WORTH REPEATING: White Riot In Levittown



THE ATLANTIC: Levitt famously would not sell his houses to African Americans—not that such a policy was unusual at the time. Between 1946 and 1953, as New York University professor Tom Sugrue notes, 120,000 new homes were built in the Philly metro area. Only 347 were open to African Americans. In 1957 an African-American couple, William and Daisey Myers, bought a house as part of a plan to begin the integration of Levittown. Two thousand residents signed a petition denouncing the purchase: “[W]e feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community . . . [and] to protect our own.” Some went further. Mobs of people gathered, overwhelming local police, and smashing out the windows of the Myers’ ranch house. Protesters clashed with the cops and felled a few officers with rocks. White supporters of the couple were harassed as well, and crosses were burned on the lawns of at least two of their neighborhood allies. The riots against the Myers made headlines across the world. 20645951.47ddb56e.640Although another African-American family purchased a house shortly thereafter and was not met with a violent response, Levittown’s integration stopped cold. MORE

THE BALTIMORE SUN: Daisy Myers vividly remembers the rocks through the windows, the taunts and name-calling and cross-burnings and the day-and-night blaring of “Old Black Joe” that greeted her arrival as a member of the first African-American family in Levittown, Pa., 40 years ago. Memories of nights, more than a week of them, in which a mob that was estimated from 200 to 1,000 people gathered along Deepgreen Lane in the Dog Hollow section screaming racial epithets, throwing Molotov cocktails and yelling threats. But she quickly dismisses those memories. She says that she prefers to remember the positives that came out of those violent summer days in August 1957.

“I look back on it as not a bad time in my life. With all of my schooling [two master’s degrees], I would never have learned as much about human nature as I did then, and I wouldn’t have met such fine people like Martin Luther King, Pearl Buck and Jackie Robinson.” All of them, and many others, wrote to Myers and her husband, William E. Myers Jr., during their several-week ordeal in what had been an idyllic suburban, and white, community of 17,311 houses the largest planned community in the world. Today, it is still a mostly white town of about 60,000 residents.

“People brought us food very often. All kinds of fruit and food and flowers. One woman came from another section of Levittown one day and offered to clean up the house for me,” she said, in a telephone interview from York, Pa., where she works for the federal government. Myers also believes her family’s plight spawned a fair-housing law passed by the state about a year afterward. On Aug. 13, they moved in, and the mailman, assuming Daisy Myers was a maid, asked her if she knew the owners. She told him she owned the house.jet-2nd-family-levittown

“He back-tracked and told everybody that he had delivered mail to us and that we were there. That evening, people started gathering outside. They were banging the mail box, throwing rocks through the windows and lighted cigarettes against the house,” she said. […] A cross blazed in the blackness in the Wechsler’s yard. Another cross was burned outside a friendly Quaker’s home. More threats came over the Myerses’ telephone. His fire insurance was canceled. A druggist refused to deliver medicine because his driver was afraid. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Levittown had been Hillary country all the way — it gave Mrs. Clinton roughly three out of every four of its votes in the Pennsylvania primary in April. In doing so, it conformed, in some ways, to its history and stereotype. William Levitt built the vast postwar development in the shadow of a giant United States Steel plant, some 17,000 homes sprawling across three Pennsylvania townships and one borough. He would not sell to black families. According to the latest United States census, just 2 percent of Levittown’s current 54,000 residents are African-American; about an equal percent are Hispanic. The community is overwhelmingly Democratic, but filled with older whites who did not attend college — the so-called Reagan Democrats who in recent presidential elections have been the voters most likely to swing between parties. MORE