“Freedom from Fear”

Weegee, [Mrs. Bernice Lythcott and son looking through window shattered by rock-throwing hoodlums, Harlem, New York], October 17, 1943 (20109.1993)

This tragic picture is a symbol of that evil thing, race hatred. Mrs. Bernice Lythcott and her one-year-old son Leonard look out a window through which hoodlums threw stones. PM, October 18, 1943, p. 12

Weegee, [Lythcott family, New York], October 17, 1943 (14676.1993)

Before the Alphonso Lythcott family had time to arrange their furniture on moving in, stones had been hurled into their apartment. Leonardo holds some of the stones. The other child is Alphonse, Jr., 2. Lythcott is superintendent of the building. PM, October 18, 1943, p. 12

PM, October 18, 1943, p. 12

Police Called to Give Negroes “Freedom From Fear”
Acts of vandalism directed toward a 166th St. apartment house recently opened to Negro tenants died down Saturday night after a week of disorder evidently intended as a warning to Negro families not to move into the block.
Peace was restored when Police Commissioner Valentine assigned a patrolman to cover the house, at 453 W. 166th St., between Edgecombe and Amsterdam Aves. and another to the nearby corner.
However, it was noted that the police protection was present only during the day, and no patrolman were seen near the building Saturday night. It has been at night that most of the intimidation has occurred.
Protest to Mayor
James A. Gumbs, owner of the building, previously had explained in a letter to City Hall that he had removed any color restrictions for the building’s 20 apartments. He wrote:
“Nightly since that time, bricks have been thrown through windows and other acts of vandalism committed. At each transgression I reported the matter to police headquarters, but nothing has been done.
“On the night of October 14, bricks were again thrown through the windows of tenanted apartments. The police again refused to act and they told me the only thing they can do is send a policeman after an incident has happened…
Vandals Active
Alphonso Lythcott, 23, superintendent of the building, who occupied a four-room apartment on the first floor with his wife and two children, told PM of other incidents of vandalism and intimidation directed at the Negro tenants and himself.
Signs reading “Newly Opened for Colored Tenants” have been torn and burned down three times since Sept. 15, Lythcott said, adding that he expects the fourth sign, just put up, to go the same way.
All the apartment houses on 165th St. between Edgecombe and Amsterdam Aves. are occupied by Negroes, while 167th St., between the same avenues, is exclusively occupied by whites. Negro families believe the white residents resent their occupancy of 166th St., the “boundary.”
A sergeant at the local police station said the patrolman on the beat had been ordered to give special attention to the house. No arrests have thus far been made.
“I think its very foolish for them to act this way with a war going on,” said Lythcott of the persecutions. “They should realize the colored boys are fighting for them the same as the white boys are.” PM, October 18, 1943, p. 12

Weegee, Naked City, 1945, pp. 190-191

Discrimination… that’s the ugly word for it. Books have been written and will continue to be written about this question. The solution I don’t know, but here’s one of the reasons for race riots… a poor white neighborhood. The occupants of the tenements are white bus drivers, street car conductors, elevator operators, shipping clerks, etc… poorly paid white people, who themselves get pushed around all day by people they come in contact with in their work and by their straw bosses. So colored people, crowded out of their own colored sections, come looking for rooms in their neighborhood. So the ones that get pushed around themselves, now started pushing the others around by throwing rocks into the windows of the colored occupants. Naked City, 1945, p. 190

Racism and violence inspired Weegee to make one of his best, most beautiful and profound portraits. “It’s a great, penetrating image of a hard American moment, a portrait that holds its own next to Dorothea Lange’s migrant woman or Walker Evans’s sharecropper.” (Christopher Bonanos, Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous, p. 186.) The New York Post and The New York Times covered this tragedy; neither paper used photos or referenced Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, or State of the Union Address, from 1941. (The four freedoms are: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.) The Post, in a photo-free, short article headlined: “Race Hate Flares on 166th St.”, reported that “crudely chalked swastikas covered” the front of 453 West 166th Street and red paint was thrown on other buildings. Stench bombs and lighted paper were thrown in hallways. The Times, in a photo-less, three paragraph article titled “Vandals Damage House: Attacks on West 166th St. Property Laid to Race Issues,” reported “that vandals had been wrecking the twenty-family building since it had been made available to Negro tenants a month ago,” (when James Gumbs purchased the building), previously the block “was tenanted only by whites.” (Weegee made a pair of disturbing photos of the exterior of 463 West 166th St. from the street.) The Harlem riots occurred just several weeks before Weegee’s photos were made. The end of World War Two was two years away. October 1943 was, roughly, the middle of America’s involvement in the war.

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