Issues & Activities
Housing has been a key issue for the local NAACP since its founder Cornelia Matthews sued a landlord for refusing to rent to African Americans and immigrants. For much of the last century, Elmira’s black community was confined to the East Side neighborhood around Dickinson Street as white homeowners refused to rent or sell to them outside that area. During the 1950s and 1960s, the local NAACP worked tirelessly to alleviate the housing crisis in the black community. They forced the desegregation of public housing and the construction of large-family units in affordable housing. Despite their successes, unsafe rentals and discriminatory mortgage lending still remains a problem.
Protest at City Hall, March 11, 1968.
Mrs. Anne Wilson carried a sign reading “All I want is a place to live with my eight children.” Image courtesy of the Elmira Star-Gazette.
On March 11, 1968, the local NAACP led a protest against the city’s plan to build only two- and three-bedroom apartments in the new affordable housing complex. They argued that the plan did not accommodate the needs of the many large families in the black community. Over 150 people marched in support of larger apartments. The council voted to include four- and five-bedroom apartments in the new project.
Jones Court under construction, 1951
The city began planning Jones Court in 1942 to alleviate the wartime housing shortage, but did not begin construction until 1951. Built in the heart of the black community, the city condemned homes, businesses, and the city’s oldest black church to build it. When it first opened in 1953, residents evenly divided between black and white, but, by the 1960s, they were 94% black. For years, residents registered complaints about crime and poor maintenance. In 1999, the Elmira Housing Authority sold Jones Court to an organization which operated the Second Place East Homeless Shelter there until 2003. It has been vacant since, but is currently under development.
Elmira City Council meeting, August 9, 1968.
NAACP President Joseph Brown spoke against the Elmira Housing Authority before the Elmira City Council. Image courtesy of the Elmira Star-Gazette.
The Elmira Housing Authority oversaw the city’s public housing which then consisted of Hoffman Plaza, Hathorn Court, and Jones Court. A study by the NAACP and its allies in 1964 found that the Housing Authority’s practice of having perspective residents apply to a specific housing complex had resulted in de facto segregation as blacks were encouraged to apply only to Jones Court. The Elmira Housing Authority agreed to create a unified application process and implement a 12-step program to eliminate racial bias. In 1968, the NAACP accused the Housing Authority of failing to implement most of those steps.