The 1960s New York brings to mind glorious visions of hippie love and adoration, but peaceful times weren’t always aplenty. New York in the 1960s was a time of rapid change and saw the rise of many prominent movements, including that of Civil and LGBTQ rights. These 1960s New York photos show a city in rapid decline but resilient nonetheless.
We have a sort of nostalgia for the 1960s, especially in bustling places like New York. It’s the idealized city that never sleeps and the place where you can make all of your dreams come true. In fact, the American dream was born in New York and harked back to the 1930s when the concept was first realized.
The Reality In 1960s New York Photos
The reality of New York in the 1960s was a lot different than most people think. While it was a place of new ideas, innovative movements, and rapid social changes, it also teemed with drugs, crime, and social disorder.
There was also a lack of policing in the big apple that served to fail its citizens time and time again. Social injustice, wrongful imprisonment, and hate crimes were all on the rise in the 1960s, and the feds frankly didn’t know how to deal with it. City councils were slow-moving and failed to enforce or enact new legislation to curb the city’s bad habits.
A Culture Of Chaos
A culture of chaos was a part of everyday life in New York City, and its citizens knew to always tread with care when navigating their way around some of the poorer neighborhoods. The above 1960s New York Photo shows a scared New York resident fleeing from police brutality in the Borough of Harlem in 1964.
It wasn’t just the economic disparity that ravaged the bustling city. It was the decades-long persecution of marginalized peoples that brought about the violence.
Decline In Jobs Market Leads To Housing Crisis
It was getting increasingly difficult for people to find jobs or secure tenancies. Public housing was at an all-time low, and vagrants were just left on the streets to starve with little help or support. It was a bewildering time full of many discrepancies.
The rich lived side by side with the poor, and much like today, the economic gap only got bigger. People saw no way out and didn’t want the same poverty-stricken outcomes for future generations.
The 1960s New York photos can be both heartbreaking and empowering. The struggles that the average person went through in this period far outweighed the positives.
But, New Yorkers were able to come together and put their differences aside to enact real social change. It took a long time, and things still aren’t there yet, but these 1960s New York photos show the rise of the collective mindset. One of true freedom and equality that people still carry around today.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King Jr is a cornerstone of political activism. The movement which took place between 1954-1968 saw non-violent protests take place all over America.
The protests in New York in the 1960s were primarily a labor-civil rights movement with a broad focus on unions and workers.
A new generation of African-American youth was rising up to take their rightful slice of the cake in New York City. The modernist approach to peaceful protesting was a result of years of oppression and social injustice.
The civil rights movement leaders in New York knew that they needed to achieve a peaceful rebellion to be heard by the world and taken seriously. The above 1960s New York Photo shows Martin Luther King Jr with young African American youth during a visit to New York.
The Stonewall Riots
The Stonewall Riots feature prominently in New York’s lively history. It was at the end of the decade in 1969 that the famous riots took place.
Considered to be the modern genesis movement that kick-started Gay and Transgender rights around the globe, the oppressed young youth of New York fought back against police brutality for the first time in history.
Gay Liberation In New York
United as one transgender people of color in New York led the Gay Liberation Movement and bore the brunt of the police violence. Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera stand out as pioneers of the crusade against their right to live freely.
Such activists saw New York in a completely different way than we do. They had to fight for the same human dignity and respect of a heteronormative society that saw LGBTQ-identifying people as lesser than or at least indifferent.
The Gayola Scandal
The Gayola scandal of 1962 was a classic example of police taking advantage of their positions. The power dynamic between police and members of the LGBTQ community allowed for gay business owners to be regularly blackmailed and pay off New York City cops.
Post-War era liquor laws were introduced in the 1950s, preventing licensed bars from selling alcoholic beverages to gay people. Corrupt police chiefs would take advantage of this fact and send their boys to demand payoffs from landlords or threaten a raid or closure. Notice how the LGBTQ residents stand together in unison against the police department for one of the first times in history, as shown in these 1960s New York photos.
Harlem Riots Of ’64
The Harlem Riots of 1964 sparked outrage throughout America. The world watched on as police in the New York borough of Harlem battered their way through crowds with little remorse. The riots were a result of years of racial discrimination, segregation, and Jim Crow laws.
Police brutality was rife in the 1960s, and these photos show that in big cities like New York, we’re able to shield the cruel-hearted and corrupt police force from justice.
Fifteen-year-old James Powell was shot and killed by an off-duty white police officer. Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan was a retired Army veteran and should have been able to handle the situation without resorting to violence.
The above 1960s New York photos show that many prominent figures in the black community were outraged that this was allowed to happen in America, the so-called land of the free.
Harlem Riots Let To Social Change
The protests started peacefully for the first two days until crowds decided to move onto the Harlem Police Station to call for the resignation of officer Gilligan. Police stationed outside violently interacted with the protesters who were throwing stones to protect themselves.
Before long, bricks, bottles, and melee weapons were hurtling towards police officers who responded with nightstick attacks and tear gas.
The ’64s riots happened just two weekends before the Civil Rights Act was signed by then-President Lyndon-Johnson. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, and nationality. It was the most notable social change in history that paved the way for people of color to live freely in America as valued citizens.
Whilst the law serves to guarantee racial justice, it did nothing to change the minds of the old money elite who fought hard to keep black people oppressed after the Civil War. The above 1960s New York photos show President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law.
A Reflection On New York City
New York City will continue to hold a prominent place in all of our hearts. It’s the home of such places as Broadway and the Stonewall National Monument. It offers the experience of an intense cultural hub for anyone interested in New York’s vibrant and colorful history.
But, it’s also important to remember the radical social, racial and political history of the Empire State and to pay particular attention to the injustices that so many people battled against, especially those of color.
1960s New York photos represent a small glimpse into a world not too unfamiliar with our own. We can use 1960s New York photos to establish the facts about a decade that wasn’t as peaceful as most make out.
It’s important to remember that these 1960s New York photos are a predacious resource that can be used by future generations and academics alike to remember the past and make sure that we continue to live in a world that holds equality for all at the heart of its constitution.