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.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nelson Mandela and New York City

Steven A. Levine 
Coordinator for Educational Programs

As we sadly observe the passing of Nelson Mandela, I thought it an appropriate time to look at his connection to New York City through some of the Archives’ documents. The documents show that in the 1980s and early 1990s, when the brutal apartheid government continued to imprison Mandela and his comrades on Robben Island; New York City, in response to activism from anti-racist and labor organizations, took strong stands against the apartheid government of South Africa. 
In 1984 New York City passed economic sanctions against South Africa and the banks and companies that did business with it, and named the corner of 42nd St and Second Avenue, in front of the South African U.N. mission “Nelson and Winnie Mandela Corner.”  When Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, he was given a hero’s welcome, highlighted by a ticker tape parade, an ecumenical service at Riverside Church, and a huge rally at Yankee Stadium, an inspiring moment I was fortunate enough to attend. 
Even after South Africa released Mandela in 1990, the City Council continued to support local sanctions and the need to “impress upon the Congress of the United States the need to continue economic and political sanctions against the government of South Africa until freedom and equality are established for all.”
I hope you will take the time to look at the documents.  If you are interested in learning more about Nelson Mandela’s visit to NYC or about its connection to the South African freedom struggle, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

VIDEO: Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman Remembers Prohibition

  Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman

Steven A. Levine 
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Eighty one years ago today, the United States ended Prohibition, its failed experiment in making alcohol, the nation’s  most popular drug, illegal.  From 1920-1933, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution banned the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes."  Watch a video of La Guardia Professor Emerita Janet Lieberman describing how easy it was to consume alcohol during Prohibition and a Universal Newspaper Newsreelproduced when Prohibition was repealed.
Fiorello La Guardia was also a leading opponent of Prohibition.  To learn more about his views on Prohibition and their similarities to current arguments in favor of marijuana legalization; you can read “Marijuana Legalization Arguments Similar to La Guardia's Arguments Against Prohibition” on the Archives’ blog. 
If you are so inclined, you can also make a toast to the 21st Amendment that made your drink possible today.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

13 year old Lee Harvey Oswald's Probation Officer Was Mayor Wagner Aide John Carro

Steven A. Levine                                                                                                        
Coordinator for Educational Programs
As we approached the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, I recalled that Lee Harvey Oswald lived in the Bronx and had a tangential connection to Mayor Robert F. Wagner through John Carro, one of Wagner’s assistants in the 1960s. 
In 1953 Carro was a probation officer for the Children’s Court. Ten years later just after Lee Harvey Oswald had been murdered by Jack Ruby, a friend of his called, “Carro, you know who that case is . . .?"  That was the case you handled. Don't you remember?"  Carro had been the probation officer for a 12 year old truant from New Orleans named Lee Harvey Oswald, then living in the Bronx on the Grand Concourse, who had missed 46 days of school in the fall 1952 semester.  He recalled in his testimony to the Warren Commission

“I went upstairs and I told the press secretary to the mayor. I told him the information that had just been relayed to me that I had been Oswald's P.O. and that I should tell the mayor about it, and the mayor had gone to Washington, so he told me, "Just sit tight and don't say anything." The story didn't break in the papers - this was on a Tuesday or Wednesday - until Saturday when someone found out, went to Judge Kelley, and then there were stories FridaySaturday, and the Post reporter showed up to my house on a Sunday evening. I don't know how he found out where I lived or anything else, but once he got there, I called city hall again, "Look, I got this reporter over here. What do I do with him?"  They said, "So apparently the story has broken. So talk to him." . . .

Carro remembered Oswald because he was different from his other cases,

What did stand out, you know, that I really recall as a recollection of my own  . . .  that I was a Catholic probation officer and this boy was a Lutheran, which was strange to begin with, because you normally carry youth of your own background. And secondly that he did dress in a western style with the levis, and he spoke with this southwestern accent which made him different from the average boy that I had on probation.

But he concluded that the roots of Oswald’s crime could not be found in his youthful truancy or what he saw of Oswald and his family.

I wouldn't speculate on what drove Oswald to do this. I would say in my experience I have encountered many a boy who will do things like this to attract attention to themselves, that they exist, and they want somebody to care for them. It is hard to say what motivated him. I don't really know. I had no inkling of that at that stage. As a matter of fact, he said when he grew up he wanted to go into the Service, just like his brothers, who were in the Service, and he said he liked to horseback ride; he used to collect stamps. But certainly these things that he said were the normal kind of outlet, the things any normal boy of 13 years of age would do. There was nothing that would lead me to believe when I saw him at the age of 12 that there would be seeds of destruction for somebody. I couldn't in all honesty sincerely say such a thing. 

Nonetheless, in a speech he gave to the Bronx County Society for Mental Health on January 27, 1964, he regretted that Oswald’s mother had refused to comply with a court order for her son to be treated at a psychiatric clinic.  “Had he been placed, had he not been taken from our jurisdiction, his whole life may have been changed.”  No doubt he was also thinking of the life of the nation as well.

You can read more about Carro’s impressions of Oswald in his Probation Officer’s Report and an interview with him available on You Tube  Carro is one of the only people alive today who has any recollections of Oswald as a child.  An important figure in Wagner’s third term, Carro had a distinguished career as a fighter for Puerto Rican and civil rights and was the first Puerto Rican appointed to the New York State Appellate Court.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

VIDEO: Berlin Wall Rises, August 1961

Twenty four years ago on November 9th the Berlin Wall fell, dramatically marking the end of the Cold War.  The rise of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 fractured the city and divided its citizens.  The gravity of this moment was caught in the newsreel footage, Berlin Drama.  The gripping footage shows the wall rising, East German troops using tear gas, and dramatic escapes from East Berlin apartments bordering the wall.

The Cold War is now long over, but this newsreel shows, albeit in melodramatic fashion, the desire of East Germans to escape the police state imposed on them by their dictatorial government.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

LaGuardia and Wagner Archives on the NY Times Learning Network

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Last spring the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives and the LaGuardia Honors Program's Friends of Koch collaborated to create a video on Mayor Ed Koch's Ten Year Housing Plan and how it revitalized entire neighborhoods throughout New York City.  That video is the basis for a lesson on the New York Times Learning Network developed by Tara Hickman and me called "Reader Idea | Researching Political History to Understand How a Community Problem Was Solved"
Please take a look at it and if you use it in your class, please let us know your experiences.

Monday, October 28, 2013

VIDEO: 1938 World Series NY Yankees vs. Chicago Cubs

Seventy-five years ago, the Chicago Cubs and the New York Yankees faced off in a lopsided World Series contest.  The powerhouse Yankees swept the Cubs in four straight games.  Watch the highlights of Game Four, narrated by Archives baseball maven Stephen Weinstein, and see Mayor La Guardia give a Bronx Cheer.  Sadly, in 2013 New York fans will have to remember the old Brooklyn Dodger refrain, "Wait 'til next year!"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Alair Townsend Debates Ed Koch: "She had the better book!"

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

As we approach tomorrow night's mayoral debate at the CUNY Graduate Center, I thought it was a good time to look at how other candidates prepared for a debate by watching a video of Deputy Mayor Alair Townsend describe her experiences as Mayor Ed Koch's practice debate partner in 1985.

To prepare for his debate against City Council President Carol Bellamy, his Democratic Primary opponent, Ed Koch chose Townsend. Townsend claimed she was chosen because she had glasses and high cheek bones like Bellamy, but it is also clear she was a more than worthy debate opponent.  When his campaign adviser David Garth told Koch that Townsend had beat him after the first mock debate, Ed Koch responded by saying, "She had the better [debate] book!"  Watch Alair Townsend describe the debate, her preparation and the debate book in this interview with the La Guardia and Wagner Archives' Tara Jean Hickman.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fiorello La Guardia Takes a Sledge Hammer to Slot Machines: Let's Go to the VIDEO!

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

When Fiorello La Guardia became mayor of NYC in 1934, organized crime and gambling racketeers were his particular bugbears and he went on campaigns to wipe them out. During Prohibition in the 1920s, organized crime had spread from liquor to gambling, narcotics, and the “service of outlawed desires.” One of La Guardia’s earliest public acts as mayor, shown on the following video, was to swing his hammer to smash slot machines and ceremoniously dump them in the Long Island Sound on October 13, 1934.

In the 79 years since Fiorello smashed and dumped those slot machines, a sea change in government’s relationship with gambling has occurred as racetracks, like Aqueduct and Yonkers, have become “racinos” filled with the slot machines La Guardia loathed because he believed they took money from families that should go to feed their children.  New York State voters will also be voting on November 5 on whether to approve a constitutional amendment, backed by an alliance of gambling interests, Indian tribes, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, to allow casinos to open in the Catskills, the Southern Tier and the Albany area.   The New York Times reported yesterday that the gambling industry has spent “more than $59 million on lobbying and political contributions in New York” since 2005.  We know that they are betting a big return on their investment.  I am sure if La Guardia were here today he would be shouting to the rooftops against it.   What do you think?

Friday, September 27, 2013

Ed Koch Runs for a 4th Term: 1989 Campaign Commercials

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In 1989 Ed Koch attempted what no other mayor had achieved: election to a fourth term. Koch's commercials were similar to those in 1985: regular New Yorkers saying he wasn't perfect, but was doing a good job. After 12 years as mayor and burdened by a scandal-tainted third term and a perception that he was racially divisive, many New Yorkers were looking for change. 

Most voters who rejected Koch turned to Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, an African-American, who promised conciliation in contrast to the tumultuous Koch. Building on Rev. Jesse Jackson's success in the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, Dinkins won a majority in the 1989 Democratic mayoral primary and narrowly defeated Rudy Giuliani in the general election. Ed Koch had failed in his quest for an unprecedented fourth term, but when later asked if he would run again he humorously replied, "The people have spoken ... And they must be punished."

Friday, September 20, 2013

Ed Koch for Mayor 1985 Campaign Commercials

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
When Ed Koch ran for a third term as mayor in 1985, he won handily against a divided opposition, but what is striking to me was the lack of polish in his commercials.  The endorsements by the "regular people" seem unrehearsed and Mayor Koch does not even appear in them.  The commercials seem to emphasize that whatever the critics might say, the people still supported Koch.  They raise the question of whether the supporters were given lines to read or were they expressing their support sincerely?  With the exception of actor Vincent Gardenia's endorsement, they seem more coarsely produced than those of today.  Media wizard David Garth effectively demonstrated Koch's support by the common man and woman.  The election results that year confirmed this perception. Take a few minutes to watch the video to see what you think.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Primaries Past and Present: Ed Koch 1981 Campaign Commercials

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

New Yorkers are waiting on lines today to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries and they are again using the aging Shoup lever voting machines to cast their ballots.  Given our use of these old, but trustworthy machines, it seemed a good moment to go back in time to 1981 to watch Ed Koch’s campaign commercials
Thirty two years ago, Mayor Koch was up for reelection.  During his first term, he had won congressional approval for loan guarantees, brought the city back to solvency, begun to restore city services and balanced the budget a year ahead of schedule.  His main opponent in the Democratic primary was the liberal State Assembly member Frank Barbaro, who attacked Koch for reducing city services and cutting taxes for the wealthy.  Koch easily defeated Barbaro and also won the Republican primary, making him the only mayoral candidate to win the nominations of both major parties.  He then went on to win the general election in a landslide defeating Barbaro, who ran as an independent and the candidates of the Liberal, Conservative and Right to Life parties.
Elections have consequences and I hope you will take the time to participate in your party’s primary and in the November general election.  Mayor Koch would certainly have wanted you to.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

1977 Ed Koch Campaign Commercials

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

With the New York City mayoral primaries a week away, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the 1977 mayoral election and how Ed Koch’s campaign commercials helped lead him to victory.  This was a bleak year for New York City, which was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and could not borrow money on its own credit.  Thousands of police officers, firefighters, teachers, CUNY faculty and other municipal workers had been laid off.   A blackout had led to mass looting in many neighborhoods, Son of Sam was wreaking his terror upon the city, and crime in general was on the rise. 
As the election season began, Congressman Koch was polling at the bottom of a large group of Democratic candidates that included Mayor Abe Beame, former Congresswoman Bella Abzug, N.Y. Secretary of State Mario Cuomo, Congressman Herman Badillo, and Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.  Running as a “liberal with sanity,” Koch endorsed the death penalty, attacked the municipal unions and their leaders, and  “poverty pimps.”  Koch ended his advertisements, crafted by campaign manager David Garth with the tagline, “After eight years of charisma [John Lindsay] and four years of the clubhouse [Abe Beame], why not try competence.” 
With his conservative message, Koch catapulted to second place in the primary.  He then defeated Mario Cuomo in the runoff and the general election, when Cuomo ran as the candidate of the Liberal Party.  In a city where crime appeared out of control, municipal unions were striking, and the fiscal outlook was bleak, Koch had sensed that a more conservative candidate would appeal to a large portion of the electorate.  His election was a watershed and ushered in years of austerity and a more limited view of what government could or should do.
The dominant issues in this year’s Democratic primary are very different as the Bloomberg era comes to a close.  Crime is at a historic low, but the stop and frisk policies of the NYPD have come under fierce criticism.  The shimmering towers that have risen in Manhattan and on the waterfronts of Queens and Brooklyn are symbols of both increasing prosperity and the rising inequality of New York City.  Whether these themes augur a new watershed for New York’s politics remains to be seen until after primary day and beyond when future historians analyze the campaign advertisements of 2013.
P.S.  To learn more about voting in New York City, check out the Archives’ curriculum, “City Government and You:  Voting Rights and Citizenship.”

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

March on Washington and the War on Poverty: 50 Years Later

Mrs. Coretta Scott King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mayor Robert F. Wagner, 1964

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

After returning from the March on Washington this weekend, I have been reading people’s reminiscences and analyses of the March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom 50 years ago today.  One thing is clear: the goals of the March were not only to end legal apartheid in the United States, but to create as the Marchers demanded “that every person in this nation, black or white, be given training and work with dignity to defeat unemployment and automation.”  Education historian Diane Ravitch recalled in her blog that, “For that brief few hours in time, the theory was reality, and we knew that change was coming, that it was inevitable. The only question was not whether it would happen, but when.”  She then contrasted that moment to the present when “Much has changed, but not enough. Barack Obama is President, but poverty among people of color remains scandalously high and racial segregation is no longer treated as outrageous.”

Sadly our commitment as a nation and a city to tackling segregation and poverty have nearly vanished in the last 50 years.  Poverty in New York City has increased from 18.4% in 2008 to 20.1% in 2011, reflecting national trends, while President Obama and other politicians constantly reference the middle class and rarely mention the poor in their speeches.

In contrast, Mayor Robert F. Wagner’s speeches in the 1960s reflected a commitment to combating poverty unlikely to be uttered by a presidential candidate today.  Speaking at the United Neighborhood Houses on December 3, 1964, he laid out a long term commitment to New York’s anti-poverty programs,

"I would rather move slowly and build a firm foundation for action, bearing in mind the long-range and sustained nature of the effort that will be required . . . not just the semblance of action, but truly to prevail in the war against poverty, which means also to prevail in the war against discrimination and disadvantage."

Unfortunately, the war in Vietnam sidelined the War on Poverty and the Wagner’s “firm foundation” never received the necessary federal resources.  With the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the War on Poverty ended and the 1975 fiscal crisis led to a massive austerity in New York City. 

What is unconscionable is that few of our politicians even acknowledge the widespread poverty existing in our society today and that our nation has spent the last ten years spending hundreds of billions of dollars fighting unnecessary wars leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people at home and abroad instead of expending these resources at home on education, health care and job creation.  Our politicians have always found it possible to open the nation’s checkbook to fight wars, but tell the poor that our nation cannot afford the necessary resources to change their circumstances.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mayor Wagner's Memorial to Medgar Evers

Steven A. Levine, 
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Fifty years ago, Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers was assassinated as he left his car in front of his home in Jackson.  This horrific act of violence was one of many outrages against human rights and dignity in 1963, including Bull Connor's use of dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama.  Mayor Robert F. Wagner spoke before the NAACP's NYC Department of Welfare branch on June 27, 1963.  Remembering the courage of Evers, Wagner reminded his audience that Evers was a martyr because "if he continued to do what he was doing, he would likely be killed -- and he kept right on doing it."  He implored his audience to remember that "It was up to us to see -- as he knew it would be -- he did not die in vain"  (To read his full speech click here.)

Living in a nation today where poverty, racism, sexism and homophobia still threaten the lives and well being of millions, we must remember Medgar Evers and redouble our own efforts to fight for the ideals for which gave up his life.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

VIDEO: NYC Gay Rights Bill Passes, 1986

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

Rhode Island’s Legislature passed a marriage equality law yesterday, making it the tenth state to do so with Delaware, Minnesota and Illinois likely to follow soon. But this victory did not come out of a vacuum.  Watch the Archives latest video, NYC Gay Rights Bill Passed, 1986 and hear Mayor Koch explain how the law was passed and Council Members Wendell Foster and Noach Dear explaining their votes for and against respectively.  
A quarter century ago, marriage equality seemed an impossibility.  In New York City, where the Stonewall Inn was the birthplace of the gay rights movement in 1969, a gay rights bill had languished in the City Council for a dozen years without a vote.  Finally, in 1986 the Council voted to protect the civil rights of people based on sexual orientation after a fierce and contentious debate with strong opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious and social conservatives. The video gives perspective on how far we have traveled on the road towards equality. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

VIDEOS: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Casey Stengel, Fiorello La Guardia, Brooklyn Dodgers, and NY Yankees and Giants

Bedlam at Shea Stadium when the Mets win the 1969 World Series
Baseball is in the air at Citifield, Yankee Stadium, and the La Guardia and Wagner Archives.  Check out our new videos narrated by Stephen Weinstein, the Archives' baseball expert extraordinaire : 
"Opening Day 1936: New York Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds" where Mayor La Guardia throws out the first pitch, the Giants trounce the Dodgers, and Babe Ruth watches the action.
"Joe DiMaggio's Wild Dash Home Clinches Yankees 1939 World Series Victory Over the Cincinnati Reds"  The Yankees swept the Cincinnati Reds that year and this baseball newsreel would have been seen in movie theaters alongside the news of the Soviet Union's and Nazi  Germany's conquest of Poland.
You can also view the Archives' slide show,  Baseball in New York, on the La Guardia and Wagner Archives computer screens located on the 1st floor of the walkway between the M and E buildings by the La Guardia Welcome Center, and the 2nd and 4th floors of the lounge areas of the C-building.  You can also view them online at : http://tinyurl.com/dxalkg7

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mayor La Guardia's Cousin Knocks on the Archives' Door

Patrizia Luzzatto with her cousin Fiorello La Guardia

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

You never know who will walk in your door on any particular morning. Yesterday, it was Patrizia Luzzatto, the cousin of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. She arrived unannounced to the Archives researching the Luzzatto family tree. Fiorello’s mother was Irene Luzzatto-Coen of Trieste. Born in the Austro-Hungarian port city of Trieste, Irene was of Italian-Jewish heritage. Patizia and Fiorello share a common great-grandfather, who I learned from Patrizia was a rabbi and a teacher in a yeshiva. The Luzzatto family had deep roots in Trieste dating back to the 18th century, but they were most likely Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain in the fifteenth century, although medieval Roman and Florentine records also mention Luzzattos.
I had the privilege of sharing notes with Patrizia, who has spent the last two years researching the Luzzattos, about Fiorello La Guardia and his family. (She will be sending her research to the Archives.) We had both read the autobiography of Fiorello's sister, Gemma La Guardia Gluck, and discussed her harrowing experiences during World War II. Gemma had married a Hungarian Jewish man and settled in Budapest before World War I. She lost both her husband and her son-in-law to Nazi genocide. The Nazis initially sent Gemma, her daughter and grandson to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Knowing Gemma was Mayor La Guardia’s sister, the Nazis then sent them to Berlin as potential ransom. When the war ended, Gemma and Fiorello regained contact and he helped her to settle in New York City in the Queensbridge Houses his administration had built. (To learn more about Gemma’s story and read the correspondence between her and Fiorello go to: http://tinyurl.com/bctcrb5 )
In our conversation, I learned that Patrizia’s family, like Gemma’s, were also survivors who went first to Argentina and later settled permanently in Caracas, Venezuela. Both are stories to think deeply about, especially as we approach Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on April 8th, which will be the 70th anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Friday, March 15, 2013

NAACP Attorney Constance Baker Motley Confronts Racism at "Ole Miss"

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

When Constance Baker Motley began working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the late 1940s, there were few women lawyers in the United States and only a handful of African-American women lawyers. Motley had the intelligence and determination to overcome both those barriers and become one of the leading civil rights attorneys in the nation. The Archives’ new video, “NAACP Attorney Constance Baker Motley Confronts Racism at Ole Miss,” shows her facing down racist protesters in Mississippi while representing James Meredith in the University of Mississippi desegregation case in the early 1960s.
In this video, her son Joel describes her strength of character and ability to see past the virulent racism and violence around her. At the same time, Motley was able to support plaintiffs like Meredith and Charlayne Hunter-Gault and Hamilton Homes at the University of Georgia through the trials they faced in breaking down the walls of segregation and racism embedded in the foundations of the United States.
Constance Baker Motley’s accomplishments have often been overshadowed in the historical memory by her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall. But as an attorney who won 9 out of 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, we should remember her importance to the civil rights movement, especially during Women’s History Month. Moreover, with the support of Mayor Robert F. Wagner, she became the first African-American woman elected to the NY State Senate and the first woman elected Manhattan borough president. After her sojourn in New York politics, President Johnson appointed Motley to be the first African-American federal judge. She was truly a trail blazer in a pre-feminist era. (You can learn more about Motley’s appointment to the federal bench and how it became enveloped in the conflict between Senator Robert Kennedy and President Johnson in the Archives’ video “Lyndon Johnson Appoints Constance Baker Motley to be a Federal Judge.”)
I hope you will take the time to watch both videos and use them in your classrooms. (You can also learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer, another pioneering woman in the civil rights movement, in the Archives’ Mississippi Freedom Summer lesson.) If you have any questions about Constance Baker Motley, the videos, or want to bring a class to the Archives, please free to contact me in the comments or at slevine@lagcc.cuny.edu 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Video: Marian Wright Edelman Defends the Rights of Children

Steven A. Levine 
Coordinator for Educational Programs

“Willingness to protect children is a moral litmus test of any decent and compassionate nation and city and state.” Marian Wright Edelman, 1988
A quarter century ago, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, gave a speech about the state of children in the United States as part of the La Guardia Lecture Series. Edelman’s speech was a powerful indictment of our society’s and government’s failure to protect the health and well being of children. Edelman’s emphasis on the high rates of child poverty, the lack of health insurance for 35 million Americans, the need for prenatal care and for more and better early childhood education were as real then as they are today. She denounced President Reagan’s notion that government is the problem, believing that government played a critical role in addressing society’s ills. Budget deficits were also high in the 1980s, but Edelman argued that they were not caused by programs for children or the poor. She turned instead to the ballooning military budget as the main cause for the deficit and demanded action to address the needs of children, 20% of whom lived in poverty.
In President Obama’s State of the Union he addressed many of these concerns, defending the role of government in supporting people’s needs. Most notably, he called for universal pre-K education. But this is an old story. Edelman saw the need for such an initiative 25 years ago and Congress passed legislation 42 years ago, only to see it vetoed by President Richard Nixon. (See Gail Collins’ NY Times column “The State of the 4-Year-Olds.”) The Affordable Care Act will address many of children’s health concerns, but will Congress take up this call for universal pre-K education? If not now, when?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall

Constance Baker Motley, James Meredith and Jack Greenberg

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
The Archives recently conducted an oral history with Joel Motley about his mother Constance Baker Motley, the great NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) lawyer and federal judge. We asked him specifically whether Thurgood Marshall had passed her over to be director of the LDF when he left in 1961 to a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals. He said that Marshall probably thought that it would have been “an extra burden” for an African-American woman to take on that role at that time. (Click here to watch the video.)
I was reading Judge Motley’s autobiography today, Equal Justice Under the Law, and found that she largely agreed with her son, but that there was another layer to the decision related to the competition between Marshall and Robert Carter, the general counsel of the NAACP which was separate from the LDF. Marshall mistakenly thought Motley was aligned with Carter and instead turned to their LDF colleague Jack Greenberg to be his successor at the LDF. Interestingly, Bella Abzug supported Motley, as did Mississippi NAACP leader Medgar Evers. (To read the excerpt from Motley’s autobiography, click here.)
As we in the Northeast wait out the blizzard, it’s a good moment to think about how we can learn from different sources and how we can teach ourselves and our students about the nature of sources and how to interpret them. If you would like to learn more about the civil rights movement, check out our primary source lesson on Mississippi Freedom Summer. As always, please feel free to contact me if you want to learn more about this or any other Archives related topics.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mayor Edward I. Koch, 1924-2013


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

I write with great sadness after the passing of Mayor Edward I. Koch, an iconic New Yorker who embodied the city’s spirit and verve.  While often a controversial figure, no one could deny his overwhelming love for his City.  “How‘m I doin’” was his trademark question to the people he served.

Koch began his political career as Greenwich Village reformer, who defeated former Tammany Boss Carmine De Sapio in 1963, was then elected to the City Council and from there to the U.S. House of Representatives.  Koch was elected mayor in 1977 in a rollicking race, which included the incumbent Abe Beame, Mario Cuomo, Congress members Bella Abzug and Herman Badillo, and Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton.

When he became mayor in 1978, he led New York out of its worst fiscal crisis. In addition to the fiscal problems and the struggle to restore basic services, Koch and his Administration faced rising homelessness, the AIDS epidemic, an increase in racial tensions and major corruption scandals in his third term.  Although his first two terms were the most successful politically, it was in his third term where Mayor Koch started what was perhaps his greatest legacy to New York City, a multibillion dollar housing rehabilitation program.  In his final years as mayor, the Koch Administration restored or built 2,000 units in formerly abandoned buildings with 13,000 more under construction and 20,000 more in the design stage.  Over the next 15 years more than 200,000 units were restored or built and the number of abandoned buildings declined from 10,000 to under 800.

New York City was flat on its back and many had given up on it when Mayor Koch took the reins of power.   Using his political skills and the sheer force of personality, he helped bring the City back from the brink.  For this we owe him a debt of gratitude.

If you would like to learn more about Mayor Koch, the Archives has a collection of videos on YouTube, two sets of photos on Flickr here and here, and thousands of photos and documents on our website.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Gemma La Guardia Gluck: Sister of Fiorello and Holocaust Survivor

Gemma La Guardia Gluck

In commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Archives is featuring the story of Gemma La Guardia Gluck, sister of Fiorello and Holocaust survivor, on our website.  Fiorello's and Gemma's mother was Jewish and Gemma had married a Hungarian Jewish man and settled in Budapest before World War II.  To read more about Gemma's harrowing story and her correspondence with Fiorello when he helped her and her family emigrate to the U.S., click here.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

VIDEO: Women in the World War II Military

                                                                           WAVES Visiting USS Missouri, 1944
      National Archives

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

With Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the Pentagon will lift the ban on women serving in combat, it seemed an opportune moment to watch the La Guardia and Wagner Archives’ video on the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), a branch of the Navy during World War II. The WAVES were the first women to serve in the Navy beyond traditional roles as secretaries and nurses and many of them trained at Hunter College in the Bronx (now Lehman College). Despite their limited roles, which included detasseling corn in Iowa, the women of the WAVES (and their Army and Air Corps counterparts in the WACs and WASPs) played a crucial role in the victory during World War II and opened the doors for women in the military in the future.
To learn more about women and their role in the military and on the home front during World War II, check out the New-York Historical Society’s exhibit WWII & NYC, the Archives’ lesson Women and World II, and a website on the WAVES created by the US Military.
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Friday, January 18, 2013

Judge Constance Baker Motley: Trail Blazing Civil Rights Attorney

Mayor Robert F. Wagner swears in Constance 
Baker Motley as Manhattan Borough President, 1965

Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs

In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I hope you will take the time to watch two videos about the life of Judge Constance Baker Motley, a lesser known but key figure in the legal battles of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. In the first video, her son, Joel Motley, describes his mother’s ideas on women’s leadership and how her sex might have played a role in her being passed over as director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1961, after President Kennedy appointed Thurgood Marshall a judge in the 2nd Circuit Court.  In the second video, Joel Motley describes  her appointment to a federal judgeship and how it was delayed by a controversy in the NY State Senate involving US Senator Robert Kennedy.  This led to the direct intervention of President Lyndon Johnson and a fascinating phone conversation between Kennedy, Motley and Johnson, included in the video.

Constance Baker Motley worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund with Thurgood Marshall, winning 9 out of 10 cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.   She also argued some of the most important desegregation cases, including the James Meredith case which desegregated the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1962.  Her NY Times obituary described her work this way:

She visited the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in jail, sang freedom songs in churches that had been bombed, and spent a night under armed guard with Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader who was later murdered.
But her m├ętier was in the quieter, painstaking preparation and presentation of lawsuits that paved the way to fuller societal participation by blacks. She dressed elegantly, spoke in a low, lilting voice and, in case after case, earned a reputation as the chief courtroom tactician of the civil rights movement.  (Click here to read the full obituary.)

Motley entered New York politics in 1964, becoming the first African-American woman elected to the NY State Senate and later the first woman elected Manhattan Borough President.  But the law called her back when President Johnson appointed Motley a judge in New York’s Southern District in 1966, where she often used her position to uphold the rights of the poor and powerless.

The Archives also has a
speech given by Mayor Wagner in praise of Constance Baker Motley and a lesson on Mississippi Freedom Summer from our Let Freedom Ring Curriculum.

Lyndon Johnson Appoints Constance Baker

            Motley to be a Federal Judge

Thurgood Marshall, The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 

and Constance Baker Motley's Role in Leadership