CAREER: Attorney and educator. Office of Congressman Thomas M. Foglietta, Washington, DC, legislative assistant, 1986–88, executive director of district offices in Philadelphia, PA, 1996–97; Wolf, Block, Schorr, and Solis-Cohen, Philadelphia, attorney, 1991–92; Regional Housing Legal Services, Philadelphia, attorney, 1993–95; private law practice in Philadelphia, 1995–98; Baruch College, City University of New York, assistant professor of history, 1997–2002; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, visiting assistant professor, 2001–02, assistant professor of law, 20002–. Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, member of board of directors, 1997–, and board chair, 2005–; Pennsylvania State Planning Commission, member, 2003.
Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2002.
Contributor to books, including African-American Lives, edited by Henry Louis Gates and Evelyn Higginbotham, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2004. Contributor of articles and book reviews to periodicals, including Yale Law & Policy Review, Urban Lawyer and Journal of Urban History.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Property Law and Policy, for Foundation Press, expected 2006; Working along the Color Line: The Life and Times of Robert Weaver.
SIDELIGHTS: Wendell Pritchett, an educator affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is the author of Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto, "an impressive contribution to the literature on twentieth-century urban America," according to Raymond A. Mohl in the Journal of American History. In the work, Pritchett documents the history of Brownsville, a working-class neighborhood in eastern Brooklyn, "chronicling its changes in population, residential structure, cultural institutions, and community action," explained History contributor Richard G. Miller.
Developed in the 1890s, Brownsville first attracted Jews from New York's Lower East Side as well as immigrants from Europe who were drawn to its low-cost housing; between 1905 and 1920 the neighborhood's population nearly tripled, swelling to more than 100,000 residents. The community eventually became a hotbed of activism, with various organizations promoting a diverse group of charitable and political causes, including civil rights and labor reform. Brownsville changed dramatically after World War II, however, as its poorly constructed housing stock began to deteriorate. White residents moved out, replaced by poor blacks and Latinos. Gang violence increased, crime rates soared, and by 1970, the community had lost 30,000 residents, becoming a symbol of decay.
The decaying infrastructure of the Brownsville neighborhoods "affected the area's growth by enabling city leaders to neglect the neighborhood's needs for adequate recreation and education facilities, as well as its need for social services," Miller added. According to Mohl, Pritchett "emphasizes the devastating impact public policies had in pushing Brownsville deeper into poverty and urban blight" through public-housing projects and an urban renewal project that demolished much of the area's private housing "Pritchett is also critical of black churches and other local institutions, like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), that failed to meet the demands of a rapidly expanding black population," observed Deborah Dash Moore in American Jewish History. Moore went on to explain that as black Southerners moved in to the area during the 1950s, and as "gentrification of Manhattan" pushed people into the area, "the NAACP resisted working with left-wing Jewish radicals due to fears of being tainted by association with communists…. Increasingly upwardly mobile Jews and blacks both left the neighborhood, unable to transform it into a viable working-class area in the political context of the 1950s."
Pritchett's regional history was appreciated by several reviewers for its scholarship and insights into the interplay of social, cultural, and economic factors. According to a Publishers Weekly contributor, in Brownsville, Brooklyn "Pritchett demonstrates with empathy and intelligence how race, ethnicity, culture and gender influence both the successes and failures of … community groups—and the community they represent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, December, 2002, Komozi Woodard, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn: Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto, p. 1590.
American Jewish History, March, 2003, Deborah Dash Moore, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 176.
American Studies, fall, 2002, Jerald Podair, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 139.
History, spring, 2003, Richard G. Miller, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 105.
Journal of American History, March, 2003, Raymond A. Mohl, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 1565.
Journal of Economic History, March, 2004, Marcus Alexis, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 235.
Journal of Urban History, January, 2005, Kevin Mumford, "The Race That Changed New York," review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, pp. 269-277.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 2002, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 66.
Urban Studies, January, 2003, Jerald Podair, review of Brownsville, Brooklyn, p. 183.
University of Pennsylvania Law School Web site, http://www.law.upenn.edu/ (May 1, 2005), "Wendell Pritchett."