Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Strike That Changed New York

The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites, and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis

Jerald E. Podair
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Strike That Changed New York
    Book Description:

    On May 9, 1968, junior high school teacher Fred Nauman received a letter that would change the history of New York City. It informed him that he had been fired from his job. Eighteen other educators in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville area of Brooklyn received similar letters that day. The dismissed educators were white. The local school board that fired them was predominantly African-American. The crisis that the firings provoked became the most racially divisive moment in the city in more than a century, sparking three teachers' strikes and increasingly angry confrontations between black and white New Yorkers at bargaining tables, on picket lines, and in the streets.This superb book revisits the Ocean Hill-Brownsville crisis-a watershed in modern New York City race relations. Jerald E. Podair connects the conflict with the sociocultural history of the city and explores its legacy. The book is a powerful, sobering tale of racial misunderstanding and fear, a New York story with national implications.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13070-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: May 9, 1968
    (pp. 1-8)

    Fred Nauman knew something was going to happen. He just didn’t know what it would be. It would, however, involve him; he had no doubt of that. Nauman was a science teacher at Junior High School 271, in the Ocean Hill–Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, a thirty-eight-year-old German Jew whose parents had brought him to America on the eve of World War II. He was a chapter chairman for the union representing New York City’s fifty-five thousand public school teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, known as the UFT. In that role, he had been locked in a...

  5. 1 TWO NEW YORKS: New York City, 1945–1965
    (pp. 9-20)

    In 1945, New York was a blue-collar, working-class city. In 1965, it was a whitecollar, middle-class one. The economic, social, and cultural divisions that eventually caused the Ocean Hill–Brownsville conflict had their roots in this elemental shift. The face of New York changed profoundly in this twenty-year period; in many ways, it became a new city. New York’s economic base shifted from manufacturing to service industries. Its corporate, financial, real estate, legal, insurance, and banking sectors boomed, expanding white-collar employment opportunities. The city spent prodigiously on state services, creating thousands of new government jobs. And government housing policies spurred...

    (pp. 21-47)

    The word “community” is a chameleon on the American ideological landscape. It is both liberal and conservative, an agent for both systemic change and the status quo. It is morally neutral, bending to the will of its master. During the 1960s and early 1970s, as blacks and whites in New York struggled over control of the city’s public education system, it cast a powerful spell on both.

    “Community” served first as the means by which white parents in the city’s outer boroughs defeated efforts by civil rights activists to integrate the public schools. In response to white “neighborhood school” rhetoric,...

  7. 3 “BLACK” VALUES, “WHITE” VALUES: Race and Culture in New York City During the 1960s
    (pp. 48-70)

    The Ocean Hill–Brownsville dispute would become the defining battle in a cultural war that raged in NewYork City during the1960s, and continues to affect the city today. As the events at Ocean Hill quickly swept beyond the immediate protagonists into the public discourse of the city as a whole, so did the cultural questions associated with it. The debate began with a basic educational question: why did black pupil achievement levels in the New York public school system lag behind those of whites? It soon grew to embrace the legitimacy of black lower-class culture, the validity of “middle-class”values and...

    (pp. 71-102)

    The Ocean Hill–Brownsville community control experiment had its genesis, perhaps fittingly, in a display of Board of Education bureaucratic arrogance: it would not permit a woman to speak at one of its meetings because her name was not on the proper list. On December 19, 1966, the Board held one of its periodic public hearings at its 110 Livingston Street headquarters. These meetings, one of the Board’s rare bows in the direction of positive public relations, were tightly choreographed. Representatives of established organizations with ties to New York’s educational bureaucracy spoke first. On this afternoon, these included the United...

    (pp. 103-122)

    Albert Shanker was not surprised by Fred Nauman’s telephone call from Ocean Hill– Brownsville that morning. The letter’s language satisfied the union president: it contained the essential word “termination.” Shanker asked Sandra Feldman to meet with Nauman and the other teachers who had received the letter in the afternoon to plan strategy.¹

    Rhody McCoy was also expecting a telephone call that morning, but of a less friendly variety. He knew that Bernard Donovan would be on the line the minute he found out about the letters, and that the schools superintendent would not be a happy man, to say the...

  10. 6 LIKE STRANGERS: The Third Strike and Beyond
    (pp. 123-152)

    The third Ocean Hill–Brownsville strike was the most bitter of all. It drew in the rest of the city. The strike divided the city in two important respects. First, by pulling blacks and Jews apart, and bringing Jews and white Catholics together, it reconfigured New York’s social landscape in sharp, defining shades of black and white. Second, it brought long-simmering class resentments to the surface, arraying poor blacks and corporate, government, media, and intellectual elites against the teachers and their allies in the city’s white middle-class population.

    Shanker raised the stakes in this final, five-week drama. He demanded the...

    (pp. 153-182)

    By the time of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville crisis, the African-American Teachers Association, fueled by the ideas of black critics of New York’s dominant civic and educational culture, had emerged as a serious philosophical rival to the UFT. Modeled on the already existing Jewish, Catholic, and Italian-American Teachers Associations, it was founded in March 1964 as the Negro Teachers Association, by UFT teachers intending to maintain dual affiliations. The ATA drew its initial impetus from black teacher dissatisfaction with the tepid reaction of the UFT leadership to the February 3, 1964, public school integration boycott led by Milton Galamison and...

    (pp. 183-205)

    At the height of the third Ocean Hill–Brownsville strike, two major figures of the New York activist Left, Dwight Macdonald and Michael Harrington, debated the merits of community control in the pages of theNew York Timesand theNew York Review of Books.Along with the personal mudslinging and political posturing customary to such exchanges, they offered a trenchant analysis of the controversy from the rival UFT and local board perspectives. Macdonald, supporting the local board, described the Ocean Hill–Brownsville project as “a deeply imaginative experiment that may have lessons for all ghetto schools.” He praised the...

    (pp. 206-214)

    Perhaps more than any other single event in any American city, the Ocean Hill–Brownsville controversy encapsulated the angst and irony of our nation’s race relations in the 1960s and 1970s. Virtually every city in the nation had its own version of Ocean Hill–Brownsville during these years, a moment when blacks and whites realized, whether in the course of a busing crisis, an outbreak of urban unrest, a police brutality dispute, or a racially freighted electoral contest, that they lived in different worlds. These moments, taken as a whole, continue to affect the everyday transcripts of race relations in...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 215-248)
    (pp. 249-260)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 261-273)