A Racist Attack Was Caught on Camera. Nearly 45 Years Later, It Still Stings.
[shouting] “We would call them bike hikes. We were just going out to go explore your world.” “There would be at least six, seven, eight of us. Our parents said as long as you were home before the streetlights came on, you stayed as a group, you’re fine.” “It was a beautiful day, sunshine. The children in the neighborhood planned to go on a trip to McDonald’s just to have some fun, something different to do.” “Rosedale we thought was a safe place. We all went down. We were riding our bikes.” “And then we saw down the block that there was this beautiful American flag flowing in the wind.” “We saw a group outside on the block. So we was like, ‘Oh, this is a block party.’” “The last thing that I remember was someone saying, ‘Oh, a parade.’ And so we went down to go see the parade, and I laugh about it to this day because it was a parade to get the black people out of Rosedale.” Crowd: “White power — white resistance.” It’s the summer of 1975. White residents in Rosedale, Queens, are protesting black families moving into the neighborhood. [shouting] Crowd: “Equal rights for whites.” These are scenes from a documentary produced by journalist Bill Moyers. “Does he have a right to live here?” “No.” “Why not?” “Because he’s black.” “This was not the South. This was not Greenville, Miss., or Spartanburg, S.C., or Atlanta, Ga. This was right in the heart of the greatest metropolitan area in the country.” The documentary was found nearly 45 years later by a graduate student who posted a short clip on the internet. It went viral on Twitter and Facebook. And the question people kept asking, where are the kids now? “Hey, Rob, this is Whitney Hurst calling from The New York Times. My name is Whitney Hurst. I’m a journalist —” To answer that question, we called more than 90 people who had lived in Rosedale at that time. “I’m just trying to find anyone that might have known someone.” We couldn’t find any white residents who said they’d been there. “Came out because it got a little bit crazy.” But we spoke with several of the black children. We wanted to hear what happened to them that day to understand why their experience is resonating decades later. “We went down to see what was going on. Probably in the middle of the block, that’s when we figured out it was something else, and it was something that we definitely were not invited to.” “We noticed that they were running towards us. I was like, ‘Wow.’ You know, like, ‘Why are they rushing towards us,’ not thinking anything negative. And then we heard nigger.” [crowd shouting racial slurs] “Yeah, nigger!” “And they surrounded my best friend at the time, Lorena — one of the young men hit her, and they started calling us names. They started throwing rocks.” “Hearing the word, hearing it directed at me — ‘Why are you calling me that? That’s not me.’ You know, I’ve always been told that’s not me. I didn’t understand. I was like, ‘Who do you think you are to say we can’t come here?’ Like, how dare you?” “What happened to you?” “This little boy, he threw the rock. He tried to hit my sister, but he almost hit me. It was about that much away from me. And I sure wish he had hit me with that rock. I would pick up the rock right next to me and hit him right dead in his face.” “I was just kind of amazed to see that people can act like that, to tell you the truth. But that was like really the first when I was like, ‘Wow, people do not like black people.’” “They always do that. They always spit on us like we some dogs. They always —” “Spit back on them.” “Ain’t nothing going to change.” “I immediately was reminded of those programs my parents would have me watch with the dogs and the hoses, and people trying to vote and being killed and lynched. It just, it went right back to my history in this country. It just linked me immediately with that whole experience because I felt it.” “Do you forgive them?” “No. No. No. Can’t take back no hurt.” “And I didn’t know what to do with those feelings. I did not know what to do with those feelings.” For Moyers, the video going viral shows how powerful images can be. “He just tried to hit my sister, but —” “Because we were in their neighborhood.” “I mean, I do believe that television has been a great teacher. This country didn’t really respond to what was going on in the South, although it was well known, until the sheriff in Birmingham turned the water hoses and the dogs on those young people who were demonstrating there. We knew about it. We heard about it. We were aware of it, but we didn’t see it. We couldn’t escape it once we saw it.” “As we filmed in Rosedale, a group of blacks from South Jamaica was coming through the neighborhood in a demonstration of support.” “Every time a group of blacks get together, they want to help Rosedale with their problems. We don’t need any outsiders helping us with our problems, and we’ll stay white, period.” Crowd: “Right on. Right on.” “All right, so guys, this next scene is very disturbing, all right? It’s the one I was telling you about yesterday. I started a sociology elective in 2004-2005 school year, and my supervisor at the time said, ‘Come up with something that’s close to home that maybe you can relate to today.’ I grew up in Rosedale.” “… and think that I have a right —” “And I said, ‘I want to do a unit on race in America.’ And that Rosedale video, we’ve been showing it for 15 years now, giving it to the kids and say, ‘What do you think?’” “I’ve never seen racism on camera. That was full-on racism and just bullying.” Crowd: “Equal rights for whites. Equal rights for whites.” “I’m glad that I saw it because it needs to be seen. I feel like everyone should see this.” “I think it’s come back up because of the fact that we’re going back kind of.” “Racism is still alive. It’s still poisoning other minds.” “This is how it was back then. Let’s not repeat it again.” “Emotionally, I think it’s connecting with kids more today. This generation is that ‘I Generation.’ They can see it in a 10-second span, make a connection to it.” “Can’t take back no hurt.” “The kids are never going to forget that. They can’t unsee it, and it’s going to be with them forever.” “Rosedale, it’s turned predominately black now, so we’re welcomed there now. That day, the American flag was the image, the symbol that pulled us into that situation. We live in America. The American flag means good things. It means that we can go where we want to go. We can ride our bike down any street in America. But it really represented a symbol of do not enter. So they took that beautiful image and turned it into something ugly for me, and I want the flag back.”