new-york-city-history

NYC Censored History: NYPD Officers infamously fired 41 shots at an unarmed Amadou Diallo on this day in 1999, killing him and bringing race relations and police brutality to the national stage once again.

One of four children of Saikou and Kadiatou Diallo, Amadou’s family is part of an old Fulbe trading family in Guinea. He was born in Sinoe County, Liberia, while his father was working there, and grew up following his family to Togo, Bangkok, and Singapore, attending schools in Thailand, and later in Guinea and London, including Microsoft’s Asian Institute.

In the early morning of February 4, 1999, Diallo was standing near his building after returning from a meal. At about 12:40 a.m., police officers Edward McMellon, Sean Carroll, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy, who were all in street clothes, passed by in a Ford Taurus. Observing that Diallo matched the description of a since-captured well-armed serial rapist involved in the rape or attempted rape of 29 victims, they approached him.

The officers claimed they loudly identified themselves as NYPD officers and that Diallo ran up the outside steps toward his apartment house doorway at their approach, ignoring their orders to stop and “show his hands”. The porch lightbulb was out and Diallo was backlit by the inside vestibule light, showing only a silhouette. Diallo then reached into his jacket and withdrew his wallet. Seeing the suspect holding a small square object, Carroll yelled “Gun!” to alert his colleagues. Mistakenly believing Diallo had aimed a gun at them at close range, the officers opened fire on Diallo. During the shooting, lead officer McMellon tripped backward off the front stairs, causing the other officers to believe he had been shot. The four officers fired 41 shots, more than half of which went astray as Diallo was hit 19 times.

The post-shooting investigation found no weapons on Diallo’s body; the item he had pulled out of his jacket was not a gun, but a rectangular black wallet. The internal NYPD investigation ruled the officers had acted within policy, based on what a reasonable police officer would have done in the same circumstances with the information they had. The Diallo shooting led to a review of police training policy and the use of full metal jacket (FMJ) bullets. On March 25, 1999, a Bronx grand jury indicted the four officers on charges of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment. All four officers’ bail were set at $100,000. On December 16, an appellate court ordered a change of venue to Albany, New York, stating that pretrial publicity had made a fair trial in New York City impossible. On February 25, 2000, after two days of deliberation, a jury in Albany acquitted the officers of all charges.

In April 2002, as a result of the killing of Diallo and other controversial actions, the Street Crime Unit was disbanded.

via Wikipedia

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The Statue of Liberty under construction in Paris, 1883. The statue arrived in New York Harbor today in 1885. 

Source images (1, 2, 3) from The New York Public Library.

The interior of the D. Appleton & Company stereoscopic shop on Broadway, New York City, c. 1860. Animated stereoview (fixed). Source.
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“In 2007, the nation mourned the passing of Jane Bolin, a legendary icon in the American judiciary system. It was on July 22, 1939 that she made history when she was sworn in as the first African American female judge in the U.S….” Marlee Archer, Atlanta Blackstar

“Judge Bolin was the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, the first to join the New York City Bar Association, and the first to work in the office of the New York City corporation counsel, the city’s legal department.

Jane Matilda Bolin was born on April 11, 1908, in Poughkeepsie. N.Y. Her father, Gaius C. Bolin…the first black graduate of Williams College, had his own legal practice and was president of the Dutchess County Bar Association. His daughter grew up enamored of his shelves of leather-bound books on the law. But her comfortable girlhood was profoundly shaken by articles and pictures of lynchings in Crisis magazine, the official publication of the N.A.A.C.P.

‘It is easy to imagine how a young, protected child who sees portrayals of brutality is forever scarred and becomes determined to contribute in her own small way to social justice,’ she wrote in a letter at the time of her retirement in December 1978.

…In 1937, six years after her graduation from Yale, she applied for a position in the New York City corporation counsel’s office. …the counsel, Paul Windels, walked into the office and hired her on the spot….

On July 22, 1939, she was told that Mayor La Guardia wanted to see her…. She worried that she was going to be reprimanded. Instead, she was sworn in as a judge. The ceremony made news around the world.” Douglas Martin, The New York Times

“Bolin spent the next 40 years becoming known as a thoughtful and unyielding force on the bench, fighting to eradicate racial injustices and improve the plight of young African American youth, as well as reforming the juvenile system itself. Her groundbreaking rulings would make major improvements to the lives of Black families and youth for years to come.

…Sources say Bolin saw herself as ‘a guardian for the whole city and for all children in need.’

‘I’ve always done the kind of work I like,’ she told the New York Times at the time of her retirement. ‘I don’t want to sound trite, but families and children are so important to our society, and to dedicate your life to trying to improve their lives is completely satisfying.’” Marlee Archer, Atlanta Blackstar

“Jane Bolin was one of three women and the only black person in her Yale Law class. She was awarded the [Yale Law School Association’s] Medal of Merit in 1994 and today her portrait hangs in the Law School.” Melia Robinson, Business Insider

Illustrations: 

Corporation Counsel member Miss Jane Boldin – c. 1937 - Corbis 

Jane Matilda Bolin – 1939 - Vintage Black Glamour 

Judge Jane Bolin – 1942 - Library of Congress 

Daughter of the Empire State by Jacqueline A. McLeod - University of Illinois Press (2011) - Cover Painting: Judge Jane Bolin by Betsey Graves Reyneau - Oil on canvas, c. 1943-44 - National Portrait Gallery

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NYC Censored History: In 1968 Students Protest Racism And Militarism At Columbia By Taking A Dean Hostage

In early March 1967, a Columbia University Students for a Democratic Society activist named Bob Feldman discovered documents in the International Law Library detailing Columbia’s institutional affiliation with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a weapons research think-tank affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense. The nature of the association had not been, to that point, publicly announced by the University.

Columbia’s plan to construct a gymnasium in city-owned Morningside Park also touched off negative sentiment on campus and in the Harlem community. Opposition began in 1965 during the mayoral campaign of John Lindsay, who opposed the project. By 1967 community opposition had become more militant. One of the causes for dispute was the gym’s proposed design, which would have included access for residents of Harlem through a so-called “back door” to a dedicated community facility on its lower level.

The first protest occurred eight days before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. In response to the Columbia Administration’s attempts to suppress anti-IDA student protest on its campus, and Columbia’s plans for the Morningside Park gymnasium, Columbia SDS activists and the student activists who led Columbia’s Student Afro Society (SAS) held a second, confrontational demonstration on April 23, 1968. After the protesting Columbia and Barnardstudents were prevented from protesting inside Low Library by Columbia security guards, most of the student protesters marched down to the Columbia gymnasium construction site in Morningside Park, attempted to stop construction of the gymnasium and began to struggle with the New York City Police officers who were guarding the construction site.The NYPD arrested one protester at the gym site. Columbia SDS chairman Mark Rudd then led the protesting students from Morningside Park back to Columbia’s campus, where students took over Hamilton Hall, a building housing both classrooms and the offices of the Columbia College Administration.

via Wikipedia

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On This Day in History February 7, 1964: the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr) arrived in the United States for the first time on a ten-day tour, giving rise to Beatlemania.

For Further Reading:

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This water, “unable to escape during the heating period because of the pressure, had flashed into steam at the moment of the explosion and shattered the starch granule,” explained historian Harrison J. Thornton. Each rice grain, Anderson observed, had “expanded to eight or more times its original volume, while retaining its original form.” Other cereals reacted similarly. The cornstarch had expanded into a white porous mass. Realizing the commercial potential of his discovery, Anderson forged ahead to develop it into an enormously popular household staple: puffed cereal.

(via Plant Talk » Breakfast in a Blast: The Invention of Puffed Cereal at NYBG | NYBG)

Today in unexpected things invented in unexpected places. ~LM

Daguerreotype view of a street in Brooklyn, New York City,  c. 1850’s.

Source. More information.

Censored NYC History: Langston Hughes Dropped Out Of The Ivy Leagues To Pursue A Dream

A young Langston Hughes, born Feb. 2nd 1902, made a deal with his father, despite their strained relationship. Langston would study engineering, like his dad wanted, but only if he could study at New York’s Columbia University. Hughes managed to maintain a B+ during his first year attending the Ivy League, but racial prejudice at the school factored into his decision to leave in 1922.

Hughes spent months writing, getting to know the surrounding Harlem neighborhood, and working odd jobs before finding employment that would take him overseas for years. Langston Hughes ended up traveling to West Africa and Europe while continuing his career in poetry and journalism.

Find out more

The good news is the photograph is genuine. Those are real dudes sitting on a real girder that was higher than Zeus’ rec room. The bad news is, the photo wasn’t part of a LIFE magazine series on the blue-collar workers of the Great Depression, or even a very specific group of performance artists. No, the photo is part of a publicity campaign to advertise the construction of the RCA Building, known today as the GE Building (and better known as the 30 Rock Building).

Less famous photos from the shoot include the steel workers playing football on the girder, sleeping on the girder, and doing Crocodile Mile on the girder.

5 True Stories Behind Iconic Photos Of History

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Collection’s Highlight: Teal and Black Polka Dot Bodice with Swirly Lapels

Love this one.

I can just imagine the conversation when the materials were chosen: “Yes, I am thinking black silk polka dots, of course teal silk at the cuffs and collar, because that is just the thing. And please if you could, I am going to need swirls all over the lapels, also the bigger the lapels the better. In fact carry that swirl onto the back of the bodice. Yes, that will be just the thing-truly just the thing.” 

Just me? Ok. Enjoy! 

Bodice, Late 19th Century, Silk. The Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Florence Thompson and Mrs. Albert Brogle, N0416.1945. 

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NYC Censored History: A New York basketball legend becomes the first African American elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on this day in 1972.

Robert L. “Bob” Douglas was the founder of the New York Renaissance basketball team. Nicknamed the “Father of Black Professional Basketball”, Douglas owned and coached the Rens from 1923 to 1949, guiding them to a 2,318-381 record (.859).

The New York Renaissance was an all-black professional basketball team established February 13, 1923, by Robert “Bob” Douglas in agreement with the Renaissance Casino and Ballroom.[1]The Casino and Ballroom at 138th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem was an entertainment complex including a ballroom that served as the Big Five’s home court. Following each game, a dance took place. The success of the Rens shifted the focus of black basketball from amateur teams to professional teams.


The Rens barnstormed throughout the United States, mostly in the Midwest, and played any team that would schedule them, black or white. Traveling as far as 200 miles for a game, they often slept on the bus and ate cold meals; they were barred from many hotels and restaurants by Jim Crow laws and norms of racial discrimination which prevailed in the northern United States at the time.

The Rens soon became a dominant team, winning as many as 88 consecutive games during the 1932–33 season. In the twenties and early thirties, their matches with the Original Celtics were basketball’s greatest gate attraction. At the World Professional Basketball Tournament they won in 1939, lost to the eventual champion Harlem Globetrotters in 1940, and finished second to the National Basketball League champion Minneapolis Lakers in 1948.

via Wikipedia

Remember when New York City was covered in weed? Well it turns out that even as the city oversaw historic removal efforts in the 1950s, there were already some in government urging swift legislative reform. From WNYC’s Campus Press Conference, 1951. Read the full story here.

photo: Weeding out operation–Police Inspector Peter Terranova, commanding officer of the narcotics squad, flanked by Anthony Cristiano, a Department of Sanitation workman, and Frank Creta, general inspector. photo: Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection.

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July 13th 1863: New York Draft Riots begin

On this day in 1863, riots broke out in New York City in protest of Congress’ passage of a conscription law to enlist all men aged between 20 and 45 to fight in the Union army during the Civil War. Violence began on the second day of military officers randomly selecting names for the draft, when a notoriously aggressive volunteer fire department arrived and began a brawl. The majority of rioters were poor members of the working classes, as they were particularly aggrieved by the law’s $300 commutation clause which allowed richer men to pay their way out of enlistment. Over the following days, the riot became less about the draft and more about general grievances, and many of the initial rioters backed away from the ugly turn the revolt had taken. Anger at the Republican government was expressed though attacks on symbols of their power like railroads and telegraph lines and the headquarters of Republican newspaper the New York Tribune. This led some contemporary observers, like diarist George Templeton Strong, to see the riot as a pro-Confederate plot. Racial tensions also came to the surface as Irish workers, who had long competed with African-Americans for jobs, took out their anger by attacking black citizens and burning a black orphanage. The riot only ended on July 16th when federal troops, many fresh from the fields of Gettysburg, intervened and quashed the riot; the riots remain the largest civilian insurrection in American history, bar the Civil War itself.

We are the poor rabble, and the rich rabble is our enemy by this law. Therefore we will give our enemy battle right here, and ask no quarter. Although we got hard fists, and are dirty without, we have soft hearts, and have clean consciences within”
- a letter from one of the rioters, published in the New York Times