It has taken nearly a century of well-orchestrated grassroots organizing to squarely address rampant racial discrimination in the New York City Fire Department. In 1919 Wesley Williams became the first African-American firefighter. Yet by the beginning of the 21st Century, and with a population of 2 million African-Americans in the city, the department still had only about 300 black firefighters, lagging far behind other uniformed departments like the police. And overt racism still plagued the FDNY. Although women and African-Americans had sued over the FDNY’s hiring practices—and prevailed in court—the fire department never enacted steps to eradicate hiring inequities. A court battle ultimately ensued between Mayor Bloomberg and the well-organized Vulcans Society of Black Firefighters.
Finally in 2014, the City settled a $98 million discrimination lawsuit mandating changes to the qualifying test for firefighters and to hiring practices in the Fire Department.
The new book Fire-Fight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest lays out the compelling story of this hard-fought quest to break through a tightly knit culture in which whites and predominantly Irish exerted a hold on who entered the fire department.
Guest – Ginger Adams Otis has been writing about New York City and local politics for more than a decade. She is a staff writer at the New York Daily News. Otis started covering City Hall and the Fire Department when she worked for The Chief-Leader; from there she moved to staff position at the New York Post. She’s also been a radio and print freelancer for WNYC, the Associated Press, BBC, National Public Radio, The Village Voice and national magazines such as The Nation and Ms. She lives in Harlem.
Supporters Fight to Reinstate Teacher Who Allowed Students to Send Mumia Get Well Cards
Third grade elementary school teacher Marilyn Zuniga was recently fired from her job for allowing her students to write get well cards to the gravely sick Mumia Abu-Jamal who is in prison in Pennsylvania. We speak today with Larry Hamm, the founder and chairman of the New Jersey civil rights organization Peoples Organization for Progress.
Guest – Lawrence Hamm, civil rights activist and advocate for African-American people and the cause of human rights for more than 30 years. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, he attended public schools and emerged at age 17 as a forceful and articulate spokesperson for the educational needs and aspirations of Newark students and the community. He was appointed to the Newark Board of Education, making him the youngest school board member in the United States. While at Princeton University, Larry distinguished himself during the anti-apartheid movement by organizing student protests and calling attention to Princeton’s financial investment in apartheid South Africa. These protests, and the rising tide of public indignation, resulted in Princeton University’s divestment from the apartheid South African economy. Larry Hamm’s impact as a student activist at Princeton is chronicled in the documentary film Blacks at Princeton. After graduation, Hamm returned to Newark and became active in local politics. He served as district leader and president of the 24th District Assembly. Larry was the founder and director of the People’s Energy Cooperative, a community fuel oil cooperative. He served as the Director of the Community Organization Program for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice.