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Assemblyman remembers '64 riots

by Sean Carroll

Assemblyman David Gantt (D, 137th district) was 23-years-old and out for a date when he learned riots were breaking out in his neighborhood.

Gantt raced to the area of Joseph Avenue and Nassau Streets where three-days of riots started.

"Some guy said you better get out of here before I throw a brick at you," says Gantt. "I said 'I dont think you want to do that'. I grew up, as I said, in this neighborhood."

This was a neighborhood that stressed its neighbors.

"I lived at 5 Nassau Street and like any other ghetto, it was in rough shape," says Gantt "We had a pet rat, a sewer rat. We knew it was the same rat because he had this burn on his right hip. Then there were any cases of basement windows had been knocked out, nobody gave a damn, the city really didn't care. Racism was still here, people hated you only because of the color of your skin."

On a warm Friday night in July of 1964 the stress became too much. One man's arrest provided the spark.

"I think it just needed spark," says Gantt. "The gasoline and everything else was already there, this incident sparked what happened. People just said 'I had enough' and that was it."

Rioters damaged and looted shops along, the once vibrant, Joseph Avenue. The long-term impact of which is felt even today.

"This was big commerce, especially for the Jewish community, who basically moved to Brighton after that," says Gantt.

Five decades later, it's tough for Assemblyman Gantt to ignore what he sees along Joseph Avenue now. Some of the poorest neighborhoods in America, a school district that fails children, a community not as far removed from 1964 as some may thing.

"I thought we were on the right track but in many cases I think we're going backwards now," says Gantt.

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Washington Times