“There is a group of second-graders at Public School 66 who cannot figure out why white and negro children cannot go to the same school in some Southern communities. They have put the question to the White House. These boys and girls who come from a mixed neighborhood in the East Bronx had not encountered segregation. When they came across an article on school segregation, they were puzzled.
Before long, the class, led by their teacher, Rita Stafford was engaged in a mass letter-writing project. Tony, one of the students wrote: “Children can learn more if they are not separated because when you work together you can do more than you can by yourself.” A secretary at the White House wrote the students back saying that President Eisenhower had read the letters and appreciated the student’s thoughtfulness in writing to express their views.
-Adapted from a New York Times article, 4/19/1957
Residential segregation has been an issue in the Bronx, just like everywhere else in the United States, ever since the borough became urbanized. During the building booms of the twenties, some buildings like the Lewis Morris were restricted and did not rent apartments to Jews or Catholics. African-Americans and Hispanics only lived in certain neighborhoods and there would be desegregation battles over churches, public housing, beaches and even a White Castle, some of which I will write about in February for African-American History Month.
Back in the twenties, the largest group moving to the Bronx were Ashkenazi Jews with roots in Eastern Europe or if they were Sephardic, the Balkans. Many Jews were active in real estate, construction and architecture.
An interesting example of this time period are the Allenby and Beaconsfield Apartments on Sheridan Avenue, constructed in 1929. They are typical apartments of this period, but note who the buildings are named for. Edmund Allenby (1861-1936), was a British officer, respected in Jewish community for leading the British force that conquered Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire, an act that was imbued with religious and political meaning to Jews worldwide, especially as it led to the British Mandate of Palestine.
The Beaconsfield is named for British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), known as Lord Beaconsfield. In a way the names are coded in that they are typical English-style apartment names to passers-by but would have extra significance to Jews, as they did for me when I passed them ninety years after they were built.
A vacant lot looking towards the row houses of East 136th Street, which reminds me of an anecdote that is in many history books about the Bronx: Jordan L. Mott, an industrialist bought a section of Morrisania from Gouverneur Morris II for his iron works. After the sale, Morris was asked about he felt about the area being renamed Mott Haven. “I don’t care what he calls it,” said Morris, whose family had owned the land for over a century. “While he is about it, he might as well change the name of the Harlem [River] and call it the Jordan.”
Shrine to Yemanja, near the intersection of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Monroe Avenue.
Lean back…lean back…lean back…
One of three panels from “Bangladesh” by Tippu Alam, 2016. Located on Bangla Bazaar, also known as Starling Avenue.