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Happy Birthday, Housing Activist Frances Goldin

Goldin at an Occupy Wall Street Rally several years ago (image via seniorplanet.org)

“This is my home, and I love it here” Frances Goldin said about the Lower East Side, her home for over 70 years. GVSHP loves Fran (as she likes to be called) and we celebrate her seven decades (!!!) of activism on her birthday (tomorrow), June 22nd.

Fran was born in 1924, living in Harlem and Queens before moving to the Lower East Side (initially the same block where GVSHP’s offices have been located since 1999, in fact).  Fran has been working in housing and tenants rights since long before many of us were born, starting as a volunteer at the Lower East Side Tenant and Consumer Council.  In 2014, she generously provided an oral history of GVSHP, which tells the story of her life, activism, and outlook in the East Village and Lower East Side, which you can access here.

In 1959 Fran was involved in founding two organizations that still exist and serve this neighborhood today, the Metropolitan Council on Housing and the Cooper Square Committee. She fought Robert Moses and his urban renewal plans for the neighborhood, having a huge impact upon the previously unstoppable Mr. Moses.  As Fran said: “Urban renewal is urban removal. It’s Black removal. It’s poor people removal, which was true. It was all of that. It was only in poor neighborhoods.”

So Fran and the Cooper Square Committee proposed an alternate plan: “We love urban renewal. But this urban renewal, the people who live here are going to be the beneficiaries of the plan and not the victims. This plan will basically take care of the people who live here. And that’s what made it different from any other plan. You might be relocated from the front of the building to the back while the front was being renovated, but you were not out of the neighborhood. You might have gone from this building to one next door while yours was being renovated, but you would not go out of the neighborhood. And we kept that promise. Anybody who lived there still lives there or died there.”

I wish I could say Fran won every battle, but of course that’s never the case.  But her activism and never-give-up attitude should encourage all of us to speak out for our neighborhood, and not give up in the face of what may seem overwhelming opposition. Listen to a few highlights of her oral history below, or here for the full recording.

When asked in her oral history about what has been going on in her neighborhood in the past decade, Fran is not happy.

I mean, when I saw fourteen-story buildings going up here for hotels on the Lower East Side, it broke my heart. And everything has to be gentrified.

We feel similarly. It breaks our heart when five beautiful, landmark-eligible beaux arts style old law tenements filled with our neighbors are demolished to make room for a 14 story hotel for millennials. It breaks our hearts when low rise historic buildings between Astor Place and Union Square are targeted by developers who plan on demolish existing structures and building high rise 20-30 story soulless  towers.

Read the full transcript of her fascinating oral history here, including several times her passion and activism led to the arrests of dozens of people, herself included.

Frances Goldin from “It Took Fifty” (Image via ittook50.com)

Read more here about Fran, including her run for State Senate in 1950.

Access the full GVSHP Oral History Collection here.

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