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.