The National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University®
Oral History Project
Nassau and Suffolk counties comprise one of the nation’s oldest suburban regions, and they are changing rapidly. News media and policymakers have especially recognized the growth of new immigrant groups. But the region has long been home to residents of many different backgrounds and incomes, even if segregation left the stories of some Long Islanders hidden from conventional history. The story of suburban diversity is a complicated one of immigration waves, wealth and poverty, social mobility and exclusion, discrimination, toleration, and integration.
This Hofstra Suburban Oral History Project provides a platform for Long Islanders who have often been left out of most narratives – especially those who do not fit the stereotypes of Long Islanders as affluent, native-born, and white. Long Island’s story is a uniquely American one that demands to be told in the voices and images of all the people who live here. The NCSS determined that the first people whose memories must be recorded for posterity are older residents – including the people of color who were pioneers in postwar all-white communities. Their stories were rarely heard beyond their own neighborhoods. Now they will be told and preserved.
Thanks to a generous grant by Richard and Jack Turan, through the Turan Family Foundation, the Hofstra Suburban Oral History Project has been capturing and disseminating these stories and related artifacts to schools, scholars, libraries, and museums. In addition to professional researchers, interviews have been conducted by students and community members who have been carefully trained to acquire valuable skills that can be applied locally in schools and neighborhood centers. In bringing together young and old, rich and poor, black and white, this Project can bridge social chasms and inspire change.
Phase I: Black Suburbia
The project’s first phase focused on the African American residents who lived here at the “dawn of the suburban era,” and who have shared insights into their reasons for moving to Long Island, everyday life and family relationships, and experiences with segregation, discrimination, and civil rights activism on Long Island. The project was directed by James Levy PhD, formerly of Hofstra and now at University of Wisconsin. Other participants included Dr. Louise Skolnik and Dr. Richard Skolnik, and project fellows Debra Willett and David Byre-Tyre. Outreach events engaged community members in the development of the project, which culminated in an exhibition and events series at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (link: https://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions/black-suburbia).
In addition to collecting histories, the team worked with Streetside Stories of San Francisco and the Long Island Social Studies Teachers Association, to develop the project’s interviews and materials into curricula that have been adopted in middle school social studies classrooms, particularly the 8th grade unit on the civil rights era, making sure that Long Island’s story is told as part of its teaching. A documentary film was produced by award winning filmmaker Jordan Crafton.
- VIDEO: View our Suburban Oral History Project
- View the WABC-TV coverage of Black Suburbia: From Levittown to Ferguson
- Suburban Studies exhibition at the Schomburg Center explores Black Suburbia
- Review a variety of interviews with suburban Long Islanders and listen to their stories
- Jordan Crafton, NCSS filmmaker’s Newsday cover story
- Newsday reports: In Hofstra study, African-Americans share post-WWII LI stories
Phase II: Latino Oral History Project
Latinos now comprise the single largest group of foreign-born residents in Nassau County, making up 51.7% of the total immigrant population of roughly 290,000. For decades now, a diverse group of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, Dominican Republic, and other parts of Central and South America have come to the United States and made Long Island their home, a process that has forever transformed the cultural and racial dynamic of communities across this suburban New York landscape.
Who are the people that make up these communities? What is the experience of the Latino immigrants as they arrive, adapt, and become an integral part of the local fabric? What are some of the challenges they face in terms of racial discrimination, economic opportunity, affordable housing, adequate education, and political participation, and how have they overcome these challenges through community organizing and grassroots mobilization?
These are some of the questions to be explored in this multitiered oral history project, “The Latino Immigrant Experience in the Suburbs of New York.” A multidisciplinary collaboration between Mario A. Murillo, professor of Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Radio, Television, and Film; Chris Niedt, associate professor of sociology and academic director of The National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University®; and Stef Krieger, professor of law and attorney-in-charge at the Hofstra Law Reform Advocacy Clinic, this project will research, record, and document the stories of a wide range of people throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties – activists, artists, community organizers, lawyers, educators, politicians, workers, students, and parents. In short, the project will contextualize the stories of a diverse population that for too long has been, at best, misrepresented by the dominant political and media circles, and at worst, deliberately marginalized and discriminated against due to racism and xenophobia.