Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Constance Baker Motley Nominated to be the first African-American Woman Federal Judge

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In celebration of African-American History Month, the La Guardia and Wagner Archives is featuring a video of Joel Motley, discussing the nomination of his mother, civil rights attorney Constance Baker Motley to the federal district court by President Lyndon Baines Johnson.  Find out why Senator Robert F. Kennedy planned to nominate her, but then withdrew his support because of a conflict in the Democratic Party about who would control the New York State Legislature.  Motley, who won 9 of 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was an ally of Mayor Robert F. Wagner and had been serving as a New York State Senator and Manhattan Borough President before she became the first African-American women to serve as a federal judge. 

The Archives has developed related civil rights materials including a web page Black Suffrage and the Struggle for Civil Rights and two lessons Jim Crow and Voting Rights and Mississippi Freedom Summer 1964. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mayor La Guardia, Japanese Internment and World War II: 70 Years Later

Manzanar Relocation Center, by Dorothea Lange
(National Archives)
Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Seventy years ago on February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and resident Japanese aliens on the West Coast of the United States into camps (along with much smaller numbers of Germans and Italians). As Japanese-Americans began to be released in 1944, a few hundred were re-settled in New York City. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia vehemently opposed their arrival using language tinged with, for him, an uncharacteristic racism, which was nonetheless common throughout the U.S. during World War II.
The La Guardia and Wagner Archives holds the fascinating correspondence between Mayor La Guardia, Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, and La Guardia confidante C.C. Burlingham on this subject. The Archives has also developed a webpage about Japanese internee Mitusye Endo's struggle for freedom and a lesson on Japanese Internment. If you would like to learn more about La Guardia and/or Japanese Internment, please contact me or Tara Jean Hickman thickman@lagcc.cuny.edu .
            In his correspondence with Interior Secretary Ickes on April 11 and 21, 1944, La Guardia deemed Japanese-Americans a security threat, despite their having been vetted by the U.S. Government. He asked "Is there one single solitary United States official who will vouch for each and every one of them." He ominously wrote that "If anything happens, the responsibility is not with the city. The responsibility is with the Federal Government." He proposed that all evacuees return to the states of their original residence and it was "unfair . . . to force them upon New York City."
            Ickes berated La Guardia's narrow-minded views in a personal letter and in a statement published in The New York Times on April 28, where he accused him of "playing the discordant theme of racial discrimination." When C.C. Burlingham, his patrician adviser, learned of La Guardia's position, he responded with dismay, you are "in bad company and the sooner you clear yourself the better," and since "penitence is out of your line, I suggest subtlety." He proposed that La Guardia should adjust his position to state that he saw "no reason, military or legal, for interning loyal citizens or transferring them from their homes."
            If La Guardia responded to Burlingham, the Archives has no record of it, but his response to the arrival of a few hundred Japanese-Americans citizens to New York City is indicative of the racism and demonization of the enemy that invariably occurs during wartime.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Terry Parker Discusses His Experiences During the Integration of his North Carolina High Schools

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In celebration of African-American History month, the Archives is featuring a video of Terry Parker, the LaGuardia Community College's Coordinator of Media Services, on our website's featured page.   In the video, Terry describes his experiences during the desegregation of the two North Carolina high schools he attended in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He captures an important moment in his own life and in U.S. history, as Jim Crow education came to an end in North Carolina.  Terry describes the fear, ambivalence, conflict, cooperation and excitement that occurred for him, his family and the communities affected by this radical change.  It is a moving story, which tells a larger story of race in American history.

I hope you will take the time to watch the video and let us know your thoughts.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mayor Koch Used NY City Funds to Finance Abortions for Low Income Women

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

          The politics of birth control and abortion continue to dominate the debate in Washington as the controversy over the federal birth control mandate and its application to Catholic hospitals and universities stays on the front page of The New York Times.  (See "Obama Tries to Ease Ire on Contraception Rule")   In "Planned Parenthood, Worthy of Continued Financial Support,"  former Mayor Edward I. Koch commented on Susan G. Komen for the Cure's  attempt to cut off funds for Planned Parenthood breast cancer screenings and then recounted his own decision on city funding of abortions using documents unearthed at the La Guardia and Wagner Archives.

In 1976 Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned the use of federal funds for abortion, except for when the life of the mother was in danger.  (Exceptions were later extended to rape and incest.)  This cutoff of funds affected low income women on Medicaid.  New York State (with financing evenly split between City and State) agreed to fund "medically necessary" abortions through Medicaid.  Koch went further, arguing that "no woman in New York City who wants to have an abortion will be denied the opportunity to have an abortion due to an inability to pay."  In January 1978 he agreed to finance "elective abortions" through City funds.  By 1988 New York State and City were each spending $6 million on abortion through Medicaid and the City spent an additional $6.9 million for abortions by low income women not covered by  Medicaid, directly funding 22,700 abortions that year.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Birth Control Politics: 1958 and 2012

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

            The New York Times article "Outcry Grows Fiercer After Funding Cut by Cancer Group" highlights the continuing controversy over birth control and abortion politics after the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation announced it had cut funds to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings.  Birth control had already become a major issue in national politics when the Obama Administration mandated that birth control must be available free of cost in all health plans.  This rule included no exemption for religious employers opposed to birth control if they served a large number of people of different faiths, such as Catholic hospitals and universities.  (See The New York Times "Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges")

            In the late 1950s, Mayor Robert F. Wagner faced a similar controversy in New York's public hospitals.  In May 1958, The New York Times reported that there was an unwritten prohibition against prescribing birth control in public hospitals.  Wagner's Commissioner of Hospitals Morris A. Jacobs denied this and stated that "There shall be no interference in proper and accepted therapeutic practices nor intervention in ethical relationships between patient and physician."   Despite this statement, Jacobs refused to allow a doctor at Kings County Hospital in July to fit a diabetic patient with a contraceptive device to protect her health. According to New York State law at that time, birth control could only be given if pregnancy was "deleterious to the health of the patient," a policy laid out in a draft Department of Health policy statement  in 1963.

            This situation placed Wagner in a quandary both politically and religiously.  Protestant and Jewish organizations, as well as Planned Parenthood and the New York Civil Liberties Union, were lobbying to lift the ban on contraception in public hospitals, while the Catholic Church was adamantly opposed.  A consensus politician who avoided conflict, Wagner left the decision to the Board of Hospitals stating, "I am a practicing Catholic. As a Catholic, I would be opposed to the use of contraceptives in city hospitals.  But I have not discussed it with the commissioner or with members of the board."

            The debate continued throughout the summer, with Wagner refusing to intervene.   When the Board of Hospitals met in September, it voted to reverse the policy.  Wagner's position, while sincere, was also shrewd.  In all likelihood, the outcome was what he desired.  He may not have been in direct communication with the commissioner or the Board of Hospitals, but he did know how to count votes and predict the outcome.    Wagner believed in letting professionals decide what was the correct health policy and was able to separate his personal views as a Catholic from the decision.  Not coincidentally, his liberal supporters were able to get the policy they wanted, while Wagner was able to distance himself from it and limit the political damage he took among Catholics and conservatives.