Albany’s South Mall Part 2 The Ugly Truth

The first  week of January 1961 set in motion  the building of the South Mall.  Nelson Rockefeller proposed the creation of a new Temporary Commission on the Capital City (TCCC) and Mayor Corning countered with a 2  two year old study that called for major rehabilitation and/or demolition of huge areas of Albany.  The recommendations of the  study, which had never been made public, would if fully implemented, affect over 12,00 families and hundreds of business in Albany.

The rest of January was to be as lively as the first week.

January 6, 1961

jan 6 1961 1On January 6, the Mayor indicated that he was going to pick  an advisory council  for the City’s urban renewal program in North Albany “shortly”.  He made this announcement  in response to press inquiries about statements on a report to the federal government about the progress of the City’s urban renewal efforts funded  by the federal Housing and Home Finance Agency.  The progress report had been submitted in Fall, 1960.  One of the questions asked specifically about “progress of the citizen’s advisory subcommittee  established  to study minority group housing programs and for full opportunity in housing for all.”   No  advisory subcommittee,  or for that matter any committee had been established .  The City’s response  on the progress report was that it would be establishing a committee  in fiscal year starting November, 1960.

The Mayor indicated to reporters that he had no idea about the size of the  council  or when he would make the appointments,   but did say that membership would include representatives from the Chamber of  Commerce, City Club, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Council of Community Services,  Albany Section of the Council of Jewish Women and the Albany Inter-Racial Council. 

The advisers for the North Albany project were named on January 14.  They included Jacob Herzog, a well known local attorney and deputy county superintendent for tax delinquencies; Ida Yarborough from the Inter-Racial Council; Robert  Young, Chamber of Commerce; Bill Kerrigan, Community Chest; Joe Cerutti , a local  labor trade union leader,  and David Bray, Albany Public Schools.

Other changes were already happening across the City.  Demolition of the Wander Building, an older  6 story commercial building that had anchored part of South  Pearl St. and Beaver St. was underway.  The building was compromised in a fire in Sept., 1960, and had sustained in excess of  $300k in damage. 

jan 21 1961

On the same day the City sold the Sheridan Ave. parking lot to the State for $173,500. The Common Council also  authorized $50,00o for unspecified rehabilitation and demolition activities. 

(I have to note that in that  Common Council meeting it  also authorized $4,000 for the “alignment of sewers” on the south end of Holmes Ct.  I gotta chuckle.   “Uncle” Dan O’Connell, the City’s legendary Democratic political boss,  lived  on the south end of Holmes Ct.  I grew up on Holmes Ct, and I’m guessing that if the sewers at that end were misaligned, the sewers at my end were also askew.  I have no recollection of sewer work at my end of the street that year or any year for that matter.)

And also January 6   an editorial in the Knickerbocker News  suggests that perhaps Governor Rockefeller will concentrate on being  governor (at least for now), and commends him for his  general interest in spiffing up Albany. All I can think of is the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”

Finally , in Mayor’s Corning’s annual address to the Common Council (Jan 6 as well), he outlined the changes  underway in the City:

  • the Washington Avenue extension;
  • a major portion of the  arterial highway program, (probably the river front section);
  • completion of “slum clearance: in North Albany (although no buyer for the land was identified);
  • partial completion of the South End elementary school (Giffen);
  • completion of the  Green St. projects;
  • proposed acquisition of land for a another 400 unit low income project in the South End/Lincoln Park area, and
  • continuation of  Hackett Blvd. from Edgecomb  St. to Manning Blvd.

January 6 1961

arterial  jan 6

On January 10  an interesting article appears in the Albany Knickerbocker News.  The New York State Homebuilders Association  opposes the State’s efforts to become involved in building middle class housing ( small,  but key pieces of both the Governor’s and Mayor’s plans for Albany) . The group also opposes many zoning ordinances under development for residential housing across the state.

In mid January, the Mayor  told the Menands Rotarians that the  river front arterial highway should be completed by 1965, He said that the highway would be a “ground level” and pass under the Livingston Avenue bridge   (Yeah, well part of that came true.)  When asked about parking in downtown Albany, the mayor said the ultimate solution was “buses”.  (LOL)

January 13, 1961 

jan 13  3

The first response to the Mayor’s plans came from the black community – the  black associate pastor of  Temple Baptist Church, the Rev. Dorman Avery.  (Since this is Smalbany,  his wife taught me 10th grade English 5 years later.) The Reverend proposed a churchman’s committee to to “disturb becalmed Christians” and break down racial barriers in Albany Churches.  He made this proposal when he spoke to laypersons in the Interchurchmen’s Fellowship luncheon at the First Reformed Church on January 10th.  The Reverend urged  the Committee to focus on housing discrimination and support of the proposed federal Metcalf-Baker bill that would outlaw housing discrimination in private housing.  

Reverend Avery made the argument that  making housing more accessible was a preferable means of church integration than having predominantly white churches in predominantly white neighborhoods invite black families to become parishioners    He cited his own experience.   The Temple Baptist Church. located on Clinton Ave. had made a conscious decision to remain  in its location.  As a result, the church was become increasingly integrated. (That part of the city became increasingly segregated, and within  a decade, the neighborhood was mostly black, as was the church membership.)

January 10, 1961

jan  10 1961

The issue of  racial  integration and urban renewal was raised 2 days later, again in a a church group.  In mid January(12th) a sociologist, Dr. Wheeler,  from the State College of Education told the Layman’s League of the First Unitarian Church that  fear of racial tension and problems was keeping  the people of the South End, both black and white, from applying to live in the new integrated  high rise housing projects.  Dr. Wheeler indicated that  while some South Enders would rather live in houses that were “ready fall down” than move into the integrated housing despite the fact that the apartments would be some of the “nicest in the city”.   He concluded, however, by saying that the City officials were resourceful and would not permit the  buildings to be unoccupied for long.

Hindsight is again 20/20.  The Green St. projects never were racially integrated to any appreciable degree.  They were, for the most part, occupied  by black  residents.  Most of  the  white residents of the  South End simply moved.

I have to think that  the report of this meeting sent a shock wave through Albany. It chronicled overt prejudice – in your face and unmistakable racism.  The genie was out of the bottle. For years racial issue had been buried or glossed over.    But for many decades  schools and even some churches has been integrated  and  if neighbors were not actually “neighborly”, there at least appeared to be a certain respect for each other. 

But the post World War II black migration to the North, increasing middle class  and westward expansion  in the City  began to change the demography of  Albany.  The population increased to its highest point in 1950.  The poorest sections of the City were dangerously overcrowded.  There were more absentee landlords purchasing investment properties.

Events in Albany would play out against the national backdrop of increasing racial tensions and the Civil Rights movement in the south.  Everyday newspapers, TV and radio reported the events in Georgia, Mississippi and other southern states.  Federal troops had been sent by Eisenhower and the Kennedy Administration would push desegregation with all its power. Powerful, eloquent and courageous black  leaders were emerging who were giving voice to the disenfranchised.The delicate balance was about to be upset in Albany, as it was throughout the country.

January 13, 1961

jan 13 2

More  of the community started to take notice of the Mayor’s plans.  In mid January a Citizens Committee comprised of  local community leaders was formed to address general City planning issues, with the intent to ask the Mayor to confer with the Advisory Council for the North Albany project.  Alas, none of the members had any direct relationship to the soon to be affected residential areas of the City, although the a representative of the Central Avenue Merchants Association was included.  As we might say today, “lily white”. 

jan 24 1961

Another group of 25 local business and professional men formed the Council of Community Relations to study, on an informal basis,  racial concerns connected  with Albany’s urban renewal plans. The group was established directly as a result  of the meeting at the Unitarian Church earlier in the month.  Yet again, none of the members were from the areas which would be directly affected.

Meanwhile the State Housing Commissioner, while speaking to the  Capital Area Council of Churches was urging its members to  sponsor middle income housing  for seniors.  He indicated there was $960 million available for state loans for private builders for such projects  He recommended they take there message City Hall and suggested that  if  “apathy” continued, many upstate cities “would die”.

The plot had begun to thicken.

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2 comments

  1. james littlefield · · Reply

    it’s a revelation to read the articles you’ve attached, from an era when reporters were commissioned to bend over backward to keep even a whiff of bias, slant or imbalance from escaping. maintaining civility must have taken a toll on promoting the truth tho.

  2. Jamie.. it’s pretty amazing.. isnt it. But I can’t believe what was printed in the Wheeler article.

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