New York City in the Civil Rights era

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Much of the focus over the Civil Rights battle in this country centered on the South where it was, at times, gruesome, but New York in that same time had become a battleground as well. Laws prohibited minorities from buying or renting apartments, segregation divided New Yorkers, heating our melting pot to the point of boiling over.

Sarah Seidman is the curator of the social activism exhibition currently showing at the Museum of the City of New York, which includes a flyer representing a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement when three activists working to register voters, were murdered in Mississippi. Their deaths sparked outrage. With the death of New Yorkers, it was no longer considered a southern matter. New York leading up to that time had drawn the largest urban African American population in America. And the city got involved: raising money and sending manpower to Civil Rights campaigns to Washington and further south.

Fundraising fliers show African Americans had diverse support. Tony Bennett headlined this event with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. New York became the crucial financial backer to the movement.

The fight in New York back then in many ways parallels our lives here today: lack of school integration, jobs, affordable housing, and anger over treatment by police. Sounds familiar? In 1964, at the height of the civil rights campaign, 400,000 New York schoolchildren boycotted class to demand integration.

The dialogue about racism dominated the tenor of life here and transformed our city in meaningful ways. It brought progress, and paved the way for other equality movements to come.