In Memory of Elsie Richardson

Elsie Richardson and Shirley Chisholm


Elsie Richardson (1922-2012) was a Brooklyn leader, community organizer, and activist who lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. She was co-founder of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council and was essential in the creation of the first nonprofit community development corporation in the country, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, which became a national model. You can learn more about the history and present of Restoration from this video.

Brooklyn Historical Society interviewed Elsie Richardson for the oral history archives in 2008 in collaboration with Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary that year. Elsie Richardson was 86 years old when the resulting exhibition, Reflections on Community Development, opened at BHS and the Skylight Gallery at Restoration, and it was an honor to have her at the opening. Audio montages from that exhibition are available here and also on iTunes¬†(search the iTunes Store for “Brooklyn Historical” and you can subscribe for free to the BHS podcast).

In 2010, Elsie Richardson was honored by the New York City Commission on Human Rights and a video about her life and social justice work is included in Fighting for Justice: New York Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.

Here’s Elsie Richardson describing the founding of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council and describing her leadership strategy to always end meetings talking about solutions:

In 1966, Senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-NY) took a walking tour of Bedford-Stuyvesant as part of his efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. Here is Elsie Richardson remembering how she famously told Senator Kennedy that the issues had been “studied to death and what we need is bricks and mortar”:

Two weeks after Senator Kennedy’s meetings in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the work to establish Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration began to take root:

The next two audio clips are from an archival recording from 1967 of a meeting in Bedford Stuyvesant announcing the plans for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration. Thank you to Ron Shiffman for donating this recording to the BHS’s collections.

In this clip, we hear Elsie Richardson and the audience’s reaction to the New York World Journal Tribune’s¬†reporting on the community organizing happening in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which the newspaper describes as “Brooklyn’s teeming ghetto.” This audience of engaged and organized community members takes particular issue with the newspaper’s description of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s “downtrodden people.”

Here is the beginning of Senator Kennedy’s speech that same day – including a little joke about “downtrodden people.”

Finally, here is Elsie Richardson remembering how The New York Times reported on her community organizing work in 1968, describing her and other leaders as “middle-aged matriarchs.”

Elsie Richardson was an inspiring leader whose work lives on in Brooklyn and beyond.


UPDATE: Check out this piece in The Nation remembering Elsie Richardson written by Michael Woodsworth.


Sady Sullivan

About Sady Sullivan

Sady Sullivan is Director of Oral History at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
This entry was posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Exhibitions, Oral History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to In Memory of Elsie Richardson

  1. Mrs. Richardson not only worked tirelessly in the formation and execution of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation but also exhibited the same dedication and committment within the Fulton Park Urban Renewal Project, a twenty-two block area within the Bedford-Stuyvesant community formed during the mid 1960’s….. She was also very influential in the formation of my career as the Director of the Fulton Park Project…..To her family and friends I offer my sincere and heartfelt condolences.

    James E. Robinson

  2. Bill Coleman says:

    Sady: Great piece.

  3. Kate Fermoile says:

    Meeting Elise Richardson was a highlight of my work on the 2008 exhibit. She will be missed.

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