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Topic: [ncsm-members] Lee Lorch, Desegregation Activist, Dies at 98
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] Lee Lorch, Desegregation Activist, Dies at 98
Posted: Mar 4, 2014 3:44 PM
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From The New York Times, Saturday, March 1, 2014. See
Lee Lorch, Desegregation Activist Who Led Stuyvesant Town Effort, Dies at 98

By David Margolick

SIDEBAR PHOTO: Lee Lorch, 95, a leader of an effort 60 years ago to
desegregate Stuyvesant Town, at his home in Toronto. Credit Steve
Payne for The New York Times
Lee Lorch, a soft-spoken mathematician whose leadership in the
campaign to desegregate Stuyvesant Town, the gargantuan housing
development on the east side of Manhattan, helped make housing
discrimination illegal nationwide, died on Friday at a hospital in
Toronto. He was 98.

His daughter, Alice Lorch Bartels, confirmed the death. Mr. Lorch had
taught at York University in Toronto, and had lived in Toronto since

By helping to organize tenants in a newly-built housing complex - and
then inviting a black family to live in his own apartment - Mr. Lorch
played a crucial role in forcing the Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company, which owned the development, to abandon its whites-only
admissions policy. His campaign anticipated the sit-ins and other
civil rights protests to come.

But Mr. Lorch's lifelong agitation for racial equality, not just in
New York but later in Tennessee and Arkansas, led him into a life of
professional turmoil and, ultimately, exile. [See ]

In the spring of 1946, Mr. Lorch, a graduate of Townsend Harris High
School in Manhattan, Cornell University and the University of
Cincinnati, where he earned a doctorate in mathematics, returned from
wartime service in the Pacific with the Army Air Corps to teach math
at City College. Like millions of veterans, he could not find a place
to live. After a two-year search, having lived much of the time in a
Quonset hut overlooking Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, he, along with his
wife, Grace, and young daughter, moved into Stuyvesant Town. So did
25,000 other people.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Lee Lorch; his wife, Grace; and their daughter,
Alice, at a news conference in 1949 concerning the African-American
family the Lorches invited to occupy their Stuyvesant Town apartment.
Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times
As he later put it, he had all the credentials: "A steady job,
college teacher and all that. And, not black."

In 1943, Frederick H. Ecker, the president of Metropolitan Life at
the time, told The New York Post: "Negroes and whites don't mix." If
black residents were allowed in the development, he added, "it would
be to the detriment of the city, too, because it would depress all
surrounding property."

A lawsuit against Metropolitan brought in 1947 by three black
veterans, and co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the
American Jewish Congress and the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, had failed in the state courts, and no
local laws prohibited such discrimination; the city had not only
supplied the land, and tax breaks, to the insurance company, but had
let it select tenants as it saw fit. [See

With 100,000 people vying for the 8,759 apartments on the 72-acre
tract, no boycott could possibly work. Any successful protest had to
come from inside: Polls showed that two-thirds of those admitted
favored integration. Mr. Lorch's wartime experiences, like seeing
black soldiers forced to do the dirty work on his troop transport
overseas, had intensified his resolve.

Mr. Lorch became vice chairman of a group of 12 tenants calling
themselves the Town and Village Tenants Committee to End
Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town.

"When you got into Stuyvesant Town, there was a serious moral
dilemma," he recalled in a 2010 interview with William Kelly of the
Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Video Project. "In the
concentration camps of Nazi Germany, people had seen the end results
of racism." [See

Some 1,800 tenants eventually joined the group. "Stuyvesant Town is a
grand old town; but you can't get in if your skin is brown," went one
of its chants, wrote Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times in a book
about Stuyvesant Town's history. A group of 3,500 residents
petitioned Mayor William O'Dwyer to help eliminate the "no Negroes
allowed" policy, and supported anti-discrimination legislation before
the City Council.

But Metropolitan Life held firm. And in early 1949, Mr. Lorch paid
the price. Despite the backing of a majority of colleagues in his
department, the appointments committee at City College blocked his
promotion, effectively forcing him to leave.
Continue reading the main story

Mr. Lorch was "unquestionably a fine scholar and a promising
teacher," an alumni committee later concluded, but some colleagues
"regarded him, rightly or wrongly, as an irritant and a potential
troublemaker." Mr. Lorch himself charged that the college "protects
bigots and fires those who fight bigotry."

The New York branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and other groups protested the
decision to the Board of Higher Education, to no avail. In September
1949, Mr. Lorch found a teaching job at Pennsylvania State
University, but his reputation preceded him; upon arriving at the
campus, he was taken directly to the university's acting president.

"He wanted me to explain this stuff about Stuyvesant Town - that
they'd been getting phone calls from wealthy alumni essentially
wanting to know why I had been hired and how quickly I could be
fired," he recalled in the 2010 interview.

Mr. Lorch's wife and daughter had remained in the Stuyvesant Town
apartment, at 651 East 14th St., and he and his wife soon invited a
black family, Hardine and Raphael Hendrix and their young son, to
live there for the entire academic year.

Metropolitan Life refused to accept the Lorches' $76 rent check, and
began devising ways to get them out. At Penn State, Mr. Lorch was
denied reappointment. Accommodating the Hendrixes, a college official
told him, was "extreme, illegal and immoral, and damaging to the
public relations of the college."

The decision brought protests from Penn State students, Albert
Einstein, the American Association of University Professors and the
American Mathematical Society, as well as from The New York Times and
The Daily Worker, the paper of the Communist Party U.S.A.

The Worker argued that Mr. Lorch, who was often linked to the
Communist Party, was "an all-too-rare sort of bird among academic
circles these days. He actually believes in the U.S. Constitution,
which guarantees the Negro people equality! And he not only believes
in it, but stands up and fights for what he believes. Amazing!"

In June 1950, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the
insurance company's exclusionary policy. Succumbing to political and
economic pressure, Metropolitan Life admitted three black families
that year.

But it also moved to evict Mr. Lorch and 34 other protesting tenants.
They dug in.

"We had decided - and this was the general feeling on the committee -
we weren't going to go quietly, that we would resist, they'd have to
throw us out by force," Mr. Lorch recalled.

In the meantime, in September 1950, he accepted a new academic post,
becoming one of two white professors at Fisk University, the
historically black institution in Nashville, Tenn. His wife, a
longtime activist herself - she had led the Boston School Committee
in its effort to stop women from being fired as teachers the moment
they married, as she had been - returned to Stuyvesant Town, where
the Teamsters union supplied protection for protesting tenants.

In January 1952, as tenants barricaded themselves in their apartments
and picketed outside City Hall and Metropolitan Life's headquarters,
the company compromised: Mr. Lorch and two other organizers would
move out, but the Hendrixes got to stay.

Seven years later, only 47 blacks lived in Stuyvesant Town. But the
frustration the campaign helped unleash culminated in the Fair
Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in the sale,
rental, or financing of housing.

At Fisk, Mr. Lorch taught three of the first blacks ever to receive
doctorates in mathematics. But there, too, his activism, like his
attempt to enroll his daughter in an all-black school and refusal to
answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee
about his Communist ties, got him in trouble. In 1955, he was again
let go. Only tiny Philander Smith College, an all-black institution
in Little Rock, Ark., would hire him, and then only when it could
find no one else.

"Because he believed in the principles of decency and justice, and
the equality of men under God, Lee Lorch and his family have been
hounded through four states from the North to the South like refugees
in displaced camps," one of the nation's most important black
journalists, Ethel Payne of The Chicago Defender, wrote in May 1956.
"And in the process of punishing Lee Lorch for his views, three proud
institutions of learning have been made to grovel in the dust and bow
the knee to bigotry."

It was Grace Lorch who made the headlines the next year, for
comforting Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine after Ms.
Eckford's walk through a group of angry hecklers outside Little Rock
Central High School, a moment which was captured in a famous
photograph. [See
] Mr. Lorch, who had become an official with the Arkansas chapter of
the N.A.A.C.P., was working behind the scenes, accompanying the black
students to school, then tutoring them as they awaited admission to
the high school.

Once more, whites abused the Lorches for their activities, evicting
them from their apartment, harassing their young daughter, burning a
cross on their lawn and placing dynamite in their garage. And black
leaders, mindful of Mr. Lorch's Communist associations, kept their

"Thurgood Marshall has been busy poisoning as many people as he can
against us," Mr. Lorch complained in October 1957, referring to the
lawyer who was leading the N.A.A.C.P.'s desegregation campaign in the
courts, and who would later become a justice of the United States
Supreme Court. The group's field secretary, Clarence Laws, wrote to
Mr. Lorch: "The best contribution you could make to the cause of full
citizenship for Negroes in Arkansas at this time would be to
terminate, in writing, your affiliation with the Little Rock Branch,

When, at the end of the school year, Philander Smith declined to
renew Mr. Lorch's appointment, it was official: No American college
would have him. So in 1959, he moved his family to Canada - first to
the University of Alberta and then, in 1968, to York University,
until he retired in 1985.

Lee Lorch was born on Sept. 20, 1915, at a home on West 149th Street
and Broadway in Manhattan, to Adolph Lorch and Florence Mayer Lorch.
His wife, the former Grace Lonergan, died in 1974. Mr. Lorch is
survived by his daughter, Ms. Bartels; two granddaughters; and a
sister, Judith Brooks.

Mr. Lorch was often honored by his fellow mathematicians. In 1990, he
received an honorary degree from the City University of New York.

In his 2010 interview with Mr. Kelly, Mr. Lorch insisted that it was
his wife and daughter, not he, who had paid the greatest price for
his principles. Asked if he would do anything differently, he paused.
"More and better of the same," he replied.
Correction: March 2, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the location of
Townsend Harris High School when Mr. Lorch graduated. It was then in
Manhattan, not Brooklyn. (It is now in Queens.) It also misstated the
location of the Stuyvesant Town housing development. It is on the
East Side of Manhattan, not the Lower East Side.
A version of this article appears in print on March 3, 2014, on page
A23 of the New York edition with the headline: Lee Lorch, Rights
Activist Who Fought for Housing Desegregation, Dies at 98. Order
Reprints|Today's Paper|Subscribe
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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