While protests against police brutality have swept the nation following the murder by a police officer of George Floyd in Minneapolis -- and also demands that statues honoring figures linked to racism be removed -- a focus in the New York Metropolitan Area has been the statue of Robert Moses, long the public-works czar in New York.
Nearly 100 protesters calling for the removal of a statue of Moses, two weeks ago marched down Main Street in Long Island's Babylon, where Moses resided, to the seven-foot-high, bronze, 1,500-pound statue of him in front of the community's Village Hall.
They held signs reading "Robert Moses Was a Racist" and chanting "Hey Hey, Ho, Ho, Robert Moses has to go."
Meanwhile, a petition calling for removal of the statue has been circulating online and has so far gotten more than 15,000 signatures.
And the effort is continuing.
Last year, before the current actions, New York State Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan introduced legislation to change the name of Robert Moses State Park because of the racial bias of Moses. The measure by O'Donnell declares that "Robert Moses repeatedly abused his power to entrench racial and economic segregation."
Among examples cited was how when he built Jones Beach State Park on a barrier beach off the southern coast of Long Island "he intentionally ordered the overpasses of the connected parkway too low for buses, so that poor people, particularly African-American families, could not access the beach". In New York City, continued the bill, Moses "built most public parks, playgrounds far from Puerto Rican and African-American neighborhoods". Further, he "pursued the systematic displacement and segregation of families of color" to build Lincoln Center, the performing arts center in Manhattan, and "effectively allowed for the discrimination against black veterans and their families in the Stuyvesant Town development", a huge Manhattan housing project. "The names of great state parks serve as powerful symbols of which people... celebrate," says the bill.
"The state of New York needs to begin the process of accounting for the historic harm done to communities of color by people like Robert Moses, whose actions still affect many African-American and Hispanic New Yorkers to this day." It provides for creation of a commission "to choose a new name" for the 875-acre park. O'Donnell last week said he hoped to get his measure voted out of committee this week.
(Raised in Commack on Long Island, he is an older brother of actress, writer and TV personality Rosie O'Donnell.)
Relating how Moses had bridges built low on the Southern State and Northern State Parkways on Long Island to prevent buses carrying African-Americans and Latinos from New York City getting to his Jones Beach State Park are both Robert Caro in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Moses, "The Power Broker", and Christopher Verga, author of "Civil Rights on Long Island" and also "Saving Fire Island From Robert Moses: The Fight For a National Seashore".
Caro, who interviewed Moses at length for his book, has described him as "the most racist human being I have ever really encountered".
Verga, a professor of Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College, says of Moses: "He was very biased." Moses "referred to minorities as animals".
Jason Haber, who has taught public policy as a professor at John Jay College in Manhattan, wrote a piece in the New York Daily News published last year and headlined: "Robert Moses' name should be mud: New York State should remove the racist man's name from public works".
In his article, Haber wrote that "the man responsible for the largest segregation and degradation of African Americans in the 20th century is still regularly lauded as a genius, an innovator and a master builder. Instead, he should be remembered another way, as a racist who inflicted generational suffering on African Americans across our city and state. "Unelected, his power drawn from up to 12 concurrent city, state and federal appointments, he used his unparalleled control of public authorities with impunity." click here
Haber commented last week that Moses was "grounded in his racism" and "failed the test of common decency." Further, he was "someone who took democracy off the table".
Moses ran for public office once, for governor of New York in 1934, and lost in a landslide. So, he chose instead to exercise power as head of commissions and authorities. His Long Island base was the headquarters of the Long Island State Park Commission in North Babylon.
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