Love and Black Lives, in Pictures Found on a Brooklyn Street
On a quiet side street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, Annie Correal came across a discarded photo album that had been put out with the trash. The handmade appearance of the album caught her eye, its wooden cover, bound with a shoelace and tied with twine, seemed to be waiting paitently for the right person to gently open its old pages. After a moment’s hesitation, she carefully picked it up and took it home.
The album chronicled the life of a black couple from the segregated south: from Harlem dance halls, to life in the quaint middle class neighborhood of Crown Heights. As a reporter, Correal felt she had to know more about these people, and through clues she found written on the back of photographs, and a little detective work of her own, she managed to learn the names of the couple to whom the photo album belonged, and additionally, much about their lives together. The album belonged to Etta Mae and her husband Isaiah ‘Ike’ Taylor. Ike had fought in World War II, while Etta Mae worked in the garment district. Though both were blue collar workers, they were solidly middle class, wore nice clothes, and often attended dances and parties throughout New York City. After living in Harlem for many years, the couple were able to buy a house in the middle class neighborhood of Crown Heights, in part due to ‘white flight’ that began in the 1950s and persisted through the early 1980s in New York City. They lived there until the early death of Isaiah on Aug. 5, 1971, at the age of 50. Etta Mae stopped keeping up the album after losing her husband, but continued to live in their home, attended church every Sunday, and helped raise neighborhood children until she passed in 2011. The Taylor photo album offers an all too rare glimpse of black, middle class life of the mid 20th century. Contrary to popular portrayal, not all black people lived in neighborhoods infested with both drugs and crime. As Mr. Bates, a neighbor of the Taylors who grew up just down the street said, “It was a real neighborhood, and a black experience no one talks about, because it wasn’t filled with drugs and it wasn’t filled with poverty. It was public schools, it was playing ball, it was playing music.” If more white Americans had–or took–the opportunity to see the similarities between the black experience and their own, then many barriers would be more easily broken down, lines that separate us would be erased, and someday, we would live in a fully integrated society. Read the entire NYTimes story Here