Senior Thesis, “Downtown, Uptown: Investigations on New York City’s Antipoverty Programs”

Andrew Block, Class of 2006

In August of 2005, I used the Evalyn Clark Travel Award to conduct research for my senior thesis, which I am writing on the influence of the Community Action Program (CAP) in two New York City communities: Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. I am studying the period 1962 to 1972. In search of primary sources on this historical moment, I spent three weeks filing through New York City archives and conducting interviews with individuals who worked with the CAPs in these two communities. I based my investigations in downtown and uptown Manhattan. The Travel Award gave me the opportunity to find and record accounts that I would not have encountered anywhere else. Moreover, the Award also allowed me to gain new insights into methods for social historical research.

Downtown—on Chambers Street, and one block from City Hall—I conducted research in the Municipal Archives. In part, I analyzed and took notes on the papers of New York City mayors Robert Wagner and John Lindsay, who held office during the period of my study. In addition, I took notes on and printed out the New York City Council’s meeting minutes, policy proposals, projected policy results, correspondence, and internal memorandums on the CAPs in Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. Finally, I took notes on and made copies of newspaper articles the Municipal Archives had gathered on the CAPs in both Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. At the Municipal Archives, I collected documentation on my topic that I could not have found or afforded had I not had the assistance of the Travel Award.

Uptown—on 135th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard—I worked at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. There, I focused on finding information on the CAP in Central Harlem. I found, took notes on, and made copies of official newsletters of and oral histories about the Central Harlem CAP. I also read through the personal papers of the architects and directors of the Central Harlem CAP. The Travel Award allowed me to bring back to Vassar documents I would not have found in any other library.

In both downtown and uptown Manhattan, I tried to find people who could give me firsthand accounts of the influence of the CAP in Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. After much trial and error, I came into contact with several people who had direct experience working with the CAPs in both neighborhoods. I was able to interview former organizers, volunteers, and beneficiaries of the CAPs in Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. Their stories will be integral to the narrative I will create in my thesis.

The Evalyn Clark Travel Award allowed me to conduct research at the site I am analyzing for my thesis. Over the course of three weeks in New York City, I found and collected primary source material that will illuminate the influence of the Community Action Programs in Central Harlem and the Lower East Side. The archives in which I studied and the interviews that I conducted have provided me with firsthand accounts of how the CAPs shaped these neighborhoods and how these neighborhoods shaped the CAPs. The Travel Award has allowed me to explore a moment in twentieth-century urban U.S. History about which social historians are only just now scratching the surface. I am glad to be a part of the effort.