The Secret History of Scarsdale contains stories about people trying to obtain their civil rights and people who have been compelled to suppress the civil rights of others. Most of the stories occurred in and around Scarsdale, New York. My name is Thomas Quirk and I was born and raised in Scarsdale from 1963-1981. Although nothing ever seemed to happen during my years in one of The USA’s most privileged suburbs; a study of certain key events in the town’s history, events that were never discussed while I lived there, serve to illuminate how radically Americans’ views on civil rights have changed during the past half-century. These articles are featured in The Category Civil Rights Incidents in Scarsdale-Westchester County, New York.

While I was writing about Joshua and Pauline Cockburn’s mistreatment during their attempt to reside in Edgemont Hills (then thought of as a part of Scarsdale) in 1937, I learned that Joshua Cockburn had been a naval hero during World War I while serving as a Ship Master for the British in Nigeria. Further study revealed that he had become Marcus Garvey’s first Captain for The Black Star Line. This explained the anchor that is still outside of the home the Cockburn’s built back during the 1930’s. This led to articles about Joshua Cockburn’s time with Marcus Garvey and The Black Star Line, the origin of Rum Row off the coast of New Jersey during Prohibition and the revelation that the anchor was the subject of a lawsuit between Cockburn and Garvey because Cockburn had ripped it off of the S.S. Yarmouth/Frederic Douglass after Garvey fired him.

The ship Cockburn sailed for Garvey had been used by the most radical African-American Civil Rights activist of the early 1900’s, William Monroe Trotter to get to France in an effort to attend The Versailles Peace Convention in 1919 in a vain effort to make the oppression of African-American in the United States an issue akin to the rights of the dispossessed ethnic groups of Europe after World War I. Trotter was a Bostonian and Harvard Graduate who watched his civil rights vanish after the Supreme Court Ruling in Plessy V.Ferguson. Ida Wells-Barnett, the famous anti-lynching crusader who had to flee the south for her efforts had attended Marcus Garvey’s rally in Harlem when he first announced his plans for The Black Star Line. Wells-Barnett’s first experience of white people as allies rather than enemies was in Liverpool, England where people of African descent could actually experience what it was like to be treated as human beings. Joshua and Pauline Cockburn were married in Liverpool for many years before moving to The United States. My great-great grandfather Thomas Quirk was an apprentice sailmaker in Liverpool before running off to serve in The Crimean War. For me, researching these issues and the people involved with them takes me around in circles and always seems to lead me back to my own origins. I was born and raised in Scarsdale, New York, I work in Lexington, Massachusetts (as a high school teacher) and I was raised believing that The United States of America is a land where equality and justice rule. Ultimately the heros of my articles are the people who fought to make that a reality for themselves and their families.

9 responses to “About

  1. Poignant, truthful tale of our collective history. Thank you for telling it, so we don’t forget.

  2. Thomas, I’d like to publish your piece about Seeger and the Freedom Riders protest next week. Would that be OK?

    • Of course. If you see anything else you like you can publish those too. The Holly Ball story led to many other great stories all tangentially connected by the fact that Americans before the civil rights era tended to view themselves as members of specific religious/ethnic groups and were often hostile to those they considered outsiders.

  3. Fran Howe

    I have learned so much from reading your journey about our earlier history.
    Made more interesting by your following your leads and interests.

  4. vineyardlaborer

    Wonderful blog. We need a post now about Baltimore MD., Ferguson, MO, North Charleston SC, Eric Garner in New York City. We have not made much progress I fear when police can murder citizens willy nilly.

  5. I grew up in Edgemont and had always heard about some Scarsdale homes having clauses against selling to Jews. I teach American Jewish History in a local afternoon religious school; before mentioning it to my students, I decided to do a quick online search. Though it’s not a confirmation of that rumor, I am so happy to learn the story of Joshua and Pauline Cockburn. I suspect that the Cockburns’ plight, and the role played by Attorney Hays, is a much better exemplar of local civil-rights history.

    Some of my students drive past Cockburn’s anchor daily. Now they’ll have something to think about!

    • Thanks for reading Melissa. You must read Costly Grace about St James the Less Rector’s George French Kempsell’s stand against Anti-Semitism in 1961. That really opened up discussion about W.A.S.P. hostility towards Jews in Scarsdale and led to a new way of thinking about inter-faith cooperation in town.

  6. I will certainly do so.

    I’ve just spent some time reading some other posts here, and they are very interesting. Perhaps more so since I’m simultaneously listening to a joint press conference being given by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

    Coincidentally, I was at the UNIA Hall in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia on Marcus Garvey Day last August. My mother’s family owned a home on the same street, and some of the old-timers fondly remembered the Jewish community there.

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