‘Tear Down the Ghetto’: Harlem Riots, 1964


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July 23, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 40

‘Tear Down the Ghetto’

The weekend riots in Harlem produced no discernible “white backlash” in Greenwich Village. Members of the Village Independent Democrats managed to raise more than $1000 on street corners and in front of supermarkets to aid the Mississippi registration project. Some Villagers expressed anger at recent events, but most of it was directed at violence in the subways. Some suggested that money be collected for the benefit of the people who have to ride the subways.

The Voice asked Villager Michael Harrington, the man whose book “The Other America” is believed by many to have launched the Federal anti-poverty campaign, what his reactions were to the Harlem events of the weekend. They follow:

“Everyone knew the Harlem riots were coming. The ‘long hot summer’ is a way of saying that insane social conditions would goad people to desperate action. Everyone knew the riots were coming and everyone knows they will come again. Yet no one has proposed the only solution: to tear the ghetto down. We could hire the Harlem poor, and the whites in the same position, to destroy the infamy and build decent integrated housing, schools, and hospitals. We could. We won’t.

“Secondly, Police Commissioner Murphy’s refusal of a civilian review board is an arrogant act of almost criminal proportions. Such a board is the merest — and cheapest — palliative. Yet the failure to provide it is clearly an incitement to riot.

“Thirdly, the tragedy of the last weekend thoroughly discredits all of the stories about a ‘black brotherhood’ in Harlem. If there were 400 — or 40 — trained terrorists there, more than 26 policemen would have been injured and the weapons used against them would have been something more than bricks, Molotov cocktails, and the like.

“Now, having done nothing about the causes of the riot, we can all wait and wonder when its re-enactment will take place.”

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