← Back

Village Independent Democrats: Integration in 1960s Greenwich Village

This is one of a series of blog posts which highlights the information found in our new Village Independent Democrats collection in our Preservation History Archive.

1960 VID Flyer, view entire document here.

The Village Independent Democrats are a reform democratic club founded in 1956. The club recently donated their archives to Village Preservation, and we have released the first batch of the collection, which chronicles the club’s early years from 1956 until 1969. This was a period which saw the growth of tranformative social and political movements, both in Greenwich Village and in the United States as a whole. Arguably, the most important one of those was the Black Civil Rights movement.

The archive features several items that document the club’s work in this movement. As the club’s main focus was Greenwich Village, many of the items document what integration looked like in the neighborhood. In 1963, the club released two statements regarding integration within Greenwich Village.

The first statement strongly encourages the support of the ongoing Civil Rights movement, advertising both a Village rally for integration, and the much larger 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom at which Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. The local efforts focused on one policy in particular, busing, which was controversial as a means to integrate schools by transporting students to districts other than their own.

P.S. 41, source: Ephemeral New York.

While the statement is in favor of Black students from other neighborhoods attending the local elementary school P.S. 41, which did happen, it was not in support of Village students attending schools in other neighborhoods, such as Harlem. The Village Independent Democrats argued that the better solution for the neighborhood’s integration would be through housing. See this excerpt:

“What is the answer: It is not taking Village children to Harlem (which the Board of Education has said it will not do). It is housing integration — which in the Village at least, most of us have accepted in the abstract and as certainly good for other communities. If we were to have housing integration, the problem would be solved”. Read the entire statement here.

The Village Independent Democrats, released an additional statement on integration in 1963, which can be viewed in the same document. It similarly advocates for housing as the best way to integrate Greenwich Village, but highlights the pre-existing prejudices held by many white Village residents, and argues that these beliefs are what make integration even more important. Here is an excerpt from the statement:

“The fact is that the Village is no more integrated than any other area of Manhattan. It is true that Negroes frequent the Village, but surely we can agree that few Negroes live in the Village. Can’t we also agree that most of us would prefer to keep it that way? The French had a wonderful movie several years ago, entitled “We Are All Murderers,” dealing with crime and capital punishment. The title “We Are All Prejudiced” would seem to apply to our current situation. But what of it? Could we expect to be anything else, can we expect our children to be anything else, as they grow to adulthood under the prevailing circumstances? We are the product of our environment and the prejudices of our parents confreres.” Read more here.

The following year, 1964, the Village Independent Democrats worked with the NAACP to conduct a study on the extent of Housing discrimination in Greenwich Village.

View the entire report here.

Over the course of four months, several Greenwich Village Real estate brokers were tested in order to see the presence of housing discrimination. This was done by sending two prospective tenants with the same requirements to several brokers in search of an apartment. One of these tenants would be a Black, while the other was white. The goal was to see if both tenants were shown the same apartments.

While the study was small, which made it difficult to come a clear conclusion on the matter, it found that housing discrimination did exist within the Village housing market. It particularly highlighted the different experiences faced by Doris Evans, a Black woman, and Kathy Griffin, a white women, who both tried to view an apartment in 278 East 10th Street. While Kathy Griffin was kindly greeted, shown and offered the apartment, they refused to even show the apartment to Doris Evans. Following the experience of Doris Evans, a complaint was filed to the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

The Village Independent Democrats supported and believed in integration. The Club thought this would be best achieved through housing, but knew that it would be difficult to do so. By conducting the housing discrimination study with the NAACP, they were able to assess, document and file a complaint regarding the extent of housing discrimination in Greenwich Village.

The Village Independent Democrats also made contributions to the larger Civil Rights Movement, including in 1964, hosting a food drive to collect donations for participating in the Council of Federated Organizations Mississippi Project. The Mississippi project occurred in the summer of 1964, when groups of primarily white college students, mainly from northern states, traveled to Mississippi to participate in voter registration efforts and establish freedom schools and community centers.

Image from 1964 food drive for Council of Federated Organizations Mississippi Project. Featuring Ed Gold, Ed Koch, Sarah Schoenkopf, Mary Jean Chicolte, and Miriam Bockman.

This information comes from the latest addition to Our Preservation History Archive, the Village Independent Democrats Collection: 1955-1969. Check out this collection to learn more about the group, and the important contributions they made to Greenwich Village and all of New York City. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *