City Son

City Son: Andrew W. Cooper's Impact on Modern-Day Brooklyn

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    City Son
    Book Description:

    In 1966, a year after the Voting Rights Act began liberating millions of southern blacks, New Yorkers challenged a political system that weakened their voting power. Andrew W. Cooper (1927-2002), a beer company employee, sued state officials in a case calledCooper vs. Power. In 1968, the courts agreed that black citizens were denied the right to elect an authentic representative of their community. The 12th Congressional District was redrawn. Shirley Chisholm, a member of Cooper's political club, ran for the new seat and made history as the first black woman elected to Congress.

    Cooper became a journalist, a political columnist, then founder of Trans Urban News Service and theCity Sun, a feisty Brooklyn-based weekly that published from 1984 to 1996. Whether the stories were about Mayor Koch or Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Beach or Crown Heights, Tawana Brawley's dubious rape allegations, theDaily NewsFour trial, or Spike Lee's filmmaking career, Cooper'sCity Suncommanded attention and moved officials and readers to action.

    Cooper's leadership also gave Brooklyn--particularly predominantly black central Brooklyn--an identity. It is no accident that in the twenty-first century the borough crackles with energy. Cooper fought tirelessly for the community's vitality when it was virtually abandoned by the civic and business establishments in the mid-to-late twentieth century. In addition, scores of journalists trained by Cooper are keeping his spirit alive.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-259-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1. BOY TO MAN
    (pp. 3-17)

    Palmer Cooper, twenty-two, a World War I army veteran, married Irma Cathlee Robinson, twenty-four, of Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 1920, in New York City. They lived on 133rd Street in Harlem and attended St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.¹

    The Coopers were black, and as Harlem residents they lived in the center of black America. They were married at the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Zora Neale Hurston lived and worked there during the twenties.² Duke Ellington and his orchestra entertained white customers at the Cotton Club.³ W. E. B. Du Bois lived uptown,...

    (pp. 18-27)

    By 1947, America was more than a year removed from World War II, and civilian society was transforming rapidly. One of the more dramatic changes occurred in sports, and the place was Brooklyn: Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers and became the first black to break the Major League Baseball color line.¹ The single feat by Robinson and Dodgers management and the feel-good media story distracted from mass discrimination elsewhere in Brooklyn and New York City.²

    Meanwhile many returning soldiers went to college courtesy of the GI Bill, and their educations would lead to good jobs that helped create tremendous...

    (pp. 28-37)

    On December 5, 1957, New York became the first city in the United States to legislate against racial or religious discrimination in the housing market by adopting the Fair Housing Practices Law.¹ New York was becoming more racially segregated. Harlem was the black ghetto, and in little more than a decade, predominantly white yet integrated Bedford-Stuyvesant was manufactured into a black ghetto through discriminatory housing practices by banks and government officials.

    In November 1958, Republican Nelson A. Rockefeller was elected governor in a surprise win, upsetting the Democratic incumbent W. Averell Harriman. Meanwhile another liberal Republican, Jacob Javits, won a...

    (pp. 38-47)

    Jocelyn and Andy Cooper attended the March on Washington in August 1963 and heard the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his historic speech. Energized, Andy returned home, but Jocelyn and Pat Carter stayed in Washington for a meeting with representatives from the Democratic National Committee.¹

    DNC members remembered that Kennedy’s margin of victory in 1960 was a thin 49.7 percent to Nixon’s 49.5. Of 68 million votes cast, JFK won the popular vote by only 100,000. It was likely that a call of support to Coretta Scott King two weeks before the November 8 election attracted a decisive number...

    (pp. 48-59)

    On February 4, 1966, senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York walked some Bedford-Stuyvesant streets with local activists. With an estimated 450,000 residents, the Brooklyn neighborhood was a more populous black community than storied Harlem; 84 percent of its people were black, and 12 percent Puerto Rican. Bedford-Stuyvesant was a bigger ghetto than uptown, and it was comparable in size to Chicago’s South Side, sometimes called the Black Metropolis.¹

    Central Brooklyn had its assets. Unlike Harlem, a land of tenements where only 2 percent of the occupants owned their homes, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the land of brownstones, 15 percent of the...

    (pp. 60-70)

    Andrew W. Stanfield was a two-time Olympian and a medalist in track and field. He became a public relations representative with the F&M Schaefer brewery in the early 1960s. Stanfield was promoted to manager of trade and consumer relations in 1964. A year later he advanced to community relations manager.¹ His wife, Gloria Bolden Stanfield of Jersey City, was a childhood friend of Jocelyn Cooper and matron of honor at the Coopers’ wedding in 1949.²

    Andy Cooper, the second Negro hired at the brewery, had worked his way up through the ranks since 1951 from checker to foreman, and in...

    (pp. 71-86)

    By 1972 Andy’s champion, mayor John Lindsay, had switched his political affiliation from Liberal Republican to Democrat and entered the presidential primaries. George McGovern of South Dakota eventually won the Democratic nomination that summer. In November, McGovern was trounced by Republican incumbent Richard M. Nixon, who won 61 percent of the popular vote and lost only Massachusetts in the Electoral College.¹

    After the election, black representation in Congress grew again. Sixteen men and women were elected, including Andrew Young of Georgia, the first black man from the South elected to Congress since Reconstruction, as well as Barbara Jordan of Texas...

    (pp. 87-101)

    In spring 1977, I applied to daily newspapers along the Atlantic Coast. I cast a wide net, fishing for work at papers big and small, from Boston to Atlanta, yet my net did not appear big enough to catch a job. I had just graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn, so my résumé probably showed my inexperience. Second, at twenty-one, I did not have a driver’s license, an essential tool outside New York City, as necessary as writing a snappy lead or coherent news story.

    In early July, I got a call from a college friend, Morris McKoy. He...

    (pp. 102-110)

    The eighteen-month grant that funded the payroll for TNS researchers—reporters, in fact—ended in July 1979. Cooper and Leid apparently worked for months without a staff. Two months later, in September 1979, I left for graduate school at Columbia. I occasionally wrote news stories for TNS that appeared in theAmsterdam Newsunder my byline.¹ When I graduated in May 1980, Cooper offered me a job at $15,000, nearly double what I had made two years earlier, but I took another other offer, a $12,000-a-year reporter’s position at theDaily Argusof Mount Vernon, New York. I believed that...

  13. 10. RISING SUN
    (pp. 111-119)

    By October 1982, although it ran an overachieving job training program that was one of the best in New York State, TNS struggled despite its reputation for excellence.¹ Federal cutbacks by the Reagan administration left the state Department of Labor no choice but to reduce its support of training programs, even the proven successes. The grant for the latest cycle of TNS writers’ workshop students ran out on September 30. TNS was granted a six-week extension to do specialized training and place students, but by mid-November the well ran dry. Out of the job training business, Leid and Cooper turned...

    (pp. 120-130)

    On November 3, 1984, Eleanor Bumpurs, a sixty-seven-year-old grandmother, was served with a warrant for authorities to evict her from her Bronx apartment because she was behind on her $96.85 monthly rent. The city housing authority manager who signed the warrant had been on the job for one day. Bumpurs, imposing at three hundred pounds but physically disabled and barely mobile because she suffered from arthritis, diabetes, and high blood pressure, begged the police who banged on her door to go away. A SWAT team of six officers forced their way into the apartment at 1551 University Avenue. Bumpurs kept...

    (pp. 131-138)

    The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called Hospital and Health Care Workers Local 1199 “his favorite union.” And why not? The predominantly black and Hispanic union of bedpan orderlies, sanitation workers, and others symbolized the underdogs. In the 1960s and 1970s, the union’s leaders scored a string of victories for worker dignity. The leadership was mostly white, Jewish, and socialist. By the 1980s, Leon Davis and other white leaders like Moe Foner realized it was time to pass the power to a black leader. In 1982 they supported Doris Turner, a behind-the-scenes worker.¹ The two placed Turner on virtually...

  16. 13. HOWARD BEACH
    (pp. 139-149)

    On Saturday, December 20, 1986, three days after theCity Sunpublished its final edition of the year and Andy Cooper and his staff began a two-week holiday break, Michael Griffith, Cedric Sandiford, and Timothy Grimes walked along a street in Howard Beach, Queens. Howard Beach is located at the Brooklyn border and fronts on Jamaica Bay. On the Brooklyn side, the community was East New York, a predominantly black neighborhood that had comprised mostly Italian and Irish three decades before, as depicted in the movieGoodfellas(1990). Many of those real-life residents of East New York slipped across the...

  17. 14. ARTS BEAT
    (pp. 150-157)

    In May 1986, the Coopers’ youngest daughter, Jocelyn (Jo-An), graduated from Hampton University with a degree in mass communications arts. Formerly Hampton Institute, the college had recently upgraded to university status. After graduating from Thomas Dewey High School in 1982, Jo-An’s other top college choices were Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Vassar College in upstate New York. Tony Brown, founding dean of Howard’s School of Communications, urged the Coopers to send their daughter to Hampton. Jo-An loved her stay in Virginia. “Hampton was the best ever, the most amazing experience of my whole life,” she said in an interview,...

    (pp. 158-178)

    In the February 4City Sun, staff writer Phil Farai Makotsi reported that jury selection was about to begin for a trial in which four black journalists from theNew York Daily Newssued the nation’s largest-circulation metropolitan newspaper for racial discrimination. Through the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, news outlets including theNew York Times, ABC,Newsweek, and the Associated Press settled race and gender discrimination lawsuits out of court.¹

    TheDaily Newsmanagement offered a $500,000 settlement to the plaintiffs, but they rejected the deal. After that, the management was willing to wage a public...

    (pp. 179-194)

    On Wednesday, November 25, theCity Sunfront page led with near-climatic developments in the Howard Beach trial. That issue’s headline read: “Will Hynes’ case Hold Up under Lawyer’s Offensive?” Charles Hynes was the special prosecutor battling Stephen Murphy and other lawyers who represented the Howard Beach teenagers. On the day of the new edition, a fifteen-year-old black girl was reported missing in Wappingers Falls, New York, a village about seventy miles north of New York City. It was the day before Thanksgiving 1987. The girl’s story would make the news on Sunday, November 29. For most of the next...

  20. 17. MAYORAL RACE
    (pp. 195-207)

    In winter 1989, political observers were looking ahead to September. Would Ed Koch run for a fourth term as mayor? He was still popular with ethnic whites in big boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens and in near-homogeneous Staten Island. But many liberal and progressive whites in Manhattan were weary of Koch’s antagonistic relationship with the city’s black and brown citizens. Most blacks were not weary; they had long wanted Koch out but were powerless or too disorganized to do anything.

    Then a reluctant black candidate emerged, Manhattan borough president David N. Dinkins. In the early 1970s, Dinkins had been about...

    (pp. 208-221)

    Mayor Dinkins was in office for only two weeks when his administration faced a new racial confrontation. On January 18, 1990, at Bong Jae Jang’s Red Apple green grocer store in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood, a Haitian immigrant woman accused Jang and two of his employees of assaulting her for allegedly stealing. The Korean merchants denied Giselaine Fetissainte’s charge and countered that she became angry when they asked her to pay for three dollars worth of fruit.¹ Months before this skirmish, art imitated life. A scene in Spike Lee’sDo the Right Thingdepicted tense relations between Korean immigrant merchants and...

    (pp. 222-239)

    Leid and Cooper recognized a political change that would profoundly shape New York City politics for future decades. The duo’s understanding of the city councilmanic phenomenon affirmed the Cooper-Leid genius. They saw that story and pursued it when the mainstream media missed or ignored it.

    Big media institutions like theNew York Timescould not miss the obvious. In 1981, Beverly Morris of Brooklyn, with encouragement from the New York Civil Liberties Union, sued the city Board of Estimate in the local courts. Morris, a white woman and a union negotiator, said the board violated the equal protection clause of...

  23. 20. THE BREAKUP
    (pp. 240-251)

    Farhan Haq joined theCity Sunstaff in summer of 1991, the season of the Crown Heights riot. His reporting beat was international affairs. Haq was twenty-four and had previously reported for theAmsterdam Newsafter earning his master’s degree in English literature from Yale University. Haq earned his bachelor’s degree at Williams College.¹

    International affairs at that moment dominated U.S. foreign policy. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and out of the totalitarian rubble emerged Russia, Poland, several Baltic region countries that wanted to embrace Western-style capitalism and democracy, and the former Yugoslavia, which splintered into a handful of...

  24. 21. SETTING SUN
    (pp. 252-266)

    During theCity Sun’s Christmas holiday hiatus, theNew York Timespublished Andy Cooper’s “Two Nations of Crown Heights” op-ed essay. Bankrupt again and without Utrice Leid, Cooper resumed publishing on January 12, 1993. Leid soon landed at left-leaning radio station WBAI-FM and thrived as the host of public affairs showTalkback!She encounteredCity Sunalumni and new recruits from time to time, and their off-air conversations were cordial. Leid spoke with Ericka Blount and Milton Allimadi with the confident air that said, yes, she was gone, but the weekly still mattered because she had largely built it. Cooper...

  25. 22. DUSK
    (pp. 267-274)

    By February 1997, four months after the closing of theCity Sun, Maitefa Angaza, the newspaper’s last executive editor, described the general state of the black press as “a medium in crisis.” With her feisty former newspaper vanquished, theAmsterdam Newsstood at the top of the heap as the undisputed leader of New York City black weeklies, even as it had atrophied. Its circulation by 1997 had shrunk to 28,000, down from 37,500 in 1996 (even that number was down substantially compared to the pre-1983 strike circulation of 41,000). Other black-oriented papers—theDaily Challenge, Carib News, Beacon, and...

  26. Epilogue
    (pp. 275-280)

    Where areCity Sunalumni now?

    Harry Allen, a self-identified hip-hop activist and media assassin, wrote for magazines such as theSource(“The Unbearable Whiteness of Emceeing: What the Eminence of Eminem Says about Race,” 2003) and was profiled in a 1995Wiredmagazine article, “Rap Dot Com.”

    Maitefa Aganza co-founded a group of former employees who unsuccessfully attempted to restart the defunctCity Sunin 1997. Aganza became managing editor ofAfrican Voicesliterary magazine, founded in 1995 by Carolyn A. Butts, who sought Cooper’s counsel to start an art and literature quarterly.

    Milton Allimadi left the shutteredCity...

  27. About the Author
    (pp. 281-282)
  28. Notes
    (pp. 283-320)
  29. Bibliography
    (pp. 321-326)
  30. Index
    (pp. 327-341)
  31. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 342-351)