because you won’t be able to wake up on time for your fancy job? Do Black lives matter for the people in the NYCHA complex that have no heat or hot water in the winter, dirty building conditions, infestations, and more, while you live in your beautiful apartment in a building across the street from it? Do Black lives matter when you rush to the train to go to work or to a bar or anywhere, and you see a Black person homeless and addicted to drugs?

This may strike a nerve for liberals who are only outraged by anti-Black state violence that is recorded and shared for masses across the country and world to see. An argument against this is that it may be “divisive,” that “it’s not the same,” and “at least they’re standing up for us now,” “or that gentrification is making life better for Black people.”

State violence is not only getting your ass beat and/or murdered by police. Gentrification is state violence perpetrated by local and state officials against poor Black people to “revitalize” neighborhoods that they’ve been red-lined into and economically strangled in for decades. Being pushed in and pushed out is a historical phenomenon for Black people in the United States and the diaspora; we can refer to the Middle Passage.

Again, people will say this is divisive, not the correct time to bring it up, or at least we have “allies,” but none of this can be refuted against actual research. So let the hurt feelings commence.

Let’s look at some statistics from the Furman Center:

  • While rents only increased modestly in the 1990s, they rose everywhere in the 2000s, most rapidly in the low-income neighborhoods surrounding central Manhattan.
  • Most neighborhoods in New York City regained the population they lost during the 1970s and 1980s, while the population in the average gentrifying neighborhood in 2010 was still 16 percent below its 1970 level.
  • One third of the housing units added in New York City from 2000 to 2010 were added in the city’s 15 gentrifying neighborhoods despite their accounting for only 26 percent of the city’s population.
  • Gentrifying neighborhoods experienced the fastest growth citywide in the number of college graduates, young adults, childless families, non-family households, and white residents between 1990 and 2010-2014. They saw increases in average household income while most other neighborhoods did not.
  • Rent burden has increased for households citywide since 2000, but particularly for low- and moderate-income households in gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods. • The share of recently available rental units affordable to low-income households declined sharply in gentrifying neighborhoods between 2000 and 2010-2014.
  • There was considerable variation among the sub-borough areas classified as gentrifying neighborhoods; for example, among the sub-borough areas classified as gentrifying, the change in average household income between 2000 and 2010-2014 ranged from a decrease of 16 percent to an increase of 41 percent.

This is a broad look at New York City. Now let’s look even more specifically at a neighborhood such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, widely known for its rapid gentrification. This information comes from An Economic Snapshot of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood straight from the New York State comptroller’s office:

  • The population in Bedford-Stuyvesant grew by 34 percent between 1980 and 2015, faster than the citywide rate of growth
  • In 2015, there was a wide disparity in median household incomes between new residents ($50,200) and long-term residents ($28,000).  
  • The number of households with incomes below the federal poverty level has increased by 13 percent since the end of the recession. 
  •  The share of households that devoted more than 30 percent of their incomes to rent increased from 47 percent to 55 percent between 2005 and 2015.  
  • Residents suffer from above-average incidences of chronic health problems.

Interesting, right? Let’s look into some more information from this publication:

Overall, more than one-quarter (29 percent) of the population had at least a bachelor’s degree. However, there was a disparity between long-term and new residents.1 In 2015, less than one-fifth of long-term residents had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with nearly half of new residents (46 percent).

An Economic Snapshot of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

It gets even more grim in terms of housing and income. Research from the SAME PUBLICATION notes:

In addition, there is a wide disparity between long-term and new residents with respect to income. In 2015, new residents comprised one-third of the households. The new residents had a median household income of $50,200, compared to $28,000 for long-term residents. This is a relatively new development. In 2010, the household income of new residents was similar to those of long-term residents. The share of households living in poverty has hovered at about 30 percent since the end of the recession, significantly higher than the citywide poverty rate (19 percent). Moreover, the number of households in poverty increased by 13 percent from 13,800 in 2009 to 15,600 in 2015. One-third of all households receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (i.e., food stamps), compared to one-fifth citywide. There were 14,000 senior residents (defined as 65 years or older) living in the neighborhood. Most seniors are long-term residents. Their median household income is low ($25,500 in 2015), and 42 percent rely on SNAP benefits. The number of residents aged 55 to 64 rose rapidly (by 18 percent) between 2010 and 2015.

An Economic Snapshot to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

It’s even harmed the Black children in Bed-Stuy’s school district:

Rising housing costs and low incomes have contributed to increased displacement and homelessness. Bedford-Stuyvesant has a large number of homeless shelters and other temporary housing sites. School District 16 (which covers most of the neighborhood) has one of the highest concentrations of homeless students in New York City, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness

An Economic Snapshot to the Bedford-Stuyvesant Neighborhood

This is just a look into New York City as a whole and a brief delve into Bed-Stuy. Think about Long Island City which is facing rapid gentrification and almost had to face an Amazon headquarters funded by New York tax payer money. Or Harlem that is facing a quick demographic shift with conditions becoming worse for long-term residents. Or the South Bronx also facing gentrification, with politicians and artists marketing Hip Hop culture as the gateway to displacement and revitalization.

What are we supposed to do with a street in every borough named “Black Lives Matter?” Sheer symbolism is a slap in the face to long-time residents that are barely living check-to-check, ignored and shunned by local and state politicians, and the new residents who treat them as outsiders. When you’re done with your photo opportunities and feel-good theatrics, your life will remain the same, as Black people who are being gentrified out are facing even worse conditions during a pandemic that has harmed them disproportionately. What about Black and Latino New Yorkers receiving more than 81 percent of social distancing summonses by the NYPD? It is not enough to have our oppression recognized and seemingly funneled into liberal politics and marketing for corporations.