The Decline of the South Bronx

In “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop”, Jeff Chang discusses the decline of the Bronx and how it became the birth place of Hip-Hop. During the 1950-60’s Robert Moses’s construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway in the South Bronx led to a decline that borough is still recovering from today. Due to the construction of the Cross Bronx, neighborhoods of Jewish,Irish and Italian families were destroyed when they had displaced all along with many businesses. Due to the construction of the Expressway led to decline property values, which made it undesirable for whites. White’s moved move to suburbs which is known as the “White Flight”.  Hispanics and Blacks soon moved into neighborhoods undesirable by Whites.

Decreased property also meant that landlord made less rent profits. For landlord it was more profitable to leave their building in disrepair and later burn them down to ashes to collect insurance money. Building fires were really common in the 70’s with the lost of 43,000 housing units. South Bronx residents felt neglected, and some  people (mostly youth)  formed gangs to support one another.

The Change in The Bronx

Jeff Chang begins to write about the racial issue of the New York Yankees, which has been based in the South Bronx, in 1970’s that Reggie Jackson struggled to get along with his teammate. Jeff then continues to write about the change in the Bronx. Due to the plan to construct the Cross-Bronx Expressway by Robert Moses, the Bronx would fall into great confusion. Many poor African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Jewish families had to move to new places like the South Bronx, and jobs in the South Bronx escaped from this migration. As a result of this change, the South Bronx economy had been hurt that last 600,000 manufacturing jobs and so on. Moreover, new residents were treated unfairly by slumlords, and slumlords asked villains to burn their vacant apartments to earn insurance money. Thus, the South Bronx became wasteland and was in chaos.

Jeff goes on to write about the conditions in the South Bronx in the end of 1960’s and the beginning of 1970’s. At that time, many gangs thrived in the South Bronx, and they often quarreled each other based on racial and territorial matters. However, because of abuse of police power, the Savage Skulls, a black gang, and the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican gang, cooperated to fight against police. Furthermore, because public services were unreliable in the South Bronx, gangs provided health care systems and shelters for homeless kids, so people relied on them. These situations affected bonds among them, cultures and their social thoughts, and other people started to pay attention to the South Bronx.

Robert Moses’ Vision of Manhattan; Downfall of Bronx

The historical development of Bronx, as stated in page 11 of the Book “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” started in 1929 by a man called Robert Moses with a vision of leading the white exodus out of the Bronx. He wanted to make Manhattan a center for attention basically, and it caused most of the white residents in Bronx to move away while Robert is laying down a plan to reform the city. He wants to first build a highway system to connect from New Jersey to Manhattan to Queens. But by doing that, he will need to clear space for the highways to be constructed. There are Bronx residents currently living in the ways of the highway system but Robert doesn’t care. He demands the residents to move and this event led to the development of hip hop in the Bronx. With all the white residents away, Robert built new “tower-in-a-park” buildings for residents to live in. It became populated with African American and Latinos. This led to poor living conditions, arsenic cases for old buildings around the Bronx, and many other disastrous events. It led to gangs being formed for many reasons besides those stated above.  It caused a rise in a way where people can connect with each other.

South Bronx lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs and the daily income is just half of New York City’s average. The numbers showed South Bronx is decreasing in every category. The collapse was called “A mythical wasteland, an infectious disease, a condition of poverty and social collapse, more than a geographical place,” by Robert Jensen.

American Empire, Chapter 10- National Organization of Women (NOW)

” The passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act encouraged women to press for equality and greater opportunity at work, at a time when their labor force participation was continuing to rise. In 1966, three hundred largely female activists, frustrated with the inaction of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act Commission (EEOC) in countering discrimination on the basis of sex, founded the National Organization of Women (NOW)…” (Freeman, pg. 262)

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 propelled a time for change in America as a whole for not only minorities, but for women as well. The National Organization of Women (NOW) fought for equal rights in the work place, equal marriages and even day care. According to the text Betty Friedan from New York was elected as the first president of the organization, but was mostly organized out of Detroit. By the year 1975, nearly half of the women worked for wages and many jobs were available because of the Vietnam War. There were still problems however, including low pay and still ongoing discrimination by men in the workplace. Not too many women were educated and performing high level jobs, but this would change in modern society. As Freeman later discusses in the chapter, NOW was never satisfied and many other movements spurred as a result for equality. One of which was the Women’s Liberation Movement, which promoted more equality. Freeman makes it important to understand that the 1960s was a time of rapid change throughout the country. All though African American activists and leaders made a huge headline, women were also a part of this dramatic change of the 1960s.

David Shmidt


American Empire, Chapter 9- National Liberation Front (NLF)

” In 1959, the northern-headquartered party gave in to the pleas from the south to begin guerrilla warfare against Diem. The following year, the communists established the National Liberation Front (NLF) as an umbrella for anti-Diem forces seeking the reunification of the country.” (Freeman, pg. 224)

The Vietnam War escalated quickly during the early 1960s and was fought in all of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. North Vietnam was supported by the communists, while Southern Vietnam was mostly anti-communist as lead by Diem. North Vietnam had started to set up secret groups such as the National Liberation From for Southern Vietnam or (NLF) which where communist groups set up in guerrilla warfare against Diem and his forces with a goal of reuniting Vietnam under one communistic political power. Although the North was mostly headed by the PAVN, many part of the NLF did substantial damage to Diem’s forces and those of the United States. Kennedy would send troops, ammunition and money to Diem after his growing concern of China’s power in the Southeastern part of Asia and the Berlin Wall. He was not willing to allow communism to spread even more on the eastern part of the world. Freeman makes the NLF a huge highlight of this chapter as they are ultimately one of the reasons that the United States would exit the war ultimately at a stand still and not succeed in promoting their politics. The author makes it easily seen that the United States along with Southern Vietnam were hopeless in fighting against the PAVN and other communist parties such as the NLF because they were fighting through guerrilla warfare and did not value their lives. Money and ammunition was stolen, ultimately the United States as a whole grew hate for the conflict and Vietnam reunited under one communistic regime in 1976.

David Shmidt


1977 World Series

“Manager Billy Martin seethed.  He had opposed signing Jackson. He refused to attend the press conferences introducing Jackson in pinstripes.  As the season began, he cold-shouldered the star, sometimes benched him.  When he was upset, he called Jackson “boy.”


Even a little more than thirty years ago, racism was still prevalent in professional sports, specifically in Jackson’s case in major league baseball. However, even as a victim of racism on his team, Jackson received a 3 million dollar signing contract with the Yankees and made more money than his teammates.  It is ironic how his teammates and his manager looked down on him and even benched him just because of his skin color even though he was the most talented ball player on the Yankees.  The New York Yankees won the 1977 World Series because of Reggie Jackson and he was named MVP.

American Empire, Chapter 8– Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)

“Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), put forth a sweeping indictment for American Society for racism, inequality, complacency, and bureaucracy. But it’s suggested remedies- federal initiatives in the areas of civil rights, poverty, housing, and economic development and a realignment of the Democratic Party into a national party of liberalism- went only a bit beyond Fair Deal- New Frontier liberalism.” ( Freeman, pg.193)

The S.D.S. was one of the main representatives of the New Left during the mid 1960s. These were a group of people who were against the two active political parties, Cold War policies, nuclear war, the arms race and much more. These group members were both black and white, they were aiming for change, mostly in democracy. They were pushing for changes in the government in all aspects. They wanted more involvement by all groups of people in the government and an economic system that would favor more of the working class. All though they were not a large group, they had made an entrance onto the national political stage. Freeman found this group essential in the time of change during the 1960s. Many new young groups war being formed in the face of reform and change. Freeman is directing the message that many were not elated with the government and many groups were forming such as the S.D.S. to propel something new.

David Shmidt

Cant’ Stop Won’t Stop- The Bronx in the Making

“Here was the new math: the South Bronx had lost 600,000 manufacturing jobs: 40 percent of the sector disappeared. By the mid-seventies, average per capita income dropped to $2,430, just half of the New York City average and 40 percent of the nationwide average.” – Chang, pg. 13

This was the beginning of a new slum in the making in the Bronx. The Bronx was going into a “Depression” if you will during the 1950s-70s. It all started with a man named Robert Moses, one of the wealthiest urban developers of all time. His plan was to build the Cross-Bronx Expressway which would allow people to travel from the Bronx to New Jersey, upper Manhattan and the Queens in a matter of 15 minutes, but this came with a great cost. These were formerly pre-dominant Jewish and Italian communities, but because of Moses’ vision they were kicked out and would relocate to other parts of the city. The result was new housing in the Bronx, especially the southern part. The 50s and 60s were marked by a loss in jobs and sky high unemployment. Latino Americans and African Americans would move into these locations. Schooling was lost, drugs such as heroin were introduced to the neighborhoods of South Bronx and insurance frauds were at the high point in Bronx’s history. Developers were unable to find suitable renters, so buildings were burned down. The Bronx was a nightmare, which would lead to more problems.

With an influx of housing projects and violence in South Bronx, came neighborhood youth gangs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Being part of a gang was a sign of power for many teen youth rebels and for many it was merely protection. That is what Chang describes on page 43, ” If you were looking for protection or trouble, you quit your clique and joined the Skulls.” Although the Skulls were not the only youth gang association in the Bronx, there were many others as well, but this one seemed to be one of the most feared and respected in the Bronx. In a sense gangs provided comfort, shelter and protection for many of their members. Many of these members were formally part of foster care, abusive homes and simply did not have their own identity until they had joined a gang, similar to Tata, a Savage Skull Girl who described the fact that if she was on her own she would not be able to survive. The formation of gangs was truly a historical development in the Bronx. They fought for what they had believed in, whether it was right or wrong. This would continue till today, however not as rampant as a few decades before.

David Shmidt

Housing and Gangs Make for a Volatile Environment

Development in the Bronx during the nineteen sixties and early seventies is a bit of an oxymoron. There was plenty of the contrast in part due to lack of government funding leading to crumbling urban areas, lack of employment and imminent domain relocation as a result of projects like the Cross Bronx Expressway. Gang activity was rampant. Growing up in these dilapidated communities, many youth felt that joining a gang was a way to make up for what they lacked. They joined to surround themselves with people who cared and as well as for protection. The community members were mostly poor Hispanics, African American and Jews. They felt mistreated by the government and police and their needs continued to go unfulfilled. Rebuilding was not a government priority. All of these issues combined to form a very volatile and unpleasant environment in the Bronx.

The imminent domain relocating due to the Cross Bronx Expressway uprooted over 60,000 families who for the most part were not wealthy and had difficulty finding housing. The Housing project that began to spring up were to provide haven for these families but in reality perpetuated the housing segregation of social classes by grouping low income Blacks and Hispanics together.

Because of no real government assistance or talk of rebuilding, the gangs took it upon themselves to organize, help the community and voice their opinions for their many causes. They organized things such as clothes drives and soup kitchens. They also policed their own neighborhoods, chasing out the ever-growing number of drug addicts who were the main source of crime. The gangs were the lifeline that kept the communities afloat through these tough times.

The Cross-Bronx Expressway

“Once an unbroken continuum of cohesive, diverse communities, the trench was now the clearing for the Cross-Bronx Expressway, a modernist catastrophe of massive proportions. (p.10)”


Jeffrey Cheng describes the history and conditions of the place where hip-hop was born. The Bronx, once a decent area to live in, started changing with Moses’ project to build the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The path that would allow to travel from the suburbs of New Jersey to suburbs of Queens through the upper Manhattan in fifteen minutes. The residents were displaced and the residential apartments and developing businesses were destroyed. By the end of the project whites moved out to Westchester county or elsewhere and the South Bronx became the place for African-Americans and Puerto Ricans.

The apartment buildings in the South Bronx were managed by the “slumlords”, who made money on cutting off the heat and electricity and then later setting the whole buildings on fire in order to get the insurance money. This is how the Bronx became a slum-hood for the second-class citizens. The abandoned hood where the young generation tried to survive without access to education and without any possibility to get out of the way they lived. As Cheng puts it “The Black and brown youths formed gangs, first in self-defense, then sometimes for power, sometimes for kicks. (p. 12)” A lot of those gangs were formed from the local bands that played in clubhouses. Here the connection of gangs and music takes place.