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 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.