A Look Back at Urban Renewal

An exhibit and series of talks that begin next week will examine the “urban renewal” that altered the landscape in Beacon during the 1960s and 1970s, when the city demolished most of the buildings compromising the Black community on the West End.

“Beacon’s West End Story,” organized by the Beacon Historical Society, Howland Public Library, I Am Beacon and The Highlands Current, will tell the story through historical documents, photos, news clippings, oral histories and interactive programs.

Urban renewal

A West End house is bulldozed to make room for a development. (Beacon Historical Society)

Urban renewal was a federal initiative to revitalize cities with new construction. But as the organizers note, the process often had complex and unintended consequences, particularly on marginalized communities.

“Ours is an untold story and history,” says Connie Whitener Perdreau, a former West End resident who worked on the project. “Beacon’s West End was once a vibrant, thriving community full of vigor, talent and potential.”

Michelle Rivas, a Howland librarian, noted that there are few documents that offer the perspective of West End residents displaced by urban renewal. She said project organizers hoped to “start a dialogue about how these lessons from the past relate to issues facing our community today.”

The project includes a four-part podcast produced by I Am Beacon (the first one is posted at Spotify); an exhibit at the historical society that opens with a reception from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sept. 30; a lecture at the Howland library at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 30 by historian David Hochfelder on urban renewal in the Hudson Valley; and an exhibit at the library that opens Oct. 14.

There will also be a panel discussion at Springfield Baptist Church on Oct. 24 and a community conversation with residents of Forrestal Heights and Hamilton Fish Plaza on Nov. 15.

For more information, see beaconlibrary.org/westendstory.

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