EPISODE 303: Building Stuyvesant Town, A Mid-Century Controversy
The residential complexes Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, built in the late 1940s, incorporating thousands of apartments within a manicured “campus” on the east side, seemed to provide the perfect solution for New York City’s 20th-century housing woes.
For Robert Moses, it provided a reason to clear out an unpleasant neighborhood of dilapidated tenements and filthy gas tanks. For the insurance company Metropolitan Life, the city’s partner in constructing these complexes, it represented both a profit opportunity and a way to improve the lives of middle-class New Yorkers. It would be a home for returning World War II veterans and a new mode of living for young families.
As long as you were white.
In the spring of 1943, just a day before the project was approved by the city, Met Life’s president Frederick H. Ecker brazenly declared their housing policy: “Negros and whites don’t mix. Perhaps they will in a hundred years, but not now.”
What followed was a nine-year battle, centered in the ‘walled fortress’ of Stuy Town, against deeply ingrained housing discrimination policies in New York City. African-American activists waged a legal battle against Met Life, representing veterans returning from the battlefields of World War II.
But some of the loudest cries of resistance came from the residents of Stuy Town itself, waging a war from their very homes against racial discrimination.
LISTEN NOW — BUILDING STUYVESANT TOWN