To the Editor:
As former chief counsel to the New York State Assembly Democratic Leader Stanley Steingut during the tumultuous years described so comprehensively by Vincent J. Cannato and Jerald Podair, I thought I’d add a few points of interest (“The 1968 New York Schools Strike Revisited,” June).
First, the hostility toward Albert Shanker was so intense that law enforcement had credible intelligence that he was the target of an assassination attempt by African-American militants. At the instruction of the Assembly leadership, I accompanied Mr. Shanker to a safe house in Rockland County for a few days until the threatened assassination attempt was thwarted.
As a result of John Lindsay’s being reelected to a second term with less than 50 percent of the vote, the legislature passed a bill requiring that candidates for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate achieve at least 40 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff between the two top vote getters.
Albert Vann, one of the villains of the Commentary article, ultimately was elected as assemblyman. In that role, I found him to be a mature, responsible, and cooperative legislator without any anti-white or anti-Semitic sentiment infecting his otherwise powerful advocacy for African-American concerns.
Finally, I believe that as a reaction to and result of the racial trauma of those times, New Yorkers elected Abe Beame, the first Jewish mayor of New York City.
C. Daniel Chill
New York City
To the Editor:
I was quite interested in the article by Vincent J. Cannato and Jerald Podair, and for personal reasons. While one of these distinguished writers was a toddler at the time of the teachers’ strike and the other was a teenager, I was there, as a conditional substitute teacher at P.S. 144, the most densely populated K–6 school at the time. I was authorized by Rhody McCoy (against the wishes of the Board of Education) to operate two pre-kindergarten classes, for one full year (school year and head-start summer).
Unfortunately, most of what has been written has been based on media coverage. I learned to distrust such coverage when I was misquoted by a New York Times reporter on the scene of the strike. The strike scene drew every crackpot and fanatic in the region. People like Albert Vann and Leslie Campbell returned to ignobility. Sonny Carson went on to be a convicted felon (attempted murder), and, of course, the child who wrote the infamous poem to Albert Shanker never became our poet laureate. None of these people would ever have been taken so seriously by so many if it were not for the intense media focus placed on them.
I must disagree with Messrs. Cannato and Podair on a few points. First, Rhody McCoy was not a wild-eyed black nationalist. He was a calming influence, tasked with an impossible job. Second, Albert Shanker did much to popularize the idea of black anti-Semitism. He took an unverified and anonymous hate letter and spread its contents far and wide. His claims of anti-Semitism in areas such as Forest Hills were unfounded and inflammatory.
Warren L. Forman
Long Beach, New York
Vincent J. Cannato and Jerald Podair write:
We thank our readers for their considered and informative responses to our essay. Neither of us, for example, was aware that Albert Shanker was targeted for assassination during the Ocean Hill–Brownsville crisis, as C. Daniel Chill informs us.
We must take issue with Warren L. Forman’s criticism of Shanker for publicizing and circulating the infamous “Middle East Murderers” flyer. This blames both messenger and victim. Had the flyer contained racist language, it would have been altogether proper to disseminate it throughout the city as an illustration of the poisoned atmosphere in Ocean Hill–Brownsville. Few would have argued with such a course of action. Albert Shanker was not responsible for anti-Semitism during the Ocean Hill–Brownsville dispute; anti-Semites were. Shanker’s actions were not the cause of Black-Jewish tensions, merely reflections of those that already existed.
We agree with C. Daniel Chill’s observation that Albert Vann’s post–Ocean Hill–Brownsville career in the New York State Legislature was untainted by anti-Semitic sentiment.