On March 7, 1965, protesters traveling the 54 miles from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state capital, to register black voters were violently confronted by local authorities and white vigilante groups. In the wake of this national tragedy, known as Bloody Sunday, civil rights protesters sprung into action across the country.
Eight days later, around 15,000 civil rights activists took to the streets of Harlem in a solidarity demonstration, during which someone took a photo of a young man walking through the crowd, holding up a sign that said: “We Will Overcome”.
That man in the photo was local civil rights legend Larry Fox, now 79, walking alongside students Karen Penner, Willie Espy, Rose Brown and Ralph Penner. All but Fox have since died.
In the 1960s and 1970s, racially motivated violence took place not only in faraway Alabama, but also in Valley Stream, where acts of intimidation often deterred black families from settling. A New York Times article from August 16, 1979, detailed a cross burned on the lawn of Jamaican-born Inga Grant and her family on Woodland Avenue, five weeks after they arrived in the predominantly white neighborhood. The Times reported that the family of nine had been subjected to obscene calls, threatening letters and rocks smashing their windows.
Less overt but equally discriminatory behavior was a reality, according to Fox. To combat bigoted housing practices and help black families secure their homes, Fox, alongside members of the Long Island Chapter of the Congress for Racial Equality, or CORE, would try to catch white homeowners and real estate agents in their unequal dealings with black clients through a tactic known as “home testing”.
Activists are said to be trying to see if tenants would be more willing to rent to Fox, a white man – and at a more affordable price – than to a black man of similar status.
“They’d be happy to give me the apartment anyway,” Fox recalled. Later that day, a black person walked by, ready to rent the house, and was turned down. “We would then have a case” against the seller of the house, Fox said. “We were big troublemakers…good trouble.”
Even when Fox and his fellow advocates could help a black family secure a home, black landlords were still unclear and often encountered various forms of discrimination. Fox and other CORE members would spend the night in the home of a black family, watching for acts of violence or intimidation by vigilantes. One night, in an ironic twist of fate, Fox was at his home on Jamacia Avenue, preparing for such a change of shift, when he was shot, he said, by racist militiamen.
Despite this fear, Fox has never left the village in which he has lived since 1961. “I don’t run,” he says simply.
Since the mid-1960s, he said, there has been notable progress in racial equity and inclusion, as changing demographics in Valley Stream show more families of color coming from Queens. neighbor and buy houses. But the work is not done, Fox notes, and it turns to the new generation of young people from diverse backgrounds who are tackling the legacy of discrimination and other social ills through new social movements. such as the Black Lives Matter movement. .
Fox’s advice for the next generation of civil rights activists is to get educated and get involved in politics. “Dig, dig, dig…” he said. “At the time, we would lay out five or six newspapers and we would argue [whose political position] was right or wrong”, and whether the facts were facts.
He was also inspired to champion the civil rights cause by seeking out like-minded people. It was when he joined a group of young Jews that he was introduced to a program called Justice in Action, which focuses on empowering young Jews to seek social justice. Since then, Fox has tried to live by the band’s mantra: “When one person is hurt, everyone will be.”
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it another way: “Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Juan Lasso contributed to this article.