Before the fires | Bookzio

Bob Gumbs Mark Naison

mainstream nonfiction

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The deal starts:
03 November 2022

The deal ends:
03 November 2022


Residents of the South Bronx during their promising post-war decades tell their stories in their own words.

In the 1930s, word spread in Harlem that there were spacious apartments for rent in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Landlords, desperate to avoid foreclosure, began putting up signs in their windows and placing ads in black New York newspapers that read “We rent to select colored families,” by which they meant those with a secure wage earner and light complexion African-American families moved in by the dozens, beginning a period in which the Bronx served as a district of hope and upward mobility.

Chronicling a time when African Americans were poised between the best and worst chances in New York City, Before the Fires tells the personal stories of men and women who lived in the South Bronx before social decline and of the late 1960s. Located on a hill overlooking a large industrial district, Morrisania offered immigrants from Harlem, the South and the Caribbean the opportunity to raise their children in a neighborhood with better schools, strong churches , more shops, less crime and clean air. It also featured vibrant music venues, spawning such titans as Herbie Hancock, Eddie Palmieri, Valerie Simpson, the Chantels, and Jimmy Owens.

Rich in detail, these interviews describe growing up and living in communities rarely mentioned in other stories. Before the Fires captures the optimism of the time, as well as the anguish of what was lost in the urban crisis and the Bronx fire.

“Excellent . . . profound, moving.” —Robert W. Snyder, Rutgers University, Newark

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