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The Center for Brooklyn History marks BPL’s 125th Anniversary with a special series showcasing our remarkable archives and collections. Join experts, eyewitnesses, and CBH staff as they uncover gems from the collection and reflect on the history they tell.
Click here to view the entire series.

Brooklyn's March Towards Civil Rights

In the early 1960s, the Civil Rights movement moved up north. Inspired by the Freedom Fighters in the South, a small group of intrepid people decided to do something about the appalling conditions in the Bedford-Stuyvesant ghetto: crumbling and rat infested housing; inadequate garbage collection, inferior schools, and very high unemployment. Thus was born Brooklyn CORE (The Congress of Racial Equality) and the Bedford-Stuyvesant organization, Youth in Action. During the early 1960s, the Brooklyn Chapter of CORE was one of the most dynamic civil rights organizations in New York City. Youth in Action’s job training, legal services, and programs supporting young mothers thrived. These collections, and other CBH Civil Rights-related materials, tell a story of bold actions and intrepid individuals who pushed forward their vision of equality and laid a path towards change. Join Brian Purnell, author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings and Michael Woodsworth, author of Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City, for a look at the movement and the materials that document it. CBH archivist Dee Bowers-Smith provides a visual overview.


Brian J. Purnell is the Geoffrey Canada Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Bowdoin College. He is the author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn which won the New York State Historical Association’s Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize, and the co-editor (with Jeanne Theoharis) of The Strange Careers of the Jim Crow North: Segregation and Struggle Outside of the South. His research, writing, and teaching areas generally fall within the broad field of US history with specific concentrations in African American history, urban history, and civil rights and black power movement history. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Purnell has called Brunswick, Maine, home since 2010. A scholar and public historian of New York City, he is currently writing a narrative history of Black people in Gotham from 1613 to the Present. The working title is, The Capital of Black America: New York City’s African American History, 1613 to the Present, and it is under contract with Yale University Press.



Michael Woodsworth teaches history at Bard High School Early College in Queens, N.Y. His work focuses on the 20th-century United States, particularly urban history, African American history, and the welfare state. He is the author of Battle for Bed-Stuy: The Long War on Poverty in New York City. He holds a PhD from Columbia University and his writing has appeared in the American Historical Review, the International Journal of Canadian Studies, the Wall Street Journal, and Bookforum. A transplanted Montrealer, Mike has lived in Brooklyn for almost two decades. He is passionate about his adopted city and can often be spotted leading historical walking tours around New York.

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