race relations

Racial tensions – linked to disputes about resource allocation, segregation, and crime and policing – dominated politics in New York City in the 1980s and 1990s. Residential segregation left poor neighborhoods like the South Bronx, with a majority African American and Puerto Rican population, struggling to recover from the arson and abandonment of the 1970s, while real estate values in Manhattan soared. Democratic Mayor Ed Koch (1978-1989) alienated African Americans and Latinos by closing Harlem’s Sydenham Hospital in 1980, known for hiring African American doctors and nurses when other hospitals’ staff remained all white, and by failing to adequately respond to charges of police brutality and cases of racially motivated killings.

In working-class white ethnic enclaves, some residents used violence to preserve racial segregation. Three black men -- Willie Turks, Michael Griffith, and Yusuf Hawkins -- died at the hands of white mobs in the 1980s. In 1989 and 1990, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton staged protest marches through the largely Italian-American neighborhood of Bensonhurst to protest both Hawkins’ killing and the acquittal of his accused assailant. White counter-demonstrators chanted racist slurs and held watermelons, a symbol of racist iconography dating back to the 19th century.

Tensions boiled over in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in August 1991, when an automobile accident in which two black children were struck, one fatally, by a Hasidic Jewish motorcade led to three days of rioting, including the killing of two white men by groups of young black men and anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish homes and businesses. The Crown Heights riots worsened race relations in general and particularly between blacks and Orthodox Jews, and contributed to Republican Rudy Giuliani’s 1994 mayoral victory over Democrat David Dinkins, the first African American mayor of New York. New Yorkers also supported national and international civil rights struggles including the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Puerto Rican nationalist movement, and the Asian American civil rights movement.

Racism Photo

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, May 19, 1990
Counterdemonstrators in the mostly Italian American neighborhood jeer at African-American marchers led by Rev. Al Sharpton after the acquittal of Keith Mondello on the charge of manslaughter in the death of Yusef Hawkins.

Ricky Flores

Racism Photo

October 8, 1991, Brooklyn
Residents jeer at an anti-racism march.

Les Stone

Racism Photo

October 8, 1991, Brooklyn
Residents jeer at an anti-racism march.

Les Stone

Racism Photo

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, 1991
A march organized by Rev. Al Sharpton passes through Bensonhurst in Brooklyn where residents throw watermelons at the marchers.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Canarsie, Brooklyn, August 1991
Youths in the largely Italian-American neighborhood taunt African Americans marching in an anti-racism demonstration organized by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Brian Palmer

Racism Photo

Queens 1989
White supremacist Aryan Nation sympathizers in Queens.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, August 1991
A woman a walks by a line of police during the Crown Heights race riots, which pitted African American and Caribbean Americans against Jewish residents.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, August 23, 1989.
Demonstrators arrested during a civil rights march led by Al Sharpton, during the 1990 trial of Keith Mondello for murder and manslaughter in the mob killing of African American youth Yusef Hawkins in the Italian American neighborhood of Bensonhurst.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, August, 23, 1989
Men outside the Brooklyn Courthouse argue over the acquittal of Italian American Keith Mondello, May 18, 1990, on murder and manslaughter charges for his role in the mob killing of African American youth Yusef Hawkins by Italian American youths in Bensonhurst.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

El Barrio, 1993
Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners demonstration on Lexington Avenue in East Harlem.

Ricky Flores

Racism Photo

El Barrio, 1993
Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners demonstration on Lexington Avenue.

Ricky Flores

Racism Photo

Slave Theater, Brooklyn, May 13, 1990
The Reverend Al Sharpton gestures after holding a rally the day after a verdict was handed down in the trial of Keith Mondello, accused of leading the attack that killed 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins. Mondello was acquitted on two counts of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, but convicted of less serious charges.

Brian Palmer

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, 1991
Memorial wall to Yusuf Hawkins and other victims of violence.

Nina Berman

Racism Photo

Crown Heights, August 1991
Crown Heights riots.

Linda Rosier

Racism Photo

Crown Heights, August 1991
Crown Heights riots.

Linda Rosier

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, August 31, 1989
African Americans outside a bodega in Brooklyn participate in a “Day of Outrage” March organized by activist Sonny Carson in protest of the race mob killing of African American youth Yusef Hawkins in the Italian American neighborhood of Bensonhurst on August 23, 1989.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Brooklyn 1990
The black community protests against a Korean grocer stemming from a fight between the owners and shoppers that has spilled out to other Korean grocers and the black community.

Mark Peterson

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, December 21, 1987
Protestors walk the tracks, stopping subway cars at the Jay Street and Boro Hall Station, in the Day of Outrage demonstration after the Howard Beach racial killing verdict on December 21, 1987.

Ricky Flores

Racism Photo

Brooklyn 1990
Students against apartheid wait for Nelson Mandela to arrive.

Catherine Smith

Racism Photo

Brooklyn 1990
Demonstrators carry a casket in honor of Yusuf Hawkins, 16, who was set upon by a white mob in Bensonhurst, during the trial of his accused killers at the Brooklyn Criminal Court.

Nina Berman

Racism Photo

Manhattan, 1991
Asian American Pacific Islanders protesting at the opening of Miss Saigon, a $25 million Broadway musical in 1991. Protesters claimed that the script reinforced Asian stereotypes and that production didn't hire Asian American actors for the cast.

Corky Lee

Racism Photo

Brooklyn, 1992.
Activists gather for a rally in Crown Heights on the one year anniversary of the riots there.

Meg Handler

Racism Photo

Washington Heights, 1990
Protesters march to save the Audubon Ballroom, the site of Malcom X's assassination, from being demolished.

Nina Berman

Racism Photo

Harlem 1990
The December 12th movement organized several protests against Columbia University's plan to demolish the Audubon Ballroom, the site of Malcolm X's assassination, and replace it with medical research facility. The protests led by December 12th movement led to an agreement to preserve two thirds of the original facade at 165th Street and Broadway and part of the interior ballroom was restored and made into a museum to honor Malcolm X.

Clarence Elie Rivera

Racism Photo

1990, Harlem
The December 12th movement organized several protests against Columbia University's plan to demolish the Audubon Ballroom and replace it with a medical research facility. It was the space where Malcolm X held meetings for the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which he founded after leaving The Nation of Islam. On February 21st, 1965, while conducting a meeting in the ballrooma, Malcolm X was assassinated.

Clarence Elie Rivera

Racism Photo

Harlem, 1990
Omawawalye Clay, a member of the December 12th movement, at a rally in front of the Audubon Ballroom.

Clarence Elie Rivera

Racism Photo

Manhattan, April 4, 1998
The 30th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in the midst of the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968. A rally and march from Columbus Circle to Times Square to honor his memory.

Bill Biggart

Racism Photo

Howard Beach, Queens, 1986
Counter-demonstrator protests Rev. Al Sharpton-led march in Howard Beach, following the accidental death of African American Michael Griffith as he was hit by a car while fleeing a white mob who had beaten him and his friends.

Sylvia Plachy

Racism Photo

Howard Beach, Queens, 1986
Protest following the accidental death of African American Michael Griffith as he was hit by a car while fleeing a white mob who had beaten him and his friends.

Sylvia Plachy

Racism Photo

Harlem, September 6, 1998
The "Million Youth March" in Harlem, organized by the controversial former Nation of Islam leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad, attracted about 6,000 and remained peaceful until police stormed the event at exactly 4pm, when they broke up the crowds and made everyone leave.

Bill Biggart

Racism Photo

1998, Harlem
Million Youth March.

Bill Biggart

Racism Photo

1998, Harlem
Million Youth March.

Bill Biggart

Racism Photo

1998, Harlem
Million Youth March.

Bill Biggart