The Birth of the 'Voice': 1955–1965

From the Beats to Civil Rights, Lenny Bruce to Warhol's Factory . . .

The West Village, which is true Greenwich Village, is the most expensive of all. The seven respondents who live there feared their days were numbered. From Charlton to 14th Street the word is "improvement," which means inside johns, heat, and paint. Sometimes this doubles the rent ($20 to $40 is common), but often it quadruples it.

Those with no-fixed-abode gravitate from one friend's floor to another. "It's like a game," said a tall, thin M.A. in Lit; " 'Who's going to get me tonight?' It's cheap, but it's tiresome—I guess I'm too old." He was 26.
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Preserving the Village

Reason, Emotion, Pressure: There is No Other Recipe
By Jane Jacobs
May 22, 1957

The best you can say for redevelopment is that, in certain cases, it is the lesser evil. As practiced in New York, it is very painful. It causes catastrophic dislocation and hardship to tens of thousands of citizens. There is growing evidence that it shoots up juvenile-delinquency figures and spreads or intensifies slums in the areas taking the dislocation impact. It destroys, more surely than floods or tornados, immense numbers of small businesses. It is expensive to the taxpayers, federal and local. It is not fulfilling the hope that it would boost the city's tax returns. Quite the contrary.

Furthermore, the results of all this expense and travail look dull and are dull. The great virtue of the city, the thing that helps make up for all its disadvantages, is that it is interesting. It isn't easy to make a chunk of New York boring, but redevelopment does it.

On the other hand here is the Village —an area of the city with the power to attract and hold a real cross-section of the population, including a lot of middle-income families. An area with demonstrated potential for extending and upgrading its fringes. An area that pays more in taxes than it gets back in services. An area that grows theaters all by itself . . .

Wouldn't you think the city fathers would want to understand what makes our area successful and learn from it? Or failing such creative curiosity that they would at least cherish it?


'Sense of Dignity Outraged' By Discriminatory Housing

By Michael Harrington
September 24, 1958

The cherished dogma that renting to Negroes will panic whites and send property values plunging down received a sharp blow from Villagers last week.

Whitney North Seymour, Jr., local Republican candidate for the Assembly, broke the story that Edmond Martin, Village realtor, had placed a sign in his office saying that he would not show apartments to Negroes because of his opposition to the Sharkey-Brown-Isaacs law. Within three days 30 of Mr. Martin's tenants signed a statement of fundamental opposition to his stand . . .

"As tenants of Edmond Martin, we wish to state that we are opposed to such flouting of the law and to the principle of placing supposed property rights over human rights. Our sense of dignity is not injured by living in the same building with our fellow-men of whatever race, creed, or color, for we welcome that. On the contrary, our sense of dignity is outraged by being forced to live in discriminatory housing."

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the tenant response was its wide support. In the short period that the statement was circulating, some 38 tenants were asked to sign. Only eight turned it down, and of these, only one said that it was because he was actually against Negroes moving in (the others were against signing on principle, or else indifferent).


Whose Festival?

By Nat Hentoff
June 24, 1959

If you're Negro and are planning to go to the Newport Jazz Festival for the first time over the Fourth-of-July week-end, you had better be very sure of your room reservations. Again this year, applicants for rooms have received letters from Newporters saying they'd be welcome—unless they're Negro. Sometimes, however, that specification hasn't been made clear in advance arrangements, and Negroes have been turned away from lodging houses and hotels, particularly the Munchinger King, one of the town's two principal hostelries.

To my knowledge, however, the Newport Jazz Festival has yet to make a public announcement to the townspeople exhorting them not to discriminate. It's a disgusting situation, and as Negroes continue to be insulted there each year, the reason for holding this largest of all jazz festivals in Newport becomes less and less tenable. "But," I've heard a Festival official say, "all cities have some prejudice." Newport, however, is small and limited in its lodging facilities, and a Negro who goes all the way there to hear music that came from the Negro may easily find himself without a place to sleep. If the Festival can't straighten out the town at least over the July 4 week-end—and it could if it tried, because the natives have come to depend on the bread that jazz brings—then it ought to take the Festival elsewhere.


Movie Journal

By Jonas Mekas
August 4, 1959

see full text

The other day Robert Frank was threatening me. He went to see "Anatomy of a Murder," and the movie was so boring that he had to walk out of it. "Why did you go see it?" I said. "I gave it a very bad review." "So, your review wasn't bad enough," said Frank.

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