Brownsville is a neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn in New York City. It was initially a Jewish factory town founded in 1858. Black people moved into the neighborhood in the 1950s, which caused a major demographic shift. Brownsville has consistently had one of the highest crime and poverty rates of any neighborhood in New York City since the late 20th century.
Even though Brownsville had a great vibe, it remained a troubled neighborhood, home to some of the city’s poorest Jews. Businessman Elias Kaplan took the first Jewish immigrants to Brownsville in 1887, painting a good picture compared to the Lower East Side. He said workers couldn’t get away from labor unions. He built a factory and accommodations for his employees, then made a synagogue in the Ohev Sholom factory.
In the early 20th century, African Americans began moving into Brooklyn in large numbers. Bedford-Stuyvesant was Brooklyn’s first big African American neighborhood. From the 1930s forward, Brownsville began to receive more and more African Americans. A majority of the new residents were poor and socially disadvantaged, predominantly African-American, and had come from the Jim Crow South. Between 1940 and 1950, Brownsville’s black population doubled, becoming 22 percent by 1957. During the demographic shift, Brownsville saw both the emergence of racial tensions and the emergence of new progressive movements against injustice. In 1970, Brownsville had 130,000 residents, 77% black and 19% Puerto Rican. Many of the residential properties in Brownsville were severely damaged or destroyed after a wave of arson ravaged low-income communities throughout the 1970s, and Brownsville became synonymous with urban decay in many ways.
Below are some fascinating vintage photos that will take you back to the 1970s Brownsville, Brooklyn.