DER Documentary

Brownsville Black and White


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by Richard Broadman and Laurann Black
color, 83 min, 2002




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This poignant and powerful documentary explores the complex history of interracial cooperation, urban change, and social conflict in Brownsville, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, from the 1930s to the 2000s. A case study of the tragedy of urban American race relations, the film recounts the transformation of Brownsville from a poor but racially harmonious area made up largely of Jews and blacks to a community made up almost entirely of people of color.

In the 1940s Brownsville was famous for its grass-roots integration. But it later achieved notoriety for one of the most divisive and bitter black-white confrontations in American history, the 1968 Ocean Hill Brownsville School War, in which the African-American (and Hispanic) community battled the predominantly white and Jewish Teachers Union.

Brownsville Black and White examines some of the most troubling and perplexing issues facing America and its cities and raises a multitude of discussible questions. The film will provoke reflection, analysis, and debate in a variety of courses in sociology and social issues, American history and American studies, African American studies, urban studies, race relations, cultural anthropology, Jewish Studies, and education.

“A remarkably encompassing teaching tool, illuminating virtually every important aspect of American urban race relations after 1945. Residential segregation, white flight, the underclass, school reform, black-Jewish alliances and rivalries -- all are brought to life through the film's powerful imagery and vivid characterization. This is a probing, moving, and deeply human film about a special time, place, and neighborhood. It is essential viewing for anyone who cares about our cities and the people who live in them.” — Jerald Podair, Asst. Professor of History, Lawrence University
“An excellent introduction to the history of 20th-century American race relations that resonates with the issues facing the country today. The film illuminates, and provides a basis for discussion of, the role of race and class in shaping the lives of working Americans, but it also reveals the power that committed individuals have to change society. ” — Wendell Pritchett, Asst. Prof. of Law, Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School, Asst. Prof. of History, Baruch College, CUNY, and author of Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews and the Changing Face of the Ghetto

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