1959 Wave of South Village Violence


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September 16, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 47

Outbreak of Vandalism in South Village

A wave of violence has been plaguing the South Village for the past three weeks. Attacks by neighboring youths on beatniks, particularly Negroes, have occurred with disturbing frequency. A number of the more popular coffee shops and restaurants have been the targets of such vandalism as window-breaking.

The proprietors of shops on MacDougal and Bleecker Streets were generally reluctant to be quoted, but The Voice learned that incidents have occurred recently at the Rienzi, Punjab, Port o’ Call, and Village Gate.

Art D’Lugoff of the Village Gate, who has been repeatedly victimized by vandals, called the perpetrators “cowards.” They do their work, Mr. Lugoff said, at 4 or 5 in the morning, when no one is around.

He estimated damage at several hundred dollars for a stolen flag, smashed showcase, and windows.

Mr. D’Lugoff attributed the outbreaks to a changing neighborhood and the attendant introduction into it of a cosmopolitan, interracial group of people. He also suggested a belief that the new upper-middle-income Washington Square Village project has had an unsettling effect on the old South Village Italian community.

The coffee shop area has burgeoned into a major tourist attraction in the midst of a low-rent residential section, which has been on the city’s slum-clearance map for a number of years. This latter fact has contributed to the feeling of insecurity in the area.

Local evaluation of police protection ranged from “excellent” to “you just don’t call the police around here.”

Most of the proprietors questioned tended to believe that there were racial overtones to the outbreaks, but they are uncertain as to whether the acts of violence were related or merely a series of individual incidents.

One shop-owner said: “This was once an established neighborhood and now it is threatened. Many people feel that their whole way of life is in danger, and naturally they resent it.”

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