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What's in a Name

Biographies of Persons for Whom Selected New York City Housing Authority Developments Were Named

JOHN ADAMS (1735-1826) - The first Vice President of the United States (1789 -1797) and second President (1797-1801). John Adams was a major figure during the American Revolution, and in the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In 1765 Adams argued against taxation without representation before the royal governor. He lived to see his son, John Quincy Adams, elected President in 1824. Adams Houses is in the Melrose section of the Bronx.

LOUIS “SATCHMO” ARMSTRONG (1900 - 1971) - The great African American jazz trumpeter, singer and bandleader, was born in New Orleans where he became known for his improvisational genius and the melodic development of jazz. Probably the world’s greatest jazz musician, Armstrong influenced generations of musicians with his inventive musical mind and technical abilities. On July 6, 1971 Armstrong died in his sleep in his Queens home. Armstrong Houses is in Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant section.

JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785-1851) - American ornithologist born in Santo Domingo (now Haiti) arrived in the United States in 1803 when he began extensive scientific observations that would lead to the publication of his bird drawings and paintings, “The Birds of America (1827-38).” His drawings and paintings remain one of the greatest achievements of intellectual history. His writings are considered a literary treasure. Audubon Houses is in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.


BERNARD M. BARUCH (1870-1965) - The “Park Bench Statesman,” made his fortune on Wall Street, but his greatest challenge and his greatest satisfaction were his service to his country as an economic advisor during both World War I and II, and as a confidante to six presidents. He often met officials on a park bench in Washington’s Lafayette Park because of the privacy and relaxed atmosphere. After WW II Baruch coined the phrase “Cold War,” describing our relations with the Soviet Union. Baruch Houses is on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

BRIG. GEN. CHARLES W. BERRY (1871 - 1941) – Both a soldier and a physician, Berry gave up both careers from 1926 to 1933 to serve under three mayors as the city’s Comptroller. He had studied medicine at Columbia University and also served as Commander of the New York National Guard from 1923 to 1925, after appointment by his friend, then Governor Alfred E. Smith. After leaving city service he returned to the practice of medicine for a short period before retiring to his Staten Island home due to declining health. Gen. Berry Houses is in the Dongan Hills section of Staten Island.

DR. RAMON E. BETANCES (1827-1898) – Often called “The Abraham Lincoln of Puerto Rico” for his efforts to free the slaves, Betances was the son of a wealthy landowner who received his medical degree from the University of Paris. He founded a hospital in Mayaguez where he treated victims of a cholera epidemic. In 1867 he organized an abortive insurrection against the Spanish colonial government. Betances was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government for his contribution to literature. Betances Houses is in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.

MARY McLEOD BETHUNE (1875-1955) - The 15th of 17 children of former slaves, she was a Black educator who sought improved racial relations and educational opportunities for Black Americans. She was part of the U.S. delegation to the first United Nations meeting in 1945. In 1935 she founded the National Council of Negro Women, was a special advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and in 1940 became vice-president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Bethune Gardens is in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.


JAMES ALAN BLAND (1854 -1911) - American composer of popular songs, including “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” was born in 1854 in Flushing, N.Y., the son of free Americans. After graduating from Howard University’s Law School, he was the first Black man appointed examiner in the United States Patent Office. Later he worked in minstrel shows throughout Europe and the United States. He was often called “the World’s Greatest Minstrel Man.” He died of tuberculosis in 1911. Bland Houses is in Flushing, Queens.

MARIANA BRACETTI (1825 – 1903) – The legendary woman known as “Arms of Gold,” is believed to have crafted the first Puerto Rican flag known as the Boriquas Latin Cross, the First Flag. It was designed by Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances and handcrafted by Bracetti. It was the first flag ever created on the island of Borinquen. Today the flag remains as the Puerto Rican symbol of revolution and independence. Bracetti Plaza is in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side.

REV. RANDOLPH BROWN (1906 – 1985) – Raised and educated mostly in Michigan, Rev. Brown came to the Brownsville area of Brooklyn in 1938 where Mt. Ollie Baptist Church on St. Marks Avenue was looking for a new pastor. He officially became the pastor in 1939 and remained for 46 years. Under his leadership a new church was erected in only six years. He was a devoted community worker known in Brownsville for his “smooth” but persuasive “voice” of and for his people. Less than a year after the development was completed in 1985, the residents voted to name it after him. Rev. Brown Houses, a development for seniors, is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

EDMUND BORGIA BUTLER (1896 - 1956) – The 4th Chairman of NYCHA, Butler was an attorney. He was a vigorous and sometimes controversial supporter of low-cost public housing. In particular, he fought for affordable housing for veterans during the housing shortage following WW II. He was a full professor at Fordham University Law School when he was appointed to NYCHA by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1942. He resigned in 1947. Butler Houses is in the Claremont Village area of the Bronx.

PEDRO ALBIZU CAMPOS (1891-1964) – Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, educated at Harvard University, Albizu Campos joined the Nationalist Party in 1924 and was the most prominent independentista of his time. During World War I he enlisted in the U.S. Army and finished his military service as a First Lieutenant. He was jailed from 1936-47 for advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. administration of Puerto Rico. He masterminded a 1950 nationalist uprising and was accused of being behind the October 1950 assassination attempt on President Truman. He spent his final years in prison. Pedro Albizu Campos Plaza is in Manhattan’s East Village.

GERALD J. CAREY (1904 – 1967) – The 9th Chairman of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), Carey served 30 years in public service, 20 of them at the Authority. He was appointed an Assistant State Attorney General in 1936 and was head of the Court of Claims Bureau until 1947 when he became General Counsel of the Authority. He went on to serve as Executive Director, Assistant to the Chairman and General Manager of NYCHA before becoming Chairman in 1966. Carey Gardens is in Coney Island, Brooklyn.


GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER (1864-1943) – African- American botanist, agricultural chemist and educator, born a slave, who developed hundreds of uses for the peanut, soybean and sweet potato, prompting Southern farmers to produce these soil-enriching crash crops. He was director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute. He developed the crop rotation method of preventing soil nutrient depletion. He developed 325 different uses for peanuts, ranging from cooking oil to printers ink. He devoted much of his life to improving the lives of Black Americans. Carver Houses is in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan.


DeWITT CLINTON (1769-1828) – He served as state senator, U.S. senator, New York City Mayor and Governor of New York State. As mayor, he advocated free public education, promoted law that removed voting restrictions against Catholics and established public-welfare institutions. In 1811 Clinton introduced a bill in the New York State Senate for a canal to link the Northeast with the Great Lakes via Lake Erie. He was leader in the establishing of the New York public school system. He was an unsuccessful candidate for President in 1812 when he ran against James Madison. Clinton Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.


JOHN P. CONLON (1925 - 1973) – A Catholic priest with a strong commitment to working with and for the elderly, Father Conlon was shot to death on Mother’s Day 1973, late at night, during a robbery in the rectory of St. Bonaventure’s Church in Jamaica, Queens. He was surprised as he was counting the day’s collection of about $400. A 28-year-old man was later convicted of the killing. Father Conlon was actively involved with seniors at a NYCHA Low Income Housing for the Elderly (LIHFE) development that had opened in the area just a month earlier. The 214 residents of the 13-story building voted to name it the “John P. Conlon LIHFE Towers.” He was chairman of the LIHFE Council and also chaired the 53-member service groups on the LIHFE development committee and the Senior Citizens Advisory Council. Conlon LIHFE Towers is in Jamaica, Queens.

EDWARD CORSI (1896 - 1965) – Edward Corsi arrived in America at the age of 10 with his parents, brother and two sisters. He graduated from Fordham University Law School but rather than practice law he preferred writing and served as a correspondent in both Mexico and Italy. He was director of Men’s Work at the Harlem House Settlement at a time when Puerto Ricans and Blacks began to move into the area in large numbers. Corsi coordinated many programs oriented to the new neighborhood groups. Later on Corsi served briefly as Executive Director of Harlem House Settlement. Afterwards, he became U.S. Commissioner of Immigration and New York State Industrial Commissioner. In 1935 he wrote the book “In the Shadow of Liberty.” In 1950 Corsi ran for Mayor of New York, but finished third. Corsi Houses is in Manhattan’s East Harlem.

LEWIS S. DAVIDSON, Sr. (1883 – 1964) – He was a minister, teacher, community leader and organizer actively involved in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. He was an organizer of the Social Economic Welfare League, since renamed the Henry O. Tanner League after the famed black painter. Davidson was an early advocate of specially designed housing for senior citizens. He was the publisher of “The Listener,” one of the first general interest newspapers in the South Bronx owned and edited by Black people. He also developed several Black church organizations; was the organizer and first president of the Bronx branch of the NAACP; and developed a consumer food cooperative in the South Bronx. He was also the first Black owner of property on which part of the development named for him now stands. Davidson Houses is in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

EUGENIO MARIA de HOSTOS (1839 - 1903) - An educator, humanist, abolitionist, philosopher, writer and politician, de Hostos was a century ahead of his time in fighting for Puerto Rico to be a sharing part of the United States, including U. S. citizenship for its residents. His mission was to keep Puerto Rico from being a colony and instead “We want to be brothers of the Americans, not servants. We have a right to be first class Americans with all the prerogatives of a free country.” De Hostos Apartments is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

FREDERICK DOUGLASS (1817 - 1895) – Born into slavery, he learned to read and write before escaping in 1838 from Maryland to New England where he teamed up with The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, a publisher. Together they worked for social reform and the abolition of slavery. Later on he became a major force in the struggle for desegregation of schools, housing, employment and the right to vote. He was an adviser to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and afterwards became Minister and Consul General to Haiti and the U. S. Marshal for the District of Columbia. Douglass Houses is in the Manhattan Valley section of Manhattan.

CORNELIUS J. DREW (1895 - 1962) – Monsignor Cornelius J. Drew was the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo R. C. Church, adjacent to the NYCHA development now named for him, which received its first occupants in 1963. He was an outstanding leader in community affairs and was a member of the District 10 Planning Board in Harlem where he served for 13 years, at times as the treasurer and vice-president. He was also a former vice president of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council. He was described as a “staunch fighter” for improved housing conditions in Harlem and strongly advocated construction of the five building low-income development, which is named for him and Alexander Hamilton. Drew-Hamilton Houses is in the Hamilton Heights section of Manhattan. (See Alexander Hamilton.)


JOHN LOVEJOY ELLIOTT (1868 - 1942) – A dynamic humanist, Elliott fell in love with one of the city’s worst neighborhoods and dedicated his life to the people there. That area is the Chelsea-Elliott section of Manhattan’s West Side in the 20s. He was a major force in getting the Chelsea and Elliott developments built. He founded the Hudson Guild a neighborhood settlement house that still provides activities and a summer camp program for youngsters in the area. Elliott was a senior leader of the Ethical Culture Society where he taught ethics, teachings he also brought to the Hudson Guild and the people of the area. Elliott Houses is in the Chelsea area of Manhattan.

DAVID GLASGOW FARRAGUT (1801 – 1870) – The first Admiral of the U.S. Navy, Farragut was one of the most colorful commanders of the Civil War. He was the most famous Hispanic on the Union Forces during the war. He was born James Glasgow Farragut, son of seafarer who came from an island off Spain. David Porter, a navy officer adopted him after the Farraguts saved Porter’s unconscious father from a drifting boat. He changed his name to David Glasgow Farragut. He went to sea with Porter at age 8 and became a midshipman before he was 10. He saw combat at 11 and commanded his first ship at 12. In 1864 he was summoned from New York to lead the attack on Mobile Bay, the last Confederate stronghold on the Gulf of Mexico. When one of his lead ships struck a torpedo and sank and his ships were reluctant to proceed, he rallied his men to victory, shouting: “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead.” Farragut Houses is across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the Vinegar Hill area of Brooklyn.

ROBERT FULTON (1765 - 1815) – A trained artist who preferred being an engineer and inventor, Fulton produced the first practical steamboat, the “Clermont,” though he did not invent the steam engine or the steamboat. The Clermont made its first successful voyage from New Harbor, up the Hudson River, to Albany. He was also credited with developing the first useful submarine and torpedo. Actually, he had proposed building a submarine to the French government, which he then did on a grant from Napoleon. That submarine was called “the Nautilus.” Eventually, Fulton had a monopoly on steamboat operations in New York State waters and wrote a Treatise on the Improvement of Canal Navigation. Fulton also designed the world’s first steam-powered warship, which was launched after his death. Fulton Houses is in the Chelsea area Manhattan.

MARCUS GARVEY (1887 - 1940) – Born in Jamaica, Garvey became a leading proponent of Black Nationalism. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 determined to build worldwide unity among blacks and also to establish the greatness of their African heritage. He rejected any integration into countries where blacks were a minority and urged a “back to Africa” movement. A brilliant speaker, Garvey was prominent as publisher of his newspaper, Negro World. He was the most influential Black leader in the early 1920s. He was later jailed and deported to Jamaica where he died in relative obscurity. Garvey Houses is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

SAMUEL GOMPERS (1850 - 1924) – Born in England, Gompers came here in 1863 and went on to be a major figure in the American labor movement. He worked as a cigar maker and went on to help unionize them. In 1881 he founded a labor group that eventually became the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Gompers was AFL president for 37 years. He was a man of great personal integrity and fought to keep the union free of radical and socialistic elements. He fought for and won higher wages, shorter hours and more freedom for union workers. Gompers Houses is on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.


ULYSSES S. GRANT (1822 - 1885) - A Civil War Union army general who went on to become the 18th President of the United States. He was head of the Union Army in 1864 and accepted the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox the following year. One of his greatest victories was the Battle of Vicksburg, which ended Confederate control of the Mississippi River. Grant served two terms as president. Grant Houses is in the Morningside Heights section of Manhattan.

BERNARD HABER (1920 - 1959) – A State Assemblyman representing the 16th District in Coney Island Brooklyn, Haber died of brain injuries suffered during an automobile accident on the New York State Thruway while traveling to an Albany legislative session. In the Assembly he was a member of the Finance, Public Institutions, and Public Service Committees. He was an attorney and a World War II Air Force Veteran active in local veteran, civic, and fraternal organizations. Haber Houses, a senior citizen development, is in Coney Island, Brooklyn.


ALEXANDER HAMILTON (1755 - 1804) – An American statesman who went on to become the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. He had been Gen. George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the American Revolution. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention and he sponsored legislation to create the Bank of the United States. Thomas Jefferson later defeated his Federalist Party and Hamilton was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, who had been angered by Hamilton’s efforts that prevented Burr from becoming President and later, Governor of New York. Drew-Hamilton Houses is in the Hamilton Heights section of Manhattan. (See Cornelius Drew.)


RAFAEL HERNANDEZ (1892 - 1965) – A legendary composer of some of Puerto Rico’s most famous songs which grew in popularity in all languages for generations throughout the Western Hemisphere. In each composition he dealt with his deep love for his homeland, for the beauty of nature and his own love as his inspiration for creativity. Having studied music in Puerto Rico and Mexico he eventually traveled to New York and then to most of Latin America. On his return to his homeland he became director of the Puerto Rican Symphonic Orchestra. He had also served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War I. Hernandez Houses is on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

JOHN HAYNES HOLMES (1879 - 1964) – The prophetic founder of the Community Church of New York and later its Minister. He was known as a pacifist, social service organizer, racial and social justice pioneer, political participant as well as a poet and philosopher. In 1921 he preached a sermon extolling India’s legendary Mahatma Gandhi as “The Greatest Man Alive in the World Today.” When World War I broke out, he refused to go to war and would not extol military service from his pulpit. Holmes Towers is in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan.


LANGSTON HUGHES (1902-1967) – African-American poet born in Joplin, Missouri. He recalled as a child curling up in his grandmother’s lap listening to her stories which taught him to grow up courageous with a will to fight for his beliefs. She also taught him to judge a man by his actions, not by the color of his skin, and that all people deserved to be free. A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes depicted African-American life in his poems. His collections of verse include “The Weary Blues” and “One-Way Ticket.” Among his other works are plays, children’s books and novels. Hughes Houses is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

JOHN F. HYLAN (1869-1936) – The 96th Mayor of New York City (1918-1925), he devoted much of his first term in office to transit issues and was reelected based on his opposition to a state plan that would have increased the five-cent subway fare. On his first day in office he urged his appointees “to make the world yearn for democracy” by following his “Rules for City Employees.” Hylan also warned city workers about riding in city cars with cigars in their mouths or being conspicuous at ball games when they should be in their offices. His supporters nicknamed him Honest John.” He was also a strong advocate for New York City home rule. Hylan Houses is in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

RAYMOND V. INGERSOLL (1875 – 1940) – He had served as Parks Commissioner and Brooklyn Borough President and was a staunch advocate for Public Housing. He also championed broader public use of parks, playgrounds and beaches. He was instrumental in the consolidation of the subway systems, creation of health centers, a central library building, the Brooklyn College campus, Brooklyn Civic Center site, and better roads and parkways linking Brooklyn to the other boroughs. He was a member of the State Commission which revised tenement and housing laws in 1928-29. Ingersoll strongly advocated non-partisan municipal government. He once wrote: “The Dreamer Dies, But Never Dies The Dream.” Ingersoll Houses is in Downtown Brooklyn.


STANLEY M. ISAACS (1882-1962) – He served as Manhattan Borough President under Mayor LaGuardia and later in the City Council for 20 years where he was the minority leader. A liberal Republican, Isaacs associated himself with Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive brand. As President of the United Neighborhood Houses, Isaacs directed the campaign to amend the City’s multiple dwelling act. He was known for his passion for civil rights and social justice and fought for decent housing for families living in squalor. Isaacs Houses is in the Carnegie Hill section of Manhattan.


ANDREW JACKSON (1767-1845) – The 7th President of the United States (1829-1837). He was the son of Irish immigrants who went on to serve in the U.S. Congress. As a general during the War of 1812 he defeated the British at New Orleans (1815). Known as “Old Hickory,” he was soon to become the greatest hero of his time. As President he opposed the Bank of America, objected to the right of individual states to nullify disagreeable federal laws and increased the presidential powers. Jackson Houses is in the Concourse Village area of the Bronx.


THOMAS JEFFERSON (1743-1826) – The 3rd President of the United States (1801-1809), Jefferson was a member of the second Continental Congress and drafted the Declaration of Independence (1776). His presidency was marked by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France and the Tripolitan War. A political philosopher, educator and architect, Jefferson designed his own estate, Monticello, and buildings for the University of Virginia, an institution he helped found. He was the first President inaugurated in Washington, D.C., a city he helped plan. Jefferson Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

JAMES WELDON JOHNSON (1871-1938) – Poet and civil rights leader, Johnson, a Black intellectual, played a vital role in the civil rights movement as poet, teacher, diplomat and NAACP official. He is perhaps best remembered as the lyricist for “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the poem which is often referred to as the Black National Anthem. From 1916 to 1930, he was the key policy-maker for the NAACP, and later became the Civil Rights groups’ Executive Director. Johnson Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. (1929-1968) – An American Baptist minister whose eloquence and commitment to nonviolent tactics, led him to set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which formed the foundation of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Among the many peaceful demonstrations he led was the 1963 March on Washington, at which he delivered his “I have a Dream” speech. He won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, four years before he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King Towers is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.


FIORELLO H. LaGUARDIA (1882-1947) – The 99th Mayor of New York City (1934-1945), LaGuardia was the creator of the New York City Housing Authority. Earlier as a Congressman, he interrupted his career to serve as a decorated pilot during World War I. Although technically a Republican, he worked closely with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to secure federal subsidies for transportation, parks, public housing, bridges, schools and hospitals. The spunky 5’2” LaGuardia earned a reputation for placing the city’s interests ahead of political considerations. He presided over the construction of the city’s first municipal airport, later named after him. LaGuardia Houses is on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

LEWIS H. LATIMER (1848-1928) – Born to runaway slaves in Chelsea, Massachusetts, Latimer invented and patented an incandescent light bulb with a carbon filament in 1881. He was a skillful, self-taught mechanical draftsman. He served as an engineer for the Edison Company where he supervised the installation of the electric light system. He also made patent drawings of the first telephone for Alexander Graham Bell. Latimer was also an accomplished poet, painter and musician. Latimer Gardens is in Flushing, Queens.

HERBERT HENRY LEHMAN (1878-1963) – American banker, New York Governor and U.S. Senator who presided as Governor along with Mayor LaGuardia and then First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, during the opening day ceremonies of First Houses, the New York City Housing Authority’s first development. It was also the first public housing development in the nation. Lehman Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN (1809-1865) – The 16th President of the United States (1861-1865), Lincoln led the Union during the Civil War and issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves. His main goal remained to preserve the Union. He is well remembered for his 1863 Gettysburg Address in which his thoughts on the war were most beautifully expressed. Actor John Wilkes Booth, at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., assassinated Lincoln shortly after the end of the war. Lincoln Houses is in Harlem in Manhattan.

SETH LOW (1850-1916) – A political reformer and college president, he was the reform Mayor of the City of Brooklyn for two terms (1882-86) and President of Columbia University (1886-1901). In 1901 he was elected Mayor of Greater New York City, now a combined government consisting of all five boroughs. As Mayor of New York City he reformed the police and education departments, reorganized city finances and attacked the existence of unsanitary tenements. Seth Low Houses is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

EDWIN MARKHAM (1852-1940) – A poet and educator, he moved from California to Brooklyn and then Staten Island in 1901 with his wife and son. He bequeathed his personal library of 15,000 volumes to Wagner College where his son, Virgil, was chairman of the English Department. Markham’s best-known poem, “The Man with the Hoe,” is a spirited protest against labor exploitation. Markham Gardens is in the Livingston section of Staten Island.

THURGOOD MARSHALL (1908-1993) – One of the best known figures in the history of civil rights in America and the first Black Supreme Court Justice. He served in the Supreme Court for 24 years until June 1991 when he announced his retirement. As legal director of the NAACP in 1954, he won Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that demolished the legal basis for segregation. Marshall Plaza is in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

WILLIAM McKINLEY (1843-1901) – The 25th President of the United States. He had served in the Civil War prior to attending Albany, N.Y. Law School and then going on to serve in Congress and later become Governor of Ohio. His presidency was marked by the Spanish-American War (1898), the annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, an open-door policy with China, and the passage of the Gold Standard Act. He was assassinated in Buffalo. McKinley Houses is in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

MAX M. MELTZER (1908-1962) – Born and raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Judge Meltzer was not only a lawyer, but also an active community leader who was known on the Lower East Side as the “Champion of the People.” He was particularly active in the field of housing and community development. He was continuously dedicated to slum clearance, building new schools and affordable public housing. Meltzer Tower, a senior citizen development, is in the East Village of Manhattan.

JOHN PURROY MITCHEL (1879-1918) – At 35, he was the youngest person ever to be elected Mayor of New York City. He became the city’s 95th Mayor carrying the nickname of “Boy Mayor.” Mitchel’s waste cutting measures and accounting practices earned the city national acclaim. His investigation of a Police Department protection racket forced the ouster of two Borough Presidents and caused a third to flee the continent. In 1918, during World War I, he enlisted in the Army Air Service and was killed when his plane crashed on his final day of training. Mitchel Houses is in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.


JAMES MONROE (1758-1831) – The 5th President of the United States (1817-1825), his administration was marked by the acquisition of Florida, the Missouri Compromise and the Monroe Doctrine, which declared U.S. opposition to European interference in America. Monroe helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. His administration became the “Era of Good Feeling.” He had served as a U.S. Senator, minister to France and Governor of Virginia. Monroe Houses is in the Soundview area of the Bronx.


E. ROBERTS MOORE (1894 - 1952) – The Rt. Rev. Monsignor E. Roberts Moore was Pastor of Old St. Peter’s Church on Barclay Street at the corner of Church St., in Lower Manhattan from 1937 until his death. It is the oldest Catholic Church in the City. Ordained in 1919, he served as Director of Social Action of Catholic Charities; was a professor at the Fordham University School of Social Science and Archdiocesan Director of the Catholic Youth Organization before retiring from social work to devote his full attention to his duties as Pastor of St. Peter’s. During the tenure of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Monsignor Moore was a member of the city’s Slum Clearance Committee and a member of the first Board of the New York City Housing Authority in 1934. He once escorted the former King of England, then the Duke of Windsor on a tour of Housing Authority Developments. Moore Houses is in the Melrose section of the Bronx.


GOUVERNEUR MORRIS (1725-1816) – A lawyer and diplomat, Morris was a signer of the Articles of Confederation. He led diplomatic missions to England and later became Minister to France, where he replaced Thomas Jefferson. He was also U.S. Senator from New York (1800-03). Morris was born at Morrisania estate, then part of Westchester County, now the Bronx. He has been a leading figure at the Continental Congress where he was noted for having made the most speeches of anyone. Morris Houses is in the Claremont Village area of the Bronx.


ARTHUR MURPHY (1868 - 1922) – The first Democratic Party Chairman in Bronx County, Murphy served on the New York City Board of Aldermen in the early 1900s. Murphy had a liquor, cigar and real estate business in the Bronx, where he had settled after completing his studies at Ottawa University. He was a member of the general committee of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party power base. He was the party’s first Bronx leader after it became a separate county in1914. Murphy maintained his own political club in his saloon near Bronx Borough Hall. Arthur Murphy Square in his old district at Third Avenue and 181st Street bears his name. Murphy Houses is in the East Tremont section of the Bronx.

WILLIAM O’DWYER (1890-1964) – As Mayor (1946-1950), he established the Office of City Construction Coordinator, appointing Robert Moses to the post. At his inauguration he celebrated to the song: “It’s a Great Day for the Irish.” Prior to becoming Mayor he served as a County Court Judge in Brooklyn and as Kings County District Attorney where he gained national celebrity for his prosecution of Murder, Inc., the legendary underworld gang of murderers. He was instrumental in getting the United Nations to move to Manhattan and created the Department of Traffic. A Brigadier General in the Army during World War II, O’Dwyer resigned as Mayor in 1950 following a police scandal. He was later appointed Ambassador to Mexico. O’Dwyer Gardens is in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

LESTER PATTERSON (1893 - 1947) – A Bronx County judge who had just started his second 14-year term, Patterson suddenly died at age 54 following a critical illness. A former State Assemblyman, Bronx County Sheriff and Bronx County Clerk, Patterson, as a judge, earned a reputation as being tough with tough guys and being merciful with defendants whose mistake stemmed from an error. As a judge who gave maximum sentences to gangsters, he often leaned in the opposite direction by meting out probation or suspended sentences to more than 40 persons accused of homicide. He was known to castigate juries for being too lenient, and being unbending to muggers who he shipped off to jail. Patterson Houses is in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx.


LOUIS HEATON PINK (1882-1955) – As Chairman of the New York State Housing Board, Pink became convinced that only a combination of public and private effort could eradicate slums. He wrote a plan and a bill that led to the creation of the New York City Housing Authority and became a member of the first Board of the New York City Housing Authority. He was a scholar, businessman and humanitarian without any boundaries. While an active member of some 15 other major organizations, in the days when polio was a rampant medical problem, Pink gladly took on the chairmanship of the New York Chapter of the Infantile Paralysis Foundation. Pink served as State Insurance Superintendent and later became head of the health insurance plan that evolved into Blue Cross. He worked to increase benefits and service and remained there for 11 years until he retired. He also was President of the United Housing Foundation. Pink Houses is in the New Lots section of Brooklyn.

PHILIP RANDOLPH (1889-1979) – The principal organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), Randolph led efforts to end segregation in the Armed Forces and in schools. The BSCP came to be viewed as a symbol of the African-American’s claim to dignity, respect and a decent livelihood. It took some 12 years for Randolph to unionize the Pullman Company, the first such contract between a major national employer and a predominantly Black union. He was the key player in forcing an end to discrimination in the military in industry. He participated in a number of civil rights marches, including the March on Washington of 1963 where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Randolph Houses is in Morningside Heights, Manhattan.

RALPH J. RANGEL (1923 – 1975) – An energetic Central Harlem community worker, Rangel became a director of Community Board #1 and the New Careers Program. He was also the co-founder and President for nine years of the Colonial Park Houses Tenant Association, a New York City Housing Authority development which later was name for Rangel following an overwhelming vote by the residents a year after his death in 1975. Rangel was the brother of New York’s Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel. Rangel Houses is in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

WILLIAM REID (1890 – 1969) – The 7th Chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, Reid served for more than seven years before retiring at age 75 on December 31,1965. Reid began public service in 1913 in the Comptroller’s office. From there he moved into the Treasurer’s office and rose to the head of the City’s tax office. All told, he was involved with city finances for some 32 years. He became a deputy mayor under Mayor William O’Dwyer and in 1958 as Chairman of NYCHA, Reid was pushed by then Mayor Robert Wagner to accelerate the building of public housing to replace badly deteriorating slums. At the time the city was getting enough federal aid to build 6,000 new apartments a year. Reid instituted a resident participation program to report people who were guilty of “throwing garbage on the floor or damaging the place in any way.” Reid Houses, a senior citizens development, is in the Wingate section of Brooklyn.

JACOB AUGUST RIIS (1849-1914) – Danish-born American journalist and reformer whose reports on living conditions in city slums led to improvements in housing and education. His stories in newspapers about slum dwellings and abuses in lower class urban life were collected in “How the Other Half Lives (1890).” Riis dwelled on the city’s slum tenements and how the people there lived. His vivid descriptions, often depicted on slides, caused audiences at his lectures to moan, shudder and even faint. He founded a pioneer settlement house in New York City named after him. Riis Houses is in Manhattan’s East Village.

IRA S. ROBBINS (1900 – 1978) – He was noted pioneer in the public housing field in the 1930s and 40s, always in the forefront of housing planning both nationally and locally. For 12 years starting in 1958 he was a member of the Board of the New York City Housing Authority. In 1949, as Executive Vice President of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council of New York, Robbins, an attorney, fought for an end to discrimination in all buildings in slum areas redeveloped with public aid. In 1952 he complained that in this city, finding “decent housing at a moderate price is scarcer than deer on Central Park lawns. There is no long-range planning.” Robbins Plaza, a senior citizens development, is in Manhattan’s Lenox Hill section.

JACKIE ROBINSON (1919-1972) – The first African-American to play in the major leagues. Robinson excelled in sports at the University of California, Los Angeles. He signed a minor league contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team in Montreal in 1945 and in 1947 joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in what was a precedent-shattering move. A fierce competitor, daring base runner and solid hitter, Robinson led the Dodgers to six World Series appearances in his 10 years with the team. He was the first African-American in 1962 to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Robinson Houses is in Manhattan’s East Harlem.

ELEANOR ROOSEVELT (1884-1962) – She was a niece of President Theodore Roosevelt and a distant cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom she married. She worked for social betterment as a lecturer, newspaper columnist and world traveler. While in the White House she broke tradition by abandoning the accepted First Lady roles in favor of political and reform work. She worked with trade union women and pressed for women’s causes within the Democratic Party. She fought constantly for the betterment of Black people, youth, the poor and the unemployed. A U.S. Delegate to the United Nations, she was made chairman of the Commission for Human Rights in 1946. Roosevelt Houses is in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

HENRY RUTGERS (1745 – 1830) – The last descendant of Dutch immigrants who came to this country in 1636. A captain in the Revolutionary War, he went on to be a major landowner and philanthropist. He became a member of the State Assembly and funded the construction of the first Great Wigwam of Tammany Hall in 1811. His farm, the “Bouwery” comprised much of the land on the Lower East Side near Chatham Square and Chinatown. He gave away much of his land for churches. Rutgers Houses is on the site of his farm. He also was a regent of the State University of New York, Trustee of Princeton University and a founder of Queen’s College in New Brunswick, N.J., which became Rutgers University in 1825. Rutgers Houses is on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

FREDERICK E. SAMUEL (1924 – 1985) – A City Councilman, he was also an immensely popular Harlem political leader who chaired the Council’s Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. Born in the West Indies, he went on to graduate from New York University and Fordham University Law School before becoming active in civic affairs and Democratic Party politics. Former Mayor Edward Koch often had problems with the Black community but always maintained a good relationship with Samuel. “He never felt he had to out-radical the radicals,” Koch said. “He disagreed with me on a number of occasions… but always in a common-sense, intelligent and persuasive way. He never alienated friends.” Samuel Houses is in Manhattan’s Hamilton Heights.

ALFRED E. SMITH (1873-1944) – A vigorous reformer as Governor of New York, Smith became the first Roman Catholic to win the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States in 1928. However, Smith, dubbed the “Happy Warrior’” by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who nominated him, lost to Herbert Hoover. Smith only won eight states and even lost New York, principally because of a backlash against Roman Catholics. As Governor, Smith reorganized the state government and gained legislation for better housing, child welfare, better factory conditions and better state parks. Smith Houses is in Manhattan’s Two Bridges area.

NATHAN STRAUS (1848-1931) – Co-owner of the R. H. Macy & Co. department store in Manhattan and Abraham & Straus in Brooklyn, Straus served as Parks Commissioner of New York City from 1889 to 1893. He was a member of the Board of NYCHA from 1936-37. He led a campaign for the compulsory pasteurization of milk and established pasteurized-milk stations here and in other cities. His philanthropic activities included the maintenance of a system of lodging houses and relief stations distributing coal and food to the poor in New York City. In the 1890s, one winter he gave away more than two million tickets that could be redeemed for coal, food or lodging. Straus Houses is in Manhattan’s Kips Bay section.

PETER STUYVESANT (1610 -1672) – He was the last Dutch Governor of New Netherland (ultimately New York). Unpopular because of his harsh leadership and intolerance of religious dissenters, the one-legged Stuyvesant had to surrender to the English in 1664. Prior to that he had established the settlement of Nieuw Haarlem, which later became Harlem and in 1910, one of the largest communities of Black people in the country. Stuyvesant lost his leg in a failed attempt to capture the Spanish island of St. Martin in the Caribbean where he was then Governor of Caracas, Aruba and Bonaire. Stuyvesant Gardens is in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

ROBERT A. TAFT (1889 – 1953) – A U.S. Senator from Ohio and an outspoken conservative, Taft was the sponsor of legislation in 1949 to fund slum clearance and build low-income public housing developments. He was the son of William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States. He advocated isolationism before World War II. Known as “Mr. Republican,” Taft opposed most Democratic New Deal programs. He helped write the Taft-Hartley Labor Act of 1947. Taft Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

SONDRA THOMAS (1927 – 1983) – Committed to the idea of collective action, she devoted her life to organizing people – the idea that there was strength and power in working together. She was involved in labor and education issues and housing for the poor and displaced. She fought to find affordable homes for people displaced by the massive West Side Urban Renewal program. In the end, through her efforts, some 2,000 families found affordable homes in their own neighborhood. She was the Executive Director of the Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council. “It was her extraordinary ability to research, to marshal facts and then to organize them clearly that enabled” City and Federal attorneys to win a victory for public housing in her neighborhood, it was said at her memorial service. The Supreme Court upheld their victory. Sondra Thomas Apartments is on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

SAMUEL J. TILDEN (1814 – 1886) – An attorney, Tilden held numerous Democratic Party positions and went on to be Governor of New York. Prior to that he played a major role in overthrowing the notorious Tweed Gang which had defrauded the city for hundreds of millions of dollars and the removal of several corrupt judges. As Governor he exposed the Canal Gang, politicians and contractors who were defrauding the State. In 1876 he ran for President, won the popular vote, but lost the election to Rutherford M Hayes in a questionable vote counting scandal. Tilden Houses is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

BARUCH CHARNEY VLADECK (1886 - 1938) – One of the founders of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) in 1934, a group designed to provide Jewish presence in the American trade-union movement and to mobilize labor in the struggle against fascism. He was then general manager of the Forward, a leading Yiddish language newspaper. He was elected president of the JLC at the initial meeting. He extolled aid to refugees and education for the people in the labor movement (and the general public) about the threat of Nazi Germany. He was a member of the original Board of the New York City Housing Authority. Vladeck Houses is on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

ROBERT F. WAGNER, Sr. (1877 – 1953) – Born in Germany, Wagner was a four-term U.S. Senator from New York who was a close associate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the early New Deal days. Unable to speak English when he came here from Germany, he kept studying and eventually graduated from the New York Law School. He was a New York Supreme Court Justice before going to the Senate. Post-depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Wagner as the first Chairman of the National Recovery Administration. The National Labor Relations Act, known as the Wagner Act, established the right to collective bargaining. He also helped draft the Social Security Act. His son, Robert F. Wagner, Jr., was four-term Mayor of New York City. Wagner Houses is in Manhattan’s East Harlem.


LILLIAN WALD (1867 – 1940) – She originated the public health nursing service in the country and the Henry Street Nurses Settlement on the Lower East Side. A dynamic force for social reform she created widely accepted models of public health and social service programs. Her nursing education in New York led her to conclude that tenement residents lacked proper health care, so she organized the Henry Street nurses group and later expanded settlement programs to include social services, especially for children. Wald played a key role in organizing the American Red Cross. She was a leader in the fight to abolish child labor and helped foster the creation of the Children’s Bureau in 1912. Wald Houses is in Manhattan’s East Village.

GEORGE WASHINGTON (1732 – 1799) – Commander of the American Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, he went on to become the first President of the United States. He succeeded in capturing Boston from the British, but failed in the following battle to save New York in the Battle of Long Island. On Christmas night in 1776 he led his troops across the Delaware River and defeated the British at Trenton and Princeton, N. J. His army suffered greatly at Valley Forge but stuck it out and became a better fighting force that eventually went on to victory against the British and won independence for the United States. Washington Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

DANIEL WEBSTER (1782-1852) – A U.S. Representative from New Hampshire and later a Representative and Senator from Massachusetts, he was a noted orator who espoused the preservation of the Union as a leader in the new Whig Party. Webster fast became a champion of American nationalism. He was a strong opponent of the war of 1812 because it had crippled New England’s shipping industry. When New England switched to manufacturing to replace the lost shipping business, Webster fought for high-tariffs to prevent competition from imports. He twice served as Secretary of State (1841-43 and 1850-52). Webster Houses is in the Claremont Village area of the Bronx.

GAYLORD WHITE (1864 – 1931) – Rev. Gaylord Starin White, a Presbyterian minister, was the founder and second “headworker,” now the Executive Director, of the Union Settlement Association. At the same time he remained a driving force within the Union Theological Seminary, his alma mater. He was known as the “most potent figure” at the settlement which fast became known for its excellence in its ministry to the people of the East Harlem area and for creating fellowship among its residents. Under his guidance, he not only was instrumental in choosing the first site for the settlement, but he also began the expansion of vital services to include a library, a clinic, a playground, a gymnasium, and clubs for boys, girls, men and women. White Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

WALT WHITMAN (1819-1892) – One of the greatest American poets, he worked as a printer, teacher and editor of the Brooklyn Eagle. In 1855 he published “Leaves of Grass,” the volume that was to make his reputation. His innovation in using rhythmical free verse and its celebration of sexuality, the book eventually proved to be the most influential volume of poems in American literary history. Whitman is best remembered for his celebration of individual freedom and dignity, democracy and human brotherhood. He worked as a nurse during the Civil War, publishing war poetry in “Drum-Taps” and “Sequel to Drum-Taps.” Whitman Houses is in Downtown Brooklyn.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS (1750 – 1815) – A highly educated soldier and engineer, Colonel Jonathan Williams, a member of the Army Corps of Engineers, had surveyed the area of Brooklyn which was later named for him as Williamsburg. Actually Williamsburg became an independent city in 1827, but joined Brooklyn in 1855. He was the first commander and later Superintendent of West Point, the U.S. Military Academy. He planned and built most of the forts in New York Harbor and on Governors Island, including Fort Columbus, Fort Clinton (now Castle Garden) and Castle Williams. He was later considered the “father of the corps of engineers.” Williams was elected to Congress from Philadelphia in 1814, but died before taking his seat. Williams Plaza is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

WOODROW WILSON (1856 – 1924) – He was the 28th President of the United States. A noted scholar, he became a professor of law and political economy at Princeton. He became Governor of New Jersey in 1910. A Democrat, Wilson’s domestic program as President was the “New Freedom.” He tried to keep the U. S. out of World War I but eventually the country had to go to war after numerous German aggressions. Under Wilson the Federal Reserve System was created, as well as the Federal Trade Commission and the Clayton Anti-trust Act. After the war he devoted himself to the League of Nations as a vehicle toward permanent world peace and won the 1919 Nobel Peace prize. Wilson Houses is in Manhattan’s Spanish Harlem.

STEPHEN S. WISE (1874 – 1949) – Born in Budapest, Hungary, he came here as a child and went on to become one of the most prominent Reform rabbis in this country. Unlike most of the Reform rabbis at the time, Wise was also a Zionist, in favor of a homeland for Jews in Palestine, now Israel. He encouraged the creation of a World Jewish Congress to have a broader representative body to fight Nazism. Wise Towers is on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

CARTER G. WOODSON (1875 – 1950) – An American historian from a poor family who worked in Kentucky coal mines so he could support himself and go to school. Eventually he received a PH. D. from Harvard University. He founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and later edited the first edition of the association’s scholarly publication “The Journal of Negro History.” He founded Negro History Week in 1926, which evolved into Black History Month celebrated in February, the month most slaves first heard of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. The Amendment had been signed in January. Woodson Houses is in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Compiled as of February 23, 2004 by:
Carl J. Pelleck, Public Information Manager,
New York City Housing Authority
Department of Public and Community Relations


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