Unmaking the Ghetto: Community Development in Bedford-Styvesant during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements

by Brian Purnell

Jan 1, 2013
If men do not build, asked the poet, T.S. Elliot, "how shall they live?" In December 1966, Robert F. Kennedy, junior U.S. Senator from New York State, posed this question to a public school auditorium packed with 1,000 of north-central Brooklyn's community organizers. Stretched before him in aluminum folding chairs were men and women who had formed civic associations to improve their communities' schools, sanitation collection, housing, and health care. When they were not working at jobs, or caring for their families, they organized block association meetings, staffed parish councils, ran parent teacher association conferences, initiated voter registration campaigns, attended police precinct committees, administered youth employment drives, and led neighborhood cleanups. Described by social scientists and journalists as embodying a debilitating "culture of poverty," these attendees were actually the organizational heart-and-soul of a place commonly associated with what Kenneth Clark called the "dark ghetto."
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