Long Island Divided

Long Island Divided

Although I was not shocked at the results of Newsday’s tests of real estate agents, it still blows my mind, saddens and angers me that in 2019, prejudice is still prevalent.

When my parents moved our family from Virginia in 1961, our house in East Patchogue was vandalized before we could occupy it because word spread that a black family was coming. I don’t think my 8-year-old mind understood; nor did I truly understand the negativity of many neighbors. Within two years, most of the white neighbors moved and were replaced by black residents.

I don’t think there will ever be a serious dialogue on race and housing on Long Island because communities are the way most white Long Islanders want them to be. I believe they are convinced that many black people should be content to live in Central Islip, Wyandanch, North Amityville, parts of Bay Shore, etc., and stay out of mostly white communities. I think most are convinced we are inferior. Even some who consider themselves liberals and not prejudiced believe it is OK to have separate communities. I don’t see things changing much unless there is radical soul-searching and truth-telling among whites and those who consider themselves part of what seems to me to be an unspoken majority pact.

Even as the Island is browning, the separation continues. How very foolish. There is no inherent inferiority, and the majority of blacks want the same thing as everyone else: a nice, safe place to live and raise families if they choose, and to have great schools, shopping, entertainment-cultural activities, places of worship, etc.

Mary Garrison-Dennis, Central Islip

I don’t understand the premise of the series. Many people prefer to live with their own kind. So isn’t it natural for agents to show or “steer” home buyers to those neighborhoods?

The real test of racism is whether homeowners won’t sell to black people either because they’re racist themselves or won’t stand up to their neighbors’ racism. That is not what the series showed. Likewise, if an agent is from the area a client wants to get into and refuses to show a property there because of the buyer’s race, that’s racist.

This series scapegoats agents for the racism of many Long Islanders. Many people know it’s common for offers to be rejected because of the color of a buyer’s skin.

Keith Grubman, Bellmore

Thank you, Newsday, for “Long Island Divided.” My own research into the history of the Village of Hempstead includes news articles and village publications, as well as conversations with longtime and former residents. Everything you reported verifies what I have found. Discovering evidence that racial and ethnic steering still happen is disheartening, but as your series points out, it happens half as much as it did 40 and 50 years ago.

Perhaps you could next examine unfair placements of welfare recipients in housing in Hempstead and other majority-minority communities. A village-government publication from July 1963 (“Progress in the Village of Hempstead”) has an article about a letter written to Nassau County by then-Mayor William Gulde, protesting the number of welfare cases assigned to the village. Such placements continue. They cause overcrowding. Hempstead is happy to serve, but we have been overserving for at least six decades.

Reine Bethany,


Editor’s note: The writer is Hempstead Village historian.

What amazes me about this investigation is the fact that all these people did all this work and spent all this time just to prove what everyone living on Long Island already knew!

We also know not a damn thing will be done to change it!

Audrey M. Wilken, Wading River

I have lived in North Baldwin for 49 years, and am a retired New York City schoolteacher. Fifty years ago, North Baldwin was predominantly white with a few black families. Today, the ratio is nearly the opposite.

Your expose on the issue of discrimination in housing is very important. I believe racial steering has not allowed gentrification — a mixture of races and ethnicities — to occur in North Baldwin. My community and Nassau County at large have been victims of segregation. Real estate agents need to devote more time to training to prevent discrimination. New York State must appropriate more money to enforce the fair housing laws.

Deborah Kamins, North Baldwin

I grew up in Massapequa in the 1960s. My father, Bill Goddard, assistant editor of the Long Island Catholic newspaper at that time, was very involved in civil rights.

He heard about a minority family wanting to move to Massapequa. The family actually had a foundation poured for their new home. Then threats began. I was 16 at the time.

My father and another man stood guard for a couple of nights at the site, which was still only a foundation. All they had were flashlights and a Thermos of coffee. Needless to say my family did not sleep. I can only imagine what the incoming family must have felt.

Fortunately, Dad came home safely. I don’t recall whether the family finished building the home or not. I hope they did.

I am glad that some progress has been made since then, but I sense we have a long way to go.

Donna Skjeveland, Holbrook

I read with great interest your articles on minority home buyers being directed to or not to certain areas of Long Island. I found this very disturbing to say the least. When I was in the service in the mid-to-late 1960s and saw segregation in the South, I found it detestable.

However, with the internet, we have available to us more information than we probably know what to do with. So it’s not necessary for house hunters to rely on real estate agents to show them what is available. They can do their own research into specific communities and ZIP codes.

Yes, brokers are necessary to gain entrance to a house for sale, but home buyers can do a lot of the initial work themselves.

Alexander Janow, Northport  

Newsday has performed a huge public service with its highly detailed and researched report on the rampant discrimination in the Long Island real estate market. It is a truly sad commentary that 50 years after the enactment of fair housing laws, so much clearly illegal behavior is still practiced, some of it not even covertly.

It is also rather infuriating that the state has been so lax in its enforcement of the laws.

Newsday seems to have put in far more effort to expose and hold people accountable than our legislators and governor have. The haphazard and often incorrect content of the standard training classes for agents and brokers should immediately be fixed by Albany.

If nothing else, your report will certainly give brokers and agents pause for thought as to what they say and who they say it to.

Arthur M. Shatz, Oakland Gardens

Racism and discrimination are alive and well on Long Island. Growing up in Brentwood and raising my children there, I encountered them all the time. While Newsday’s investigation and findings did not surprise me, I felt pain and outrage when I read the series.

When you walk from one neighborhood to another, you see the segregation that defines our communities. That realization played a role in my career path: joining law enforcement, working my way up to police detective and now representing my district in the State Assembly.

I found myself most shocked by the subtle and insidious bigotry demonstrated by real estate agents. That discrimination shaped our region, keeping our neighborhoods divided, burdening our most struggling schools, and robbing our families of opportunity. As someone committed to equal treatment for all and to community safety, I find myself deeply frustrated.

Choice lies at the core of the freedom that we cherish, and Long Islanders like those I represent find themselves robbed of that right every day. We hear all the time that diversity is our greatest strength, but many do not see it that way. Change won’t come overnight, but I applaud Newsday for uncovering disgraceful practices behind our worst-kept dirty little secrets.

Phil Ramos, North Bay Shore

Editor’s note: The writer is deputy majority leader of the State Assembly.

While reading your extensive acknowledgment, “Newsday missed a critical chance to lead” [Editorial, Nov. 18], I couldn’t help but think about how things accepted as normal behavior 50 or 100 years ago, and even at the birth of our nation, have been severely criticized. Statues are torn down and past leaders vilified by using today’s standards.

Should people stop reading Newsday because of your missed chance to speak against racial covenants at Levittown 72 years ago? Or should we look at how much your newspaper has advanced since then?

Our country was created by forward-thinking leaders. They produced our Constitution, which permits and encourages change. Positive change. We shouldn’t destroy the legacy and memory of our founders by judging them against today’s standards.

America is slowly moving toward a very dark place. The attitude of more people is, there is no way but my way. Compromise has become a sign of weakness when, in fact, it is a strength. It allows for orderly, long-lasting change.

For our country to flourish, we need leaders willing to compromise and news media willing to report the facts. Only then can people truly decide the direction our country should take.

Paul Kateridge, Center Moriches

Kudos for your “Long Island Divided” project, including the editorial board’s mea culpa.

Just as slavery was America’s original sin, Levittown’s covenants were the original sin of Long Island and modern suburbia. These were manifestations of racism, which is irrational, unjust and inhumane. It endures in subtle but real ways, as your investigation documented.

Living in overwhelmingly minority Hempstead Village, just three blocks from overwhelmingly white Garden City, I see impacts every day. The most glaring example is Hempstead’s struggling school system while Garden City’s is superior.

Long Island is not unique, of course. Minorities suffer many consequences, both obvious and hidden, and bigotry hurts society as a whole, affecting everyone.

America will never fulfill its potential and ideals until we eradicate this curse.

Bruce Lambert, Hempstead

Editor’s note: The writer was a reporter for Newsday and The New York Times.  

I want to applaud Newsday for “Long Island Divided.” This level of investigative journalism is stunning. Your thoughtful approach, your historical context, your decision to name the real estate agents, your coverage of the responses from the testers — all of this shows true dedication to your craft and reflects how important a strong press is to our community.

I am proud to be a longtime Newsday subscriber and supporter of your work.

Karen Taylor, Flushing

Newsday’s investigation on housing discrimination is fundamentally flawed. The investigation assumes that in real life, home shoppers simply show up at a real estate broker and simply state their price and proximity requirements. Anyone who shows up that unprepared has a lot more to worry about than discrimination.

Buying something as small as a TV typically requires research, yet Newsday seems to assume that people shop without first doing location-specific research so that they may engage a real estate agent with knowledge of what they want. No matter a buyer’s race or ethnicity, he or she needs to be well-informed and ultimately is responsible for his or her own success or failure. Unfortunately, Newsday’s “testers” were not real well-prepared buyers.

Sadly, the only thing that Newsday accomplished with this series is adding to our division by pitting people against people, and potentially adding to our tax burden by triggering unnecessary and costly federal, state and county investigations and actions.

Vincent Cristiano, Ronkonkoma

I read every word of this incredible investigation. Then I watched some of the interviews on your website. I’m not sure why but this whole thing brought tears to my eyes. I suppose because, as stated in the preface article, this isn’t happening in the Deep South or 50 years ago, but right here, right now on Long Island. Still.

Also, the “acknowledgment” about Levittown, about Newsday’s editorial board not speaking out in 1947 about racial covenants there, was intense and beautifully done. Such a rarity these days to see blame acceptance, even if decades old.

While I read The Washington Post online, listen to NPR and have many other media options, it is the exemplary and extraordinary journalistic integrity and work like this which Newsday continues to provide that keeps me a loyal subscriber to your home-delivery newspaper.

Thank you for working so hard to highlight this heartbreaking, abominable racism.

Edyth Dunne, Melville