Ever wonder what Fort Greene/Clinton Hill looked like 30, 40 even 50 years ago? Maybe you don’t wonder about such things.
But suffice to say, it was vastly different: the infrastructure, the landscape, the people, the politics. Entirely different.
Today, with the transient, fast-changing nature of the neighborhood, it’s rare to run into a local resident who not only can tell you all about the nabe 50 years ago and compare it to now, but who also is just as active and on the social scene as the day he arrived in 1963.
Meet Lawrence Whiteside. I guess you could call him the original “hipster,” before hipster meant beards, flip flops, organic beer and the fine art of pretending to be urban-born and broke. Back then, a hipster was actually hip, cool, socially and politically active, loved jazz and a glass of good wine.
Lawrence Whiteside, an active member of Community Board 2, has an abundance of stories surrounding life in Central Brooklyn back then.
He refers to himself as a “blockbuster,” meaning he was the first person of color to move onto his block in Brooklyn in the early 60s, thereby precipitating an immediate “white flight” of every single resident that lived in his building.
He laughs at the notion today (that little-ol-he could cause such a stir) and almost fancies himself as a sort of pioneer. Now well into his 70s, he’s still a social butterfly, a staple of the community, with an old-school perspective on life that is at once wise, novel and refreshing.
The Brooklyn Reader caught up with the popular Mr. Whiteside at Madiba’s (upon his suggestion) where he sat surrounded by a group of residents of all backgrounds and ages laughing apparently at some story he was telling.
And what I initially felt would be a rushed interview (I don’t know, I felt somehow I was breaking up his fun) turned into a 3-hour conversation on food, civil rights, FDR, LBJ, afros, politics, marriage and gentrification.
Hope you enjoy these 3 minutes of that 3-hour conversation.