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Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative

The New People, as they are called, saw Brooklyn fresh. They had not known it before, so they knew nothing about its decline. Most important, they carried with them no old emotional wounds. Instead they saw it as a place with great broad boulevards like Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway (once, my brother and I walked out Ocean Parkway all the way to Avenue T because we read in the papers that Rocky Graziano lived there; we sat around on benches for hours, but we never saw Rocky, who was the middleweight champion of the world.) They recognized that Greenwood Cemetery, which contains the bones of such diverse worthies as Boss Tweed and William S. Hart, was one of the great urban glades, a spot with lush foliage, sudden hills, bizarre statuary (at night, when we were kids, we would sneak into the cemetery to try to catch the giant turtles which lived in its ponds; the ghosts sent us running). They know that the Brooklyn Museum is one of the finest in the country, with a great collection of graphics, a splendid African collection, some superb American Indian pieces, and paintings by Ryder, Jack Levine, etc. (we went there to see the mummies, to walk into the bowels of the mock pyramid, dreading the Pharaoh's curse, remembering every terror of that great picture The Mummy's Hand.) They know that Prospect Park is a masterpiece of landscape architecture, the park that learned from the mistakes of Central Park, which by comparison is bland and flat, and they know that during the Revolutionary War, George Washington had a command post in its hills (but they've never been inside Devil's Cave, nor did they know what happened in the night in the shrubs along the Indian War Path, and they don't know the spot where Yockomo was shot to death near the Swan Lake by Scappy from South Brooklyn, and they weren't there the night that Vito Pinto dove into the Big Lake at three in the morning and found himself wedged in the mud three inches below the surface, and they never saw Jimmy Budgell come tearing down the horse path on a strawberry roan like one of the Three Musketeers). They know that the great arch at Grand Army Plaza contains a fine piece of sculpture by Frederick Remington, that there is an abandoned tunnel under the Plaza, that the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library is one of the best in the city (and when I was a kid I used to look up at the carved legend on the wall that begins HERE ARE ENSHRINED THE LONGING OF GREAT HEARTS . . . and spent one long summer hoping that someday I would be a Great Heart too and that maybe books were the key). They saw Brooklyn in a way that we had not seen it when we were young, and they saw it in a way that Brooklyn had not seen itself, perhaps, since the years before the 1898 Mistake. I just wish that they could have been there that afternoon at the now-shuttered 16th Street Theatre, when Tim Lee (now at the Post) and his brother Mike were taken by their mother for the usual Saturday matinee of three Republic westerns. At one point, a Superman chapter came on, and Mike Lee stood up, and shouted at the top of his lungs: "Hey, Ma! I can see the crack of his ass!" His mother beat him mercilessly with a banana that was part of the lunch, and then took them all home.

"Prospect Park is a masterpiece that learned from the mistakes of Central Park."

The New People are part of the emotional cure. There are other, more practical cures under way. For one thing, the migration of southern blacks seems to have come to an end; it has at least been reduced to a trickle. More importantly, Bedford-Stuyvesant has been developing its own institutions. Quietly and steadily, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, which was started through the efforts of Robert Kennedy, has been working very hard at bringing jobs to the area. IBM has already announced that it will build a manufacturing plant there. Plans are under way to build a new Boys' High. The city has committed itself to building a community college in the area. Through one of the two corporations set up by Senator Kennedy, a $75,000,000 mortgage loan fund has been put together and a job-training program for 1,200 persons is under way. With federal help, three firms (Advance Hudson Mounting and Finishing Co.: Campus Graphics Inc.; Day Pac Industries Inc.) have begun a $30,000,000 project of plant construction that will employ 1.435 people. Say what you will about the Black Panthers, they probably have a small point to make about ghetto businesses owned by whites: through reform of the insurance laws, more and more black businesses are starting in New York, the vast majority of them in Brooklyn. The development of the Black Pearl taxi system is an example of the building of institutions; let the white cabdrivers bitch and complain and issue dark warnings about cabdrivers in "gypsy" cabs who might have criminal records. The fact is, the Black Pearl cabs (and others not connected with Black Pearl) have made it possible for black residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant to travel the way a lot of other New Yorkers travel, and the money is staying in the area.


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