Monday, March 14, 2011

T.J. English and The Savage City

Visitors to the Tenement Museum often ask us if it’s safe to walk in this neighborhood. We laugh and tell them they’ll be fine; this is not the Lower East Side of 15 years ago, and it’s certainly not the New York City of the 1960s. The Savage City is the history of the city my parents were afraid of, all of the grit and none of the glory.

T.J. English’s newest book draws a viscerally detailed portrait of a city strained to the breaking point: murders, drug deals, institutionally corrupt cops, muggings in broad daylight, the gap between the very rich and the very poor is starkly obvious. Add to this racial tensions and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, and New York City becomes a powder keg ready to blow.

On August 28, 1963—the very day Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC—two young, rich, white women were brutally murdered in an Upper East Side apartment. The murder went unsolved for months, until an intrepid detective from Brooklyn used the notorious crooked cop methods of the third degree to extract a false confession from a young black man. Although George Whitmore, the accused, was cleared of this charge after the real murderer was convicted, he spent more than ten years in the penal system for two other murders he did not commit.

The Savage City is not only a nuanced history of this seminal case; it is a snapshot of the dark heart of our city. Get in on the conversation between T.J. English and Daily News reporter Michael Daly at Tenement Talks this Tuesday night at 6:30.

Posted by Katherine Broadway

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