QUESTION: timeline of activism in brooklyn 1960-TODAY

question / pregunta: 

Hello! I am looking for social/political histories of 4 neighborhoods in Brooklyn from the 1960s forward; the neighborhoods are Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kensington and Flatlands. Any information that can help me towards creating activism timelines in these areas is great! Also, I'm looking for information on the 1968 New York Teacher's Strike centered in Brownsville and Ocean Hill, and the Beth-El Hospital Workers Strike, which I believe was in 1962.

This project will eventually be focused on existing vacant lots in these neighborhoods so any tips on/histories of/ information on vacant lots in brooklyn or these specific neighborhoods would be great!



As someone who works in Flatlands and lives near Kensington, I commend you on your fine topic. Given that it is pretty broad for a virtual reference query, I'm going to point you in some directions, and hopefully you'll have time to explore and do some research and reading to hone your timelines.

Perhaps your first visit could be to Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection, which is the local history department. The branches in your target neighborhoods may also have some archival materials you could look through (for example, at the Flatlands branch we have a drawer full of clippings and documents that may or may not cover the types of events you're interested in). And of course you should visit the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Read blogs about Brooklyn neighborhoods and history to pick out details of local social movements and also to find evidence of community groups that may still be active and have memories (either institutional or physical, in the form of people who were around back in the day) of events relevant to you. Try the blogrolls of Brooklynology and the Brooklyn Historical Society Blog as starting points. Neighborhood cultural spaces could also be helpful -- for example, Bed-Stuy's Restoration Plaza recently hosted an exhibit of photos of neighborhood protests and other community events from the 1960s through '80s (link to a New York Amsterdam News article here).

As for the particular events you mentioned, there are several books that cover the Ocean Hill-Brownsville teacher strike. A quick search of WorldCat finds many titles that will be available in the NYC public library systems or via interlibrary loan. There's less documentation of the Beth-El Hospital strike (you were right about the year, by the way), but there is some (ignore the record for Pediatric Acupuncture, which clearly has the wrong contents note).

The following books may focus too much on pre-1960s pictorial histories, but you could also try books by local historian Brian Merlis and the "Images of America" series.

The NYC CityMap can be a good beginning source of information about individual lots, vacant or otherwise. A specialized source that you may already be aware of is Picture the Homeless's Vacant NYC map. A PTH staffer explained that most of the data on vacant lots has come from Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the division of real estate services and from the Mayor's Office of Environmental Remediation's Searchable Property Environmental E-Database (SPEED) Portal.

On a more general note about the relationship between municipal operations and usable data, PTH's Homeless People Count report says: "While many city agencies keep track of information on buildings, we received no response when both Picture the Homeless and the Manhattan Borough President's Office attempted through numerous channels to obtain property information from such public entities as HPD, DOB, Con Ed (which should keep track of all buildings to which power had been turned off entirely, and for how long), the Department of Sanitation (for records of residential units to which water had been turned off), and even the Fire Department. As a result, we were obliged to undergo a painstaking research process that involved looking up every building in a series of city databases." That database research is, of course, in addition to the hitting-the-streets methodology that made up the bulk of the process (a PTH staffer described the vacant lot count as "just people canvassing with notepads").

Well, as I said, this answer is meant to provide a number of starting points, but please follow up if you hit snags with more specific questions -- or if you just want to let us know what you uncovered!

I forgot to recommend that you also look for journal and magazine articles on your topics (the specific ones -- the teachers' strike and the hospital workers' strike, because then you have actual keywords to work with). Here are links to the databases (many available from any computer with Internet access, with a valid library card) that each of the three NYC public library systems subscribes to:

Start with newspaper databases and multi-disciplinary scholarly databases such as Academic Search Premier and Academic OneFile. If the default keyword or "smart" search doesn't turn up anything, look for the option to search "all text" or "entire document."

Books on Brooklyn

There's also the following books (among many others):
Ment, David.:
The people of Brooklyn : a history of two neighborhoods /
[Brooklyn] : Brooklyn Educational & Cultural Alliance, c1980.
(on Bed-Sty and Sunset Park)

Brooklyn in transition : a statistical profile of its people, jobs and neighborhoods and the outlook for the borough's future / New York, N.Y. : The Institute, 1985.

Jackson, Kenneth. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn / [New York] : Citizens Committee for New York City ; New Haven : Yale University Press, c2004.

A PhD thesis written at Columbia
Schoenebaum, Eleanora W. 1947-: Emerging neighborhoods : the development of Brooklyn's fringe areas 1850-1930 / 1976.

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