Rolling Stone and Wired contributing editor Kushner (Journalism/New York Univ.; Jonny Magic and the Card Shark Kids, 2005, etc.) skillfully pieces together a shameful chronicle of racial discrimination during the American postwar economic boom.
The child of Jewish immigrants, Abraham Levitt became a successful real-estate developer in the midst of the Great Depression. He bought land on Long Island, the new frontier of suburbia, with sons Bill (the front man) and Alfred (the designer). They developed housing efficiently and sold it affordably. In 1946, they transformed the farming community of Island Trees, Long Island, into Levittown, a self-contained development geared toward the 16 million returning veterans. Proclaiming that “an undesirable class can quickly ruin a community,” Bill Levitt barred blacks from buying into the complex. This discrimination was supported by the ingrained business practices of the Home Owners Loan Corporation, which gave higher marks to homogenous communities and “redlined” bad areas. However, after the opening of a second Levittown just north of Philadelphia in 1952, events converged to challenge these policies. Civil-rights groups made integrating the new Levittown a top priority, and Jewish activists Bea and Lew Wechsler invited the African-American Myers family to move in next door at 43 Deepgreen Lane in August 1957. Over the next months, the Myerses and Wechslers endured harassment, heckling, mob violence and cross-burning. Civil-rights sympathizers clashed with anti-integration residents. A KKK-sponsored organization secured a neighboring house for meetings, complete with display of the Confederate flag. Kushner’s immediate story of the trial and conviction of the racist mob’s leaders occurs within a larger frame of national civil-rights upheavals, including the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the murder of Emmett Till and the integration of Little Rock Central High School. The Levittown fracas, he demonstrates, was a crucial moment in the overall struggle.
A remarkable story fashioned into a dramatic narrative.