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Contributed by: Deborah Hicks
Contributed on: March 25, 2007

Which blackout(s) did you experience?

In your own words, tell the story of your experience in the blackout(s). Try to recall specific events and the people, places, and things involved; also include more general reactions, images adn last impressions?
I was in elementary school in '65, but what I recall was how my block in Brooklyn, NY, Linden St. was eerily quiet and black; it seemed that not even the stars lit up the skies. Back then the neighborhood was interracial with a good amount of African American residents and homeowners. My mom worked the night shift (3PM-11PM)in NJ and I was home alone. I was so glad to see her when she did make her way to our home later that night. Now contrast this memory to an unforgettable memory of the blackout (1978 was the fait accompli that finalized the demolishment of Bushwick) that devasted my neighborhood. Black blocks went wild: people from Central Avenue, Knickerbocker Avenue, Evergreen Avenue and streets from Myrtle Avenue to Eastern Parkway were alive with people breaking into furniture stores and looting every store without a window guard (which was rare). I sadly and angrily recall watching parents, with their children in tow, rush up my block hauling sofas or refrigerators or washing machines from the appliance and furniture stores on Broadway. For days I grew weary, not from the heat of the weather or fire, but from the heat of anger as my people vandalized and stole from merchants from whom they had shopped for years. No one dared to loot any where north of Broadway where an entire strip of stores awaited, ripe for vandalism. I know why. Blacks burned down their own neighborhood, their vibrant, vital neighborhood. I don't care what reasons psychologists and sociologists assigned to my people's behavior. What I do know know is that my neighborhood never recovered to its illustrious self. Vacant lots are now replaced with modular stores advertising available store space. Who will come? What will be sold? What are our needs now compared to those in the 1960's and 1970's? Not many black folks went downtown to Fulton Street, where the major stores were in the '60's and '70. Broadway was a downtown Fulton Street. We had sophisticated clothing stores like Charles, Tell's; Kay's jewelers; Bargain Fair, Bargain Town, Woolworth's, Kresge's; National Bootery, Baker Shoes, Lewis Bootery; meat markets par excellence. I miss my neighbors and my people. Today, few African Americans live on Linden St. Linden is now Central American and Hispanic. Our stores? Crown Chicken, Associated Food Store (we had 3 supermarkets within blocks of each other), a Korean Market, several nail salong, and let's not forget the host of bargain (junk) stores. Thanks for the memories.

Why did the blackouts happen, in your opinion?
African Americans have always been disenfrachised and neglected. Povery was at its highest and the Vietnam War did not help--it destabilized black and poor neighborhoods. Few day treatment centers, and Youth programs only occurred in the Summer, for a few. Blacks are angry and still are at a government that professes for the people, yet includes those brought here by force. Despite desegregation laws, NYC schools were and are highly segretated. What makes for a kindling fire: Heat and close proximity to a flammable object--poor housing conditions, unemployment, abuse, and rage. When NYC rioted after Dr. King's murder, again, folks deeply felt betrayal,loss, anxiety, and the concern about who will care about the plight of the poor and the black poor. Besides, prices were high, as would anything be if you don't have a job. Bushwick moved from being middle class to poverty stricken during the mid-60's. We were another Brownsville, East NY, but we did have pride: we had beautiful stores, and clean streets. Still, beauty is skin deep if you are ailing in the soul. Poverty strips a person of soul, heart, and pride. The blackout was just internal rage gone awry like a wildfire. Not everyone stole or looted. Still, it's a sad commentary to destroy your home..sort of like the expression: "cut your face to spite your nose."

What is your opinion regarding the general causes of power failures (blackouts)?
Someone is asleep at the helm. Lack of vigilance, the inability to problem solve or predict; the lack of independence to make a decision that doesn't have to go through checkpoint. Ignorance. If it's hot, folks will run more fans and air conditioners. We won't cut back; therefore, power companies need forecast; then adapt and adjust.

Did either blackout seem significant or shocking at the time?
Both were significant

Why did you consider the blackout(s) to be significant or insignificant?
Both blackouts were defining moments for the lives of blacks in the city. We unleashed a beast that was baited to roar and attack due to an insensitive government and a government with little infrastructure. Power companies need to be accountable to city government, not the other way around.

How did the blackout(s) affect you?
An entire shopping strip was destroyed, but some vendors remained...for us...for the community. Yet,by 1978, with the last blackout, the vendors left for good, some apologetically, others in disgust.

What happened to your perception of the blackout(s) when you heard the news about the full scope of the event(s)?
I was in the full scope of the event. News casters covered the fires, the devastation. Still, when the ashes cool, we were left with no thing. Nothing, but blackened, shuttered stores.

How would you compare the blackout(s) to "normal" power failures you have experienced at other times?
Last summer's power failure did not incite a blackout. Then there was nothing to loot. Con Ed had the audacity to demand grocery receipts----as if folks keep receipts in case of a blackout! How insulting!

What affect, if any, did the blackout(s) have on your opinion of Consolidated Edison Company?
Con Edison is a monopoly. Monopolies are gluttenous and inconsiderate. Our rates go up and of course rates are always higher in poor and poorer communities. Who truly knows the dollar amount of a kilowatt? Con Ed does. It gives us no protection during heatwaves, but recoups costs by outrages rate increases. What about a rate decrease for the economic hardship caused to communities?

If you experienced both the 1965 and 1977 blackouts, please compare them (describe the ways in which they were similar/different):
1977 eviscerated a black community. We were worn-torn and no reparations were given similar to those given to countries who fight with us, by either causing the fight or by an aggressive U.S.move, but nevertheless, we (US) always pay. When the federal grants did come in the form of block grants, the money was not distributed equitably: the money went into the hands of special interest groups. So, disparity and poverty creates racial polarization. The hispanics were the first to benefit. Homes built--they were the first to move into P-6 housing and private homes. The balance between 19765 and 1977 was that there was fair ethnic representation by both Blacks and hispanics. Today, were are the blacks? Our representatives are hispanic, who look out for their constituents. In summary, not only did the black cause loss of businesses, but loss of the voice of a large segment of black voters. Yep-though both groups are poor in this community-one groups has the political power and voice.

Did the blackout(s) have any larger meaning in your mind?
Yes (please explain)

If yes, please explain:
After watching how one group controlled the money and built up the side of town that most represented their people, I sadly became aware of bi-partisan politics. Broadway between Myrtle Avenue to Eastern Parkway has not rebounded to its historic past or close to a shopping district, yet Myrtle Avenue (Bushwick & Williamsburg) has bountifully benefitted from government grants. Broadway is still abandoned and a reminder of the blackout of 1977 and 1978.

Did the blackout(s) cause any profound crisis?
Yes (please explain)

If yes, please explain:
Again, the political infrastructure responds to the needs of its constituents. Blacks still feel disenfranchised and have to fight for its nickel. Whereas the fight used to be between whites and minorities, now the fight is between minorities and minorities in Bushwick. When things get built, it's in the hispanic area. Blacks are sprinkled throughout neighborhoods. There is a racial divide, a lack of representatation and response to the needs of all members of the community. Bushwick has not rebounded from the Blackout--Williamsburg has.

How did the blackout(s) affect your daily reliance on electricity?
Became more reliant

If other, please specify:
With an asthmatic son and elderly parent, air conditioning is vital. The inability to fix a transponder or whatever, in 2000 is horrible. Even NASA's ships can be repaired in space. What's wrong with the technicians on Earth.

This is how the story goes: In November of 1965 the lights went out in New York and crime rates temporarily dropped; there were widespread reports of extraordinary cooperation and trust between strangers caught together in the power failure. In July of 1977, little more than a decade later, the lights went out again in New York. This time, a devastating wave of looting and arson broke out. Does this story ring true to you? Explain why or why not:
As mentioned above. This scenario is an accurate observation.

Cite as: Deborah Hicks, Story #1638, The Blackout History Project, 25 March 2007, <http://blackout.gmu.edu/details/1638/>.
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