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A bridge overlooking a river and city scape showcasing 'story 3' location

Westward View of the Piers

West Side Waterfront, from Lower Manhattan to Hell’s Kitchen.

What

Content note: racist violence

From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the section of coastline from the West Village to Chelsea hosted commercial passenger ships, stall markets filled with fresh produce, meats, and dairy, slaughterhouses, and factories. This area was critical to Manhattan’s economic growth and everyday life. Black longshoremen had been a presence on New York’s waterfront since the colonial period, and by the 1840s they made up the majority of New York City’s maritime workforce. Anger toward the Civil War drafts converged with simmering racial and labor tensions on Manhattan’s waterfront.

The 1863 Draft Riots were a result of decades of steeped racial tensions, the Civil War draft, and fears that emancipation would lead to an influx of new Black workers and competition for jobs. White longshoremen refused to work with black longshoremen, and a four day riot left over a hundred people dead, thousands injured, thousands of Black residents homeless, over a million dollars in property damage, and the Colored Orphan Asylum burned to the ground.

Impact

Over the following decades, hiring practices were skewed against Black workers, which created inequitable impacts and limited opportunities for career advancement.

Furthermore, Black longshoremen were often excluded from trade unions, leaving them unprotected and unrepresented in union negotiations for increased benefits and better working conditions. By the 1940s, Black longshoremen had effectively been pushed out of the profession, with their numbers plummeting to only 15% of the industry.

Provocations

Questions to Consider

Recent efforts to unionize Amazon warehouses and Starbucks stores reveal that workers continue to seek safer working conditions, steady schedules, and better benefits and we must recognize the importance of unions in allowing individuals to attain strong safety nets and competitive wages.

Even to this day, there are issues of diversity in the present day longshoremen and many other industries.

How can we come together to imagine ways of changing this?

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