Leonard Covello: Ben Franklin High School


Lucky Corner a painting by Ralph Fasanella

When Frank Sinatra Came to Italian Harlem:
The 1945 “Race Riot” at Benjamin Franklin High School

New York City’s worst racial incident in the immediate postwar period erupted on September 27, 1945 at Benjamin Franklin High School, an all-boys school located on Pleasant Avenue between East 114th and East 116th Streets in Italian Harlem, which was at that time America’s largest Little Italy. Its enrollment included 1,162 students, 37 percent of whom were Italian American, 13 percent African American, 9 percent Puerto Rican, and 41 percent “Other” that included a large number of Jewish students. Of all of New York City’s eighty high schools, Benjamin Franklin, which had gained a national reputation as a center of intercultural and interracial education, seemed to have been the least likely one where a racial incident would occur.

Leonard Covello, New York City’s first Italian American high school principal, had gained national recognition for his leadership of Franklin. Indeed, the Office of War Information (OWI) had created a documentary about BFHS, “A Better Tomorrow,” which was screened in a score of countries that depicted the school as an exemplar of “democracy in action.” Franklin High was widely viewed as an experimental community for the implementation of Covello’s educational philosophy. Covello was a major figure in the cultural-pluralist movement which counterposed to the coercive acculturation imposed by “Americanization” a perspective that celebrated the contributions of immigrants and advocated the maintenance of their cultures and specifically their languages. In 1939, for example, 553 students, almost one-half of Franklin’s enrollment, were studying the Italian language. Courses in every subject area and frequent student assemblies celebrated the cultures and contributions of all nationalities and races in the construction of a pluralistic culture and society. Covello insisted that the public schools must reflect a “reciprocal relationship between the good things in both foreign and native cultures.  .  .  .  For this purpose the community-centered school does not want to suppress the traditions of foreign cultural groups. . . . The appreciation by the school of such values leads to a fuller integration between itself and the community; it gives recognition and prestige to foreign cultural groups. . . ."

At Franklin, the recognition and celebration of ethnic diversity was consciously extended to include full racial equality. Consequently, this racial incident threatened to stigmatize simultaneously the Italian American community and progressive education, and to damage Covello’s reputation severely. None of this occurred because Covello engaged Franklin’s students and teachers and Italian Harlem’s residents and leaders in a remarkable campaign to heal the racial breach caused by this incident that concluded less than one month later on October 23, when America’s most famous Italian American, Frank Sinatra, visited the school.

On Thursday morning, September 27, a dispute broke out in the gym between a small group of African American and Italian American boys over a basketball, which later spilled over into the locker room. The boys challenged one another to fight it out after school. When news of this incident reached Covello, he assigned William Spiegel, the basketball coach, and Salvatore Pergola, the Dean of Boys, to stand outside the building at dismissal in order to quell the threatened fight. No two better people existed to carry out this task. Spiegel was the attendance officer for the school and, much more important, he had led the winning (and integrated) basketball team. The Benjamin Franklin Year Book, 1942 was dedicated to Spiegel, where under his smiling photograph, a student journalist asserted: “He may act tough at times but he is only fooling. He gives unselfishly of his time to us in the community.” This piece then quoted a New York Journal-American article which stated that “With Ben Franklin High assured of at least a tie for its fourth straight Manhattan Public School Athletic League Basketball Title, the spotlight once again was thrown upon one of the greatest coaches ever to mould youngsters in high school athletics–Bill Spiegel. Dean Pergola had a unique rapport with the students. In The Heart Is the Teacher, his autobiography, Covello describes him as “a stocky, colorful, energetic man  .  .  .  born in New York City of Neapolitan parents, with an instinctive affinity for problems relating to tough East Side boys.”  
Covello’s intervention was sufficient to ensure that the African American students exited the school without incident; however, when they reached the bus stop, which was two blocks north of the school, a mob–primarily made up of local toughs–armed with sticks randomly attacked them. The police were called; and within ten minutes, peace was restored. Although many of the African-American boys had been hit, none had been injured sufficiently to require medical treatment. The next morning, a group of African American boys, while marching down East 116th Street (Italian Harlem’s major east-west artery), began chasing a white boy. Upon being alerted of this development, Covello raced from the steps of the school, where he had been standing to meet the group. Covello arrived at the same time as the police, who searched some of the African American students and arrested two of the boys for carrying weapons. Later, in school, the police questioned and searched other African American boys from this group and arrested three more for carrying weapons. (The charges against the five African American students were ultimately dropped.) During the day, a crowd from the Italian American community began gathering outside the school, which very much alarmed the African American students. Covello allowed those African American students who felt threatened to remain together as a group within the school library. The schedule of the day, including a student assembly at which African American and white students performed, proceeded normally.
Under Covello’s guidance, the faculty and staff acted to protect the African American students from any potential harm when they left the school building. The African-American students opted to walk through Italian Harlem to reach the subway line, four long blocks distant from the school, arrived there without incident. However, the city buses that most of the African American students used to reach their homes in Central Harlem were rerouted so that they stopped directly in front of the school. The buses, which were escorted by police cars, did not stop to pick up passengers until they had reached Lexington Avenue, the informal western border of Italian Harlem. There were no incidents of missiles being thrown at these buses or any harassment of the African American students. It was not unreasonable, therefore for Covello to state to reporters that: “There is no need to worry. Everything’s all right now.” After dismissal, a faculty conference was held, but unfortunately there is no documentation of its deliberations. On Saturday, at the school, Covello conferred with John Ernst, Associate Superintendent, Board of Education, and Edward Lewis of the Urban League.
Major New York City newspapers did not concur with this version of these events. Over a span of two months, this incident generated over eighty articles and editorials in New York City’s press as well as mention in the Black press outside of New York City. Some of these newspaper accounts, and the accompanying photographs, gave the impression that a full-scale riot had occurred and that the Italian community was populated by violent racists. By implication, these reports also communicated that Benjamin Franklin, its principal, and its underlying educational philosophy had failed.
On Saturday, five of New York City’s daily newspapers covered the Benjamin Franklin story. In a four-inch article printed on an inside page, The World-Telegram (which appeared in the afternoon) reported that Police Commissioner Arthur Wallander conferred with Superintendent of Schools John Wade about the Benjamin Franklin situation, where “street fighting broke out twice with five hundred white and Negro students and their elders battling each other and eighty uniformed and plainclothes policemen.” The articlein the liberal Republican Herald Tribune focused on the measures taken at Benjamin Franklin to ensure order. It reported that the Italian American mothers who had escorted their children to school were ushered into the school auditorium where Covello and John de Martino, the chief inspector in charge of the ninety-five police officers assigned to the school, assured them, in English and Italian, that they had no cause to fear for their boys’ safety. The article also published a denial by Covello and the police that the African-American students had been attacked when boarding the buses on the previous Friday. The articles published in The World Telegram and The Herald Tribune represented reasonably responsible journalism, which confirmed Covello’s version of these events.
Contrasting with these reports were those published by: The New York Times, the City’s most prestigious newspaper; The New York Daily News, the paper with the largest circulation; and The New York Post, the (then) liberal tabloid. These reports sensationalized and grossly misreported the events at Benjamin Franklin. Above all else, their use of the term “riot” to describe these events associated Benjamin Franklin, Italian Harlem, and Covello with the most backward and disreputable forces in American society. Although the Benjamin Franklin racial incident qualified as a riot by Webster’s definition, recent events in New York City and elsewhere in the United States caused this word to conjure up a vision very much more extreme than what had occurred over that twenty-four-hour period in and around Benjamin Franklin High School. Race riots of great scope and destructiveness had broken out in during World War II. On August 1, 1943, in Harlem, a race riot (which though less extensive and violent than those in Detroit and Chicago) had resulted in six deaths, 189 injuries, and 606 arrests, as well as the vandalizing of 1,469 stores. Almost coincidental with the outbreak in Benjamin Franklin, much more serious racial disturbances were occurring in Chicago and Gary Indiana. In contrast with these recent and concurrent event, at Benjamin Franklin, there had been no destruction of property, deaths, nor injuries requiring medical attention.
            Most damaging was the Times’ front-page story, whose headline blared “Student ‘Strikes’ Flare into Riots in Harlem Schools: Knives Flash in Street Fights as Elders Join Pupils in Battling the Police: Coaches’ Row a Pretext.” The subtitle of the Times article tied the disturbance at Franklin to student strikes organized by the Communist-led American Youth for Democracy that were in progress in other high schools in support of a city-wide boycott organized by the public schools’ physical education teachers who were demanding additional pay for after-school supervision of student activities. This scenario seemed plausible, because the precipitating incident had taken place in Benjamin Franklin’s gym. Nonetheless, no evidence was ever produced to support this premise: Franklin did not have a chapter of the American Youth for Democracy and no student strike was ever proposed–or carried out–at any time there. The Times also extensively reported on assaults on African American students who had boarded buses after school, an occurrence about which no other newspaper reported and for which no evidence was proffered. Covello insisted that the Times reporter, Alexander Feinberg, whose byline appeared on this article, was not present at any of the flare-ups and culled emotion-laden testimony after the fact.
The headline of The New York Daily News article–“2,000 High [School] Students Battle in Race Riot”–epitomized the single most inaccurate and incredible reportage of this incident. First, the figure “2,000,” which was cited in no other report, grossly overestimated the number of participants in a dispute in a high school with an enrollment of 1,200. Most disturbing, of course, was the appending of “race” to the term “riot” in the headline, which was something unique in the eighty or more articles generated by this incident. A statement in the text of the article contradicted both the lurid headline and the remarkably high numbers of combatants reported in this article: “Almost miraculously nobody was seriously hurt, although there were battered heads and bruised faces.”
The New York Post published two similar stories in its two editions, one of whose headlines used the term “riot” and the other the milder description “school race strife.” Both articles, however, linked the Benjamin Franklin incident to the much more serious racial riots simultaneously occurring in Gary and Chicago. In contradistinction to the articles’ headlines, the texts of both articles characterized the incidents in Benjamin Franklin as “flare-ups” and a “free-for-all.” The Post articles added a new theme into the narrative by featuring a request by an informal group of East Harlem mothers to establish segregated schools in their neighborhood. This, of course, had the effect of stigmatizing the community as racist.
On Sunday, September 30, news coverage on the Benjamin Franklin incident published in the City’s press was more balanced. The Daily News article noted that at Benjamin Franklin “2,000 white and Negro students staged the street battle Friday.” Although it repeated the vastly inflated figure, it was significant that the term used to characterize the incident was ratcheted down from “riot” to “street battle.” The News also mentioned that the five African American students who had been arrested “were arraigned in Youth Term Court and were paroled in the custody of their attorneys.” Surprisingly, the Daily Mirror, notorious for sensationalizing news, dropped the Benjamin Franklin incident into the seventh paragraph of an article about police measures in response to the overall agitation in the high school system. A short article published in the left-leaning daily PM clearly attempted toremove blame for the situation from the school itself. It characterized the incident as an “outbreak of street fighting .  .  .  among several hundred white and Negro pupils [in which] no one was injured.” In this same vein, PM quoted Dan Dodson, the executive director of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity, that “From our experience in New York neighborhoods . . . we have found that outbursts of this kind are really a problem in juvenile delinquency rather than one of racial antagonisms. I plan to meet with Dr. Covello.” In closing, the article quoted Covello: “The real trouble is not the school. The trouble is that adults mix into the situation.” Il Progresso Italo-Americano’s article described the incident at Benjamin Franklin in its headline as a “tumult,” and in the text as an “uproar” among “more than five hundred students.” The only new perspective on the Benjamin Franklin event came from the Sunday Worker’s article, whose headline characterized the Benjamin Franklin event as an “Anti-Negro Riot,” which was part of a “Nationwide Racist Plot.” It further affirmed that “an aroused community demanded that Mayor LaGuardia and the police department take steps to put down the terror campaign against Negroes in East Harlem.” Although the headline and the article’s lead portrayed a singularly extreme view of these events, the text pointed out two neglected facts: “two Negro lads” had endured injuries–“one was severely beaten and the other . . . was stabbed.” (The article did not note that neither boy had required medical treatment.) Perhaps most pertinent was the Worker’s observation that although five African American boys had been arrested, “No whites were touched by the police.”
Covello understood that in large measure the public’s perception of the school depended on the press and that there was a predisposition on the part of the press and the world outside of East Harlem to imaging the worse. If those perceptions were not successfully challenged, irreparable damage could result. Otherwise, the notoriety resulting from the sensationalizing of this incident in segments of the press threatened to discourage boys from enrolling in Benjamin Franklin. In an unpublished article, Covello revealed that “Today, families in the areas adjoining the East Harlem area, particularly from Yorkville [a predominantly Irish and German American community south of East Harlem], use every subterfuge to send their boys to schools other than Franklin.” The capacious, almost palatial, edifice that had been erected to house Benjamin Franklin had been designed to accommodate three thousand students and serve as a community and educational center experimentally on a seven-day week, twenty-four-hour schedule. Nonetheless, even after James Otis Junior High School, with its enrollment of one thousand, was located within the building, there were far too few students to fill this monumental edifice’s well appointed classrooms. In the evening, however, Franklin’s adult enrollment swelled from 1,500 in 1938 to as many as four thousand during the war years in courses as varied as Russian, Advanced English or vocational courses such as “Doctor’s Office Assistant” and “Switchboard.”
Cognizant of the high stakes inherent in these unfolding events, on Sunday evening, September 30, Covello convened a meeting at his home to develop a course of action to counteract this threat to the school and the community. He chose well the seventeen people present at this fateful meeting. William Spiegel and Sal Pergola were valuable liaisons to the student body. Abraham Kroll, a reliable and close associate, had served as Covello’s Administrative Assistant from the founding of the school in 1934. The four names which are illegible on the minutes were most likely members of the high school’s faculty. Rose Russell, the leader of the Teachers Union (CIO) represented both the faculty and the Left. Fred Kuper, the law secretary to the Board of Education, provided a direct link to Benjamin Franklin’s governing body. Daniel Dodson, the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity, would ultimately write the key report on this incident. Rose Covello (née Accurso), herself a teacher, assisted Covello in every aspect of his work. Miriam Sanders (Mrs. Vito Marcantonio) was a natural choice. She was the “head worker” of Harlem House, and one of the local community directors of the East Harlem League for Unity, a community organization which was formed in 1943 for the purpose of developing “better understanding among nationality and racial groups.” Sanders played a central role in the East Harlem Council of Social Agencies, which among other things had organized the community-wide campaign to establish Benjamin Franklin in East Harlem.
Most important was the presence of the most prestigious member of the community, Vito Marcantonio, who represented the community in Congress from 1934 until 1950. In the House, he achieved a national reputation for his articulate and consistent support for a Left perspective. In the City, he was the leader of the American Labor Party, and in East Harlem he forged its multiethnic, multiracial population into an unchallenged political coalition. The childless Covello and the orphaned Marcantonio were lifelong collaborators.
The minutes of this fateful meeting record the immediate and the longer-term actions decided upon by the group. The first of these was the drawing up of a fact-sheet to counter the biased reportage. The group prioritized the need to return to normality, which more than anything else meant ensuring that the students would return to class. Marcantonio recommended that “teachers visit homes of absentees [and that] Negro organizations send out representatives to all Negro students’ homes–if absent.” There was also discussion of the creation of a brochure, “mimeographed copies to be sent to leaders in [the] community for their signatures.” Someone suggested using the newspaper articles in social science classes as “an example of how bad reporting is done.” The group focused on the organization of a march which would be followed by a rally at the school. The minutes of this meeting bluntly stated: “Plan for parade–very carefully planned–try to have it come from students.” It was recommended that the “student suggestion for parade” come from “VO [varsity organization] leaders,” and that the “boys responsible for incident on Thursday . . . take initiative.” Marcantonio committed to contact Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia to obtain permission for the parade. He was also charged with convincing “Joe Lewis or Frank Sinatra” to attend the rally.   
Remarkably, with the exception of the creation of a film strip for use in local movie houses, everything that was proposed in this one meeting was actually carried out. Closely following the minutes almost as a script, on Monday morning, October 1, Covello began to fight back on what he perceived as a fatal attack on his school, community, and his reputation. Even before the implementation of the fight-back strategy began, Covello invited to the school a number of people who could credibly verify Covello’s version of these events. That morning, Covello conferred together with Walter White, the Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Walter O’Leary, the Director of the Bureau of Attendance; Assistant Chief Commander John De Martino; Ed Lewis of the Urban League; Edith Alexander, an African American, who was the Associate Director of the Mayor’s Committee on Unity; and Saul Battle, the first African American New York City patrolman, who was then a City Parole Commissioner. Directly and indirectly, these individuals began to lend their reputations and connections to the cause of defending Covello and Benjamin Franklin High School from the slurs and innuendoes of racism and educational failure.             Monday morning, Covello called for a general assembly of the high school students, which provided not only an opportunity for enlisting the students in the fight-back campaign, but also created a news-worthy event. Covello laid down the law. He explained to the students: “Our student body represents forty-one nationalities or races, yet we never had such an outbreak as the one that occurred Friday.” He then intoned his mantra: “We must not have intolerance here.” Sal Pergola, who followed, admonishing the students: “We don’t want Bilboism here. . . . A few days ago we slipped. Let’s not do it again.”
Covello was referring to Senator Theodore Bilbo(D, Miss), who was one of the most virulent racists in Congress. Bilbo’s name was current because two months before, Josephine Piccolo, a resident of Brooklyn, had written a letter to Bilbo castigating him for attempting to block the appropriation for the Federal Fair Employment Practices Commission. Bilbo’s response letter began with “My Dear Dago.” From the floor of the House, Marcantonio demanded an apology on behalf of Piccolo, who had three brothers in the armed forces, one of whom had died while in service. The slur of Piccolo, which disregarded contributions of Italian Americans to the war effort, by the arch racist Bilbo, was identified by Covello and Marcantonio as the lynch pin of their effort to restore harmony between the Italian American and African Americans, because Bilbo personified the common enemy.
 The tone and content of Monday’s newspapers reflected the beginning of a turnabout. The Times quoted Covello to the effect that “the battles” at his school were “merely a boys’ fight,” and that “outside elements, unorganized but vicious, might have contributed to the difficulty.” The removal of the racial conflict from the school–after all, the fights did take place outside the school and school operations were not interrupted–distanced the  incident from Covello and Benjamin Franklin. The Sun quoted LaGuardia as saying in his weekly radio address on WNYC that there was no connection between the clashes outside Benjamin Franklin and the recent wave of strikes by students in the city’s high schools in support of increased pay for physical education teachers. Although LaGuardia helped clarify a contested point about this incident, neither in this broadcast nor at any other time did the Mayor publicly criticize the press coverage of the racial incident at Franklin or defend Covello, the school, or Italian Harlem. Given his close ties to East Harlem, this was unexpected. LaGuardia had represented East Harlem in the Congress from 1922 to 1932; and after his election as Mayor in 1933, he continued to live there until midway into his third term in 1943 when, together with his family, he moved to Gracie Mansion. While still Congressman, he headed a committee to demand that East Harlem, a community of 250,000 residents, obtain a high school. Covello later affirmed that “Mayor LaGuardia’s approval was the deciding factor in the establishment of Benjamin Franklin and in preventing it from being located on the West Side.” LaGuardia’s unwillingness to engage in this controversy can be ascribed, perhaps,  to a lassitude and bitterness that increasingly overtook LaGuardia during his third term.                 
A chronologically organized fact-sheet, which was prepared by a “committee of teachers,” was presented to the faculty at a meeting on Tuesday, October 2nd. This document established that the scope and consequences of the events were far smaller and much less virulent than depicted in the press coverage. In this way, the faculty was armed with the facts about the incidents, as had the students who attended the assembly the day before.  
The Journal-American (and other dailies on Tuesday) reported on the student assembly, which meant that Covello’s voice was widely heard throughout the City. Although notoriously right-wing, the Journal American printed in bold type this terse quote of Covello: “We must not have intolerance here.”  It also reported that attendance at Franklin on Monday reached 60 percent, which in view of the lurid press coverage was evidence that Benjamin Franklin was returning to normal.
The most dramatic change was in The New York Post, where its African American journalist, Ted Poston, gave extensive coverage to Covello’s “contention that three slightly related racial incidents had been magnified into sensational stories of racial conflict.” Poston added that Covello’s version of these events was “strongly supported by eyewitness and community leaders.  .  .  .  [as well as] several teachers, including two of the five Negro members of the  staff.”  The second edition of the Post also published a photo of two Franklin students–an Italian American boy with his arm around the shoulders of an African American boy–studying together. The article closed by quoting Covello to the effect that: “Stories . . . which smear a community unjustly play right into the hands of Bilbo and his ilk.”
The shift in the Daily Worker’s coverage was hardly less dramatic. The headlines on Monday’s paper blandly stated “‘One of Those Things’: Cops Call School Riot.” The article also noted that when asked whether African American and white boys should play on the same athletic teams, boys from the neighborhood responded that “They ought to be mixed, as it is in [Benjamin Franklin’s] basketball team.” The article also refuted the statement in Friday’s New York Post article that leaflets had been distributed in the community calling for segregated schools. The same issue of the Worker reported that the Teachers Union proposed that at Franklin, among other things, the reduction of class size to twenty-five and the hiring of at least twenty-five additional teachers, especially trained for remedial work. In a somewhat different vein, a third article prominently printed a joint statement issued by Marcantonio and Benjamin Davis, Jr., a City Councilman elected on the Communist Party ticket from Manhattan, that warned New Yorkers to “be on the alert against fascist provocations such as caused the East Harlem anti-Negro riot.” This extreme language was somewhat incongruously followed by criticisms of the “exaggerated and distorted stories appearing in the reactionary press” and they called upon “the parents of all children, both Negro and white, to see that the children attend school today.” The coverage in the weekly People’s Voice, which was financed and staffed by the Communist Party, closely resembled the Daily Worker articles.
On Wednesday October 2, press coverage affirmed Benjamin Franklin. The Mirror printed Covello’s pledge that “positive action will be taken to prevent future outbreaks.” It further cited his assertion that “in the eleven-year history of the school, the multiracial student body had gotten along like members of one family.” The Daily News, the Daily Worker, and Il Progresso spoke favorably of Monday’s student assembly. The News described it as the beginning of a “campaign for cooperation between white and Negro students.” The Worker focused on Pergola’s speech excoriating Bilboism. Although it led with material on the police measures that had been put in place to ensure the safety of the students, the Times also quoted Covello’s mantra: “We must not have intolerance here.” It also reported on Walter White’s pledge to plan an “affirmative program” of fostering better relations among members of the school body as well as among persons living in the neighborhood.”
 PM adopted a broader approach. In response to the question–“Why should such a thing happen in a school which has stressed racial tolerance for more than a decade?”–it mitigated Covello’s responsibility by quoting an unnamed official of the school that much worst would have happened in the community. “If it hadn’t been for Dr. Covello and his community program. . . .” After pointing out that about 70 percent of the neighborhood’s population is made up of immigrant Italians and their second-generation children [and that] about ten years ago, . . . about 80 percent of the families were subsidized wither directly by Home Relief or by WPA payrolls. Nonetheless, it closed by puzzling as to why these disturbances have taken place in a school dedicated to the ideas of racial tolerance and community cooperation. . . .”
The most thorough and thoughtful coverage appeared in the Herald Tribune. An editorial, “All Is Not Well,” called for a reassessment of the public schools’ programs to counter racial and religious divisions. It suggested that “in difficult districts [sic] such as Harlem and the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn . . . [the Board of Education must provide] smaller classes and money for extra positions.” It also called for “community re-education led by the schools. . . .”  It published White’s crystal clear declaration that “What happened on Friday was not a riot.” In greater detail than other papers, it also described visible signs of racial harmony and cooperation.  “In the afternoon, a mixed bunch of seniors clustered about a piano and sang, with the Negroes supplying by far the better harmony.” Uniquely, the Tribune account quoted as some length Saul Battle, the African American Parole Commissioner, who stated that “it seemed rather unfair that only Negroes were arrested in a flare-up that involved both Negroes and whites.” Both Battle and White focused on the “horrendous rumors” (the most spectacular of which was that Covello had been murdered) that sprang up with the start of the trouble on Friday.
White’s interpretation of these events, as the leader of the pre-eminent African American organization, carried great weight. However, Covello also knew the importance of Battle’s presence. In a seventeen-page unpublished manuscript, “The Community School and Race Relations,” he wrote: “We are not living in a fool’s paradise. When necessary, police action will definitely be taken. We have already had Negro policemen assigned near our school, and in fact more than one, to give our Negro students a feeling of greater security. [This was also intended to] point out to the neighborhood that Negro police and Negro teachers have been accepted by the city and school authorities on the basis of equality.”
The best news of all was first carried by the afternoon paper, The World-Telegram, that noted “on Tuesday all except 10 percent of normal attendance showed up for classes.” Hence, the first goal of the fight back–normal attendance–had already been achieved. In part, this  resulted from a letter in which Covello told parents of absent students that: “It may be that this absence was caused by an expression of fear that your son might receive personal injury. We wish to assure you that the majority of the boys of this school were in classes today; everything was peaceful, and at no time was there any hint that anyone might be injured. Accept this assurance that conditions in this school are completely normal. I urge that you have your son return to school at once.”
            Articles in other City papers were supportive of Benjamin Franklin and its administration. World-Telegram reported on a telegram sent by Algernon Black and William Andrews, the co-chairs of the Citywide Citizens Committee, to LaGuardia, which placed the blame for the racial incidents at Franklin on “adult attitudes which are aimed at segregation and inequality.” They also criticized the Board of Education for “failing to provide enough competent teachers . . . [as well as allowing] overcrowded classes and overworked substitute teachers.” The Daily Worker informed its readers that the American Youth  for Democracy laid the blame for the East Harlem outbreak at the steps of he state, city, and the Board of Education, and printed its ten-point program of to meet this “crisis,” which included “improvement of the Benjamin Franklin High School intercultural program.” PM quoted William Kilpatrick, president of the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Greater New York, that the “trouble was less serious than had been represented because it was a schoolboy fight, but more serious than was popularly supposed because one of the boys involved ‘happened to be a Negro’ and this fact stirred feelings of differences and distrust in the neighborhood.”
             PM also revealed that Franklin’s students and alumni were rallying to its defense. Although never remarked upon or heard about again, it quotes Covello as saying that he was going to meet with a small group of alumni living in East Harlem to form “personal police groups to break up troublesome groups of boys outside the school.” Nonetheless, it is clear that Covello and Marcantonio personally intervened in this situation in the most immediate ways. A life-long resident recalled that during the evening  following the radial outburst, Marcantonio approached a group of older boys with whom he was hanging out with and asked them not to loiter around the area of the school. One of the boys shouted out to Marcantonio: “If you had a sister, would you want her to marry a n------?” He then recalled that without saying a word, Marcantonio turned on his heal and walked away. Covello also talked to the members of a social club, whose headquarters on East 118th Street and Pleasant Avenue, faced the site where the attack on the African American students had occurred.
Covello and Marcantonio knew that the key–not only to repairing the damage caused by the racial incidents that took place on September 27th and 28th as well as the prospects for lasting racial harmony in and around Benjamin Franklin–depended upon the attitude and actions of the Italian American community. This conviction was evidenced when the brochure, the need for which had been identified by the attendees at the September 30th, was written. Conceived of as a one-page flyer in English and Italian, it was addressed exclusively to the Italian American community. Entitled “Who Gets Hurt?/Chi ha sofferto da tutto questo?” ,its text responded: “The Italo-American Community; the Negro People; Every Group in the Fight for Liberty!” Clearly, the key assertion that this missive had to sustain was that an attack on the African American boys outside of Benjamin Franklin also hurt the Italian Americans, because in the mêlée only African Americans got hurt. The flyer supported this premise by making three points. First, it reminded its readers that “The same people who hate us, also discriminate against us, also hate the Negro people, the Jews, the Catholics, the foreign-born. They hate everyone who wants America to be free for all the people.” The flyer then reminded the readers that “Benjamin Franklin High School is an example of how the people can unite and live peacefully together.” After asserting that Franklin is “one of the most beautiful, most modern, best equipped of any school in the city.” It then mentioned the OWI documentary, stating “The Government was proud of us–proud enough to show us at work to the Italians at home, to the French, to the British, and many others.” The text next attacks “the reactionaries, who would divide us, include some traitors among our own people. . . .  our own ‘Bilbos’ [who] are as dangerous as the Bilbos of Mississippi.” It then closes with these slogans: “Stop Hate Talk”; “Build the People’s Unity”; “Keep Our School Free of Discrimination and Hate–Free to Grow.”
The flyer’s use of the term “our own Bilbos” shows that it was intended solely for circulation in the Italian American community. Clearly, the African American people did not need to be convinced by anyone that Bilbo was an abomination and a threat. Letters dated Oct. 1 were mailed by Covello to the prominenti of Italian Harlem which stated: “The attached statement is being signed by the leading people of our community. Our plan is to have it printed in leaflet form and to distribute thousands of copies in our community. If you want your signature to appear on this leaflet, please sign the attached statement and return it immediately.”  
The ideas inherent in the text of “Who Gets Hurt?” pervaded every word and action of the fight back, but the leaflet itself became subordinate to the organization of a Community Mass Meeting on Monday, October 8th in the auditorium of Benjamin Franklin High School at 8:00 PM. This meeting was highly ritualized. It brought together the leadership of Italian Harlem and the residents of Italian Harlem for the single purpose of reaffirming and manifesting a commitment of the Italian American community to Benjamin Franklin as an integrated school. Covello and Marcantonio visualized this assembly as a means of manifesting the unanimity of the community’s leadership on this issue as well as providing a way for enlisting the community members in this endeavor.
On Saturday, October 6th, Covello made a special effort to reach Italian-speaking members of the community by speaking on radio in Italian. In this broadcast, he explained to his audience that he wished to give “a very brief and very exact exposition of the facts” of what had occurred at Franklin on September 27th and September 28th. He closed by inviting his listeners to attend the meeting at the school in order to join together with “eminent citizens of our community who will present to you, in English and Italian, the true and fair exposition of the facts.”
Covello also sent a letter to all the parents, in which he appealed to them as someone who “for eleven years [who has] worked all year ‘round, day and night, seven days a week.” Now he asked them to “assume your share of the duties as citizens of this Community” by attending the assembly where he noted he would report to them in English and Italian. In a letter written on his Congressional stationery, Marcantonio invited community residents to the October 8th meeting. He exhorted them: “The Benjamin Franklin High School belongs to the people, . . . and we must defend it. American democracy is based on the principle of equality. We cannot permit the ugly head of race hatred to rise in our midst.”
Gathering the prominenti of Italian Harlem was the next task. On October 1st, letters of invitation were sent to forty-three leaders, thirty-four of whom accepted. Covello and Marcantonio had succeeded within one week in assembling: State Senator, Richard Costanzo;  State Assemblyman, Catennacio; Democratic Party chieftain, Frank Rossetti; judges; labor leaders; heads of veterans clubs; and morticians. Most important, the local clergy endorsed this effort. Catholic clergy attended from every Italian national church–Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Lucy’s, Holy Name, and St. Anne’s. The minister from the Jefferson Park Methodist Church, of which Covello was an active member, also accepted the invitation. Among the minority who did not respond were: Joseph Piscitello, a functionary from the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, against whom Marcantonio had run for the ALP designation in 1940; Frank Ricca, his defeated Democratic opponent from 1942; a New York State Supreme Court Judge; Joseph Cioffi, the Democratic Party candidate in 1944 for State Assemblyman who had been defeated by the Republican-ALP candidate, Catennacio; and a Rev. Frank Condro. Within one week’s time, Covello and Marcantonio had summoned the political, social, and religious leadership of Italian Harlem and they arrived on time. Indeed, there were only four non-Italian Americans among the thirty-four attendees: two Irish American Catholic priests, who served at local parishes, one social worker, and one medical doctor.
PM reported that one thousand parents, “mostly Italian American,” who attended October 8th’s Community Mass Meeting. The headline of “Who Gets Hurt?” and the responses “The Italo-American Community!,” etc., appeared on the top of the assembly’s program to which was added: “No man is safe unless all men are safe; no group is safe unless all groups are safe.” The program started with the color guard of James Otis Junior High School marching into the auditorium, while the audience stood to sing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This was followed by “A Better America,” the OWI-produced documentary. Covello then made an introductory statement, the text of which is not available. The program ended with “brief statements by leading citizens of the East Harlem and sponsors of the Community Mass Meeting.” PM, which was the only newspaper to cover this event, published this excerpt of Marcantonio’s address: “[The street fighting] would delight Bilbo and Rankin. We’ve got to fight the Bilbos and Rankins all over the world. We, of Italian origin, know the meaning of discrimination because we have been exploited, so we refuse to discriminate against others. We have no quarrel with any people; we have no quarrel with Negro people.” (PM noted that the audience booed the names of Bilbo and Rankin.) Although we have no copies of the other talks, we do have a message from one of the invited leaders of the community, who was unable to attend because of illness. A. Salimbene, a business representative of a local of the Excavators and Building Laborers Union, wired Covello this statement: “In the highest form of democracy, tolerance is the greatest need. To live together, work together, and study together regardless of race, creed, or color is what our fighting men gave their lives for. . . . In a democracy such as ours, this must be our daily creed. I urge this meeting to resolve that we will always fight for freedom for all peoples regardless of race, creed, or color.”
Following the speeches this resolution was presented and unanimously accepted:
                        Whereas, the treatment given by certain newspaper of this City to the             incident which occurred outside Benjamin Franklin High School on Thursday, September             27th, tended to damage its fine reputation for interracial harmony and goodwill . . . .
                        And whereas, false and unfounded reports insulted the people of our             community by implying a lack of tolerance and racial goodwill;
                        Now be it resolved that: we the members of the community of East     Harlem do hereby:
            1) Reaffirm our profound belief in the American principle of racial equality and                              tolerance;
            2) Reaffirm our faith in the basic ideals which motivated the founding of                                          Benjamin Franklin which affords opportunity for growth and development to all,                           regardless of race, color, creed, or national origin;
            3) Pledge to go forward in unity and solidarity in an ever-expanding program of                              better understanding among all racial and cultural groups in our community.”
            Covello and Marcantonio’s ability to mobilize the Italian American community and its leadership to repudiate this incident and endorse integrated education depended on their deep roots and profound service to this community. Covello had arrived in Italian Harlem from Italy at the age of nine; Marcantonio lived his entire life within a four-block radius in Italian Harlem. Subsequently, they lived in adjacent brownstones at 329 and 331 East 116th Street, which was three blocks from Benjamin Franklin and down the block from Marcantonio’s political headquarters, 247 East 116th Street. Both had been of enormous service to the community. In the  House, Marcantonio was a singular voice defending the rights of the foreign-born, Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and. specifically Italian Americans. Marcantonio’s delivery of service to his constituents was legendry. Every Sunday, he stayed at his East Harlem headquarters listening to the petitions of his constituents, and he did not leave until the last of these was heard. Annually, thousand upon thousand of residents in Italian Harlem had some problem resolved or at least attended to by Marcantonio and his staff. One of his biographers has stated: “Few men in public life has been so intimately linked with a particular urban neighborhood . . . the man was the product and personification of the neighborhood.” Covello was described by one interviewee in the major study of Covello to date as “almost a little god in East Harlem.” Yet another interviewee characterized his as “the dean of East Harlem. He is undoubtedly the most experienced person it he community and his activities were more widespread and extended over a longer period than any other person.”
            Covello’s involvement went far beyond Benjamin Franklin. For example, when he identified the lack of a newspaper as both a reflection of, and a contributing factor to, the disunity of East Harlem, he spearheaded a group which in March of 1941 founded the East Harlem News, an eight-page tabloid that which appeared monthly until 1943. East Harlem News, which featured articles in Italian and Spanish, published announcements and news about the community’s numerous social clubs, churches, and of course Benjamin Franklin. Under the headline, “Towards Building a Better Community,” the front page of its first issue for example, announced  the monthly “community night” at Franklin where readers had the opportunity to join a community committee, including: Housing, Health, Juvenile Aid, Racial Committee, Adult Education, Parents Association, Citizenship and Naturalization. These committees both afforded services for the community and linked the school to the community. Covello and Marcantonio had been involved in the founding of the school and then in a campaign to obtain a new facility for the school. Initially, Benjamin Franklin had been housed in two antiquated public school buildings. When its new edifice was opened in 1944, Marcantonio stated at its dedication: “[Benjamin Franklin] is interracial in character and community-wide in the scope of its work. . . . It can truly be said that this great building is indeed a monument to democracy in education.” Their highly visible and tangible service to Italian Harlem gave them enormous prestige and credibility. Therefore, the community, its leaders, and residents accepted their evaluation as to the gravity of this situation and evidence their willingness to accept the course of action they proposed.
      Covello did not rest on the triumph of the Community Mass Meeting. The following morning, the faculty and students received a letter from him that reproduced the resolution passed at the community meeting. He informed the students that the resolution would be presented in every English class for discussion. He further urged the students and faculty “to take positive action by signing the pledge to march in the Columbus Day parade on Friday. . . .” The t ext of the pledge cards committed the students to seek their parents’ permission to “march with my fellow-Franklinites in a parade of American unity and solidarity at the Columbus Day Parade.” This reminded was reinforced by a letter from Covello to his students’ parents requesting that they sign  consent cards so that their children could march. He closed by urging their “cooperation in this manifestation of unity among all our people, by the participation of your son, and if possible, yourself, in this parade.” The faculty also received a letter from Covello seeking their participation in the Columbus Day Parade, which closed: “Let us affirm by positive action how deeply we feel on the question of segregation, discrimination, and the fomenting of race hatred.” Actually, preparations for the parade were under way in advance of these missives. At an All-Day Student Conference held on Wednesday, October 3rd, The Herald Tribune reported that: “A Negro boy proposed a resolution that all the boys of the school march en masse in the city’s Columbus Day parade, to demonstrate their unity to the entire city.” During this student conference, students developed a series of slogans, including: “Christian, Jew, Negro, White–Americans All–Unite and Fight Race-Hate.” The Chair of the English Department, Robert Shapiro, requested that the English teachers work together with the students to create “slogans that are brief and dramatic. They should be expressions of: 1) the democratic spirit of unity of races; 2) respect for all individuals; 3) our school unity.”
            Whatever hopes Covello had for Benjamin Franklin’s participation in the Columbus Day  Parade, they were amply  fulfilled. It became news even before it happened. Columbus Day morning, The Mirror reported that “A feature of the parade will be the participation of the student body of Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, scene of recent racial disturbances. The students voted to take part as a demonstration of American unity and solidarity, their principal announced.” The following day, four New York City dailies published stories that included mention of Franklin’s participation in the parade. The Times remarked that a “delegation of five hundred students of Benjamin Franklin High School, led by their principal, Dr. Leonard Covello, and flanked by parents . . .  marched in a demonstration of unity, signalizing the restoration of interracial  harmony and good-will  at the school, where disorders occurred on September 27 and 28. The Times did not, of course, here or any other place, note that on the day following these “disorders,” it had published a headline terming them “a riot.” The Tribune increased the estimate of the Franklin delegation to six hundred, which it noted constituted “fully half of the student body of the school, [who marched] . . . as a demonstration of its ‘American unity and solidarity.’” The Tribune noted that the Franklinites marched behind a  huge banner which proclaimed that they were ‘Americans All.’” The Mirror stated that: “Notable among the ten thousand students who took part was a large group of white and Negro pupils from the Benjamin Franklin High School. . . .” The article also noted that: “A burst of applause greeted a float on which one of the girls from the high school personified the Statue of Liberty. She was flanked by banners reading: “Americans All–Negro, Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant.” Il Progresso, for whom Columbus Day celebrations were reported on in multi-column articles beneath banner headlines, printed the Franklin story under a subheading–“Every Race, Every Faith.” After relating some background, it described how “[The students] were marching together one after the other–the whites, the Negroes, the Catholics, the Protestants, and the Jews–with Prof. Leonard Covello, the principal, at the head. The public comprehended the significance of this ‘fusion’ and applauded from the heart.”
            One last event took place before Covello and everyone else involved in this remarkable campaign could breathe easier. On October 23, 1945, the most singer of popular musician in the United States, who not inconsequentially happened to be Italian American, came to Benjamin Franklin High School to add his voice to the chorus demanding “unity and  solidarity” across racial, national, and religious lines. From 1944 until 1948, Sinatra became very involved in supporting left organizations and causes. He was especially active in the fight against racism. In 1945, he made thirty appearances around the country speaking against prejudice. PM published an article on the morning of the event where Sinatra (who is described as toying with a gold St. Christopher medallion, on the back of which was engraved a Star of David) said he was “Going to lay it on the line” during his talk at Franklin. In the middle of a program that started with an organ prelude, flag salute, Bible reading and band selections and ended with “expressions of our School’s thanks to Frank Sinatra, Ambassador of good will,” Sinatra told the students that hate groups had sent “delegates and agents among the kids” to talk up race prejudice. . . . This country was built by many people of many creeds, so it can never be divided. . . . No kid is born and two days later says: ‘I hate Jews or colored people. He’s got to be taught.’” The Daily News reported that Sinatra pointed out that there are no discernible “biological  differences between races.  . . . He also asked the high school students to acts as “neighborhood emissaries of racial good will.” The Daily Worker, the only other City daily newspaper to cover this event, reported that the boys liked Sinatra because as one boy said, “he speaks our language.” Curiously, Sinatra did not sing “The House I Live In,” a Popular Front anthem that Sinatra had dramatized in a ten-minute documentary, but one of his least  memorable songs, “Aren’t You Glad You’re You?,” which was totally devoid of any  social  or political content.
            This remarkable campaign, which reversed a racist incident into an affirmation of racial tolerance, was solidly based on the ideology of the Popular Front, which in America found expression in the left New Deal, especially as articulated by Henry Wallace, and the Congress of Industrial Organization and especially in its Political Action Committee. The assumption of the Popular Front was that an advanced form of democracy (social democracy, if you will) was being constructed on the unity of the working class, which was endangered by racism, anti-Semitism, and nativism. It was upon this living and powerful tradition that Covello and Marcantonio built this fight-back. Therefore, they did not try to shame or bully the Italian American community, but to appeal to its best instincts and sense of self-interest. Marcantonio and Covello succeeded in convincing this community that what was at stake was its reputation,  school, and connection with others who had been systematically left out of the American dream. The Italian Americans’ enemies were not the African Americans, but rather the Bilbos and the “reactionary” press. In Italian Harlem, the Popular Front had been concretized in Covello’s  educational philosophy, community centered education, and implemented by the Harlem Legislative Conference, which  coalesced more than one hundred political, social, and religious organizations in Italian, Spanish, and Black Harlem. The infusion of the school and the community with this political outlook and activities based upon it prepared them for what was in fact a political campaign. Therefore, no one objected to Covello’s approach,  and everyone, in a sense, knew that his/her parts were in the unfolding drama.
            This relatively minor outbreak of racial animosity would be forgotten today if it did not speak to an unusually long list of burning issues. These obviously include the relationship of Italian Americans and African Americans. This particular incident showed a side of this relationship that is rarely acknowledged, that is, the presence of effective antiracist leaders and forces within the Italian American community which in this case prevailed. It also shows the unfair treatment of the Italian American community in the American commercial media, which was willing to sensationalizing of this incident and thereby stigmatize this school. It also reflects the hostility of the right-leaning media to the type of educational innovation at Benjamin Franklin which they viewed as inherently leftist.
             The fight back showed community centered education provided an ideological and practical framework for the solution to this crisis. Covello and Marcantonio’s trust in the community and their credibility with African Americans and other minorities caused all of these forces of accede to their leadership. .
The implementation of this plan of action was sufficient to achieve all of Covello’s goals.  There was never again a racial incident in Benjamin Franklin and the commitment of the school to integration was secured. Covello’s career did not decompose and Marcantonio’s leadership of the community was reaffirmed. Unfortunately, the 1945 racial incident became the single most publicized, and remembered, incident in the history of BFHS. In The Heart Is the Teacher Covello acknowledges that despite the creative and comprehensive fight back he organized “Damage was done to the prestige of the school, making it less effective as an educational institution and stigmatizing the community and the students. Some of my guys complained, ‘When we go for a job or even want to go to college and they hear we come from East Harlem, it’s going to make it much harder for us to get by.’” Here we are remembering these events in a different, and hopefully, more accurate way.

I wish to acknowledge the support that my research on Leonard Covello has received at various times from: the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Professional Staff Congress / City University Research Foundation, and the Balch Institute.

At its height in the thirties, Italian Harlem occupied East Harlem from East 96th Street to East 125th Street from Madison Avenue to the East River. Italian Harlem was home to eighty thousand first- and second-generation Italian Americans. Essentially a tenement district, it also boasted a corso, East 116th Street, where the prominenti of the community resided. Italian Harlem hosted the largest festa in the United States, whose Madonna di Monte Carmelo, was housed in a church which was one of only two that had been designated basilicas by the Vatican. Its large size and the completeness of its infrastructure creating an effective environment for the development of major progressive Italian-American leaders, such as, Leonard Covello, Salvatore Cotillo, Fiorello LaGuardia, Edward Corsi, and Vito Marcantonio. On Italian Harlem see, Gerald Meyer, “Italian Harlem: America’s Most Italian Little Italy,” in The Italians of New York: Five Centuries of Struggle and Achievement, 57-68, edited by Philip Cannistraro (Milan: Mondaldori, 1999).

Freeman, “Exploring the Path of Community Change in East Harlem, 1870-1970” (Ph.D. dissertation, Fordham, 1994), 358. The Benjamin Franklin building also held the James Otis Junior High School, whose enrollment came almost exclusively from the immediate Italian American predominantly community. In the evening in courses as varied as Russian, Advanced English or vocational courses such as “Doctor’s Office Assistant” and “Switchboard,” however, Franklin’s adult enrollment swelled from 1,500 in 1938 to as many as four thousand during the war years Chapter XVI “Adult Education,” CC: Box 19, Folder 19/11. [Henceforth, Covello Collection will be indicated by CC; Box by B; and Folder by F.] The Covello Collection consists of fifty-four linear feet of shelf space organized into 108 boxes, containing an extraordinary range of material–including correspondence with family members and the largest collection of material about Italian Harlem–that document Covello’s lifelong work. The Covello Collection is deposited in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

For a list of New York City’s high schools, see “Local Representatives,” High Points: In the Work of the High Schools of New York City (Oct. 1945).

            “Community Mass Meeting,” program of October 8th Meeting in Benjamin Franklin. CC: B 54, F 13.

See: Leonard Covello’s The Social Background of the Italo-American School Child: A Study of the Southern Italian Family Mores and Their Effect on the School Situation in Italy and America (Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1969); with D’Agostino The Heart Is the Teacher (New York: McGraw Hill, 1958). On Covello see these articles by Gerald Meyer: “Leonard Covello (1887-1982): An Italian American's Contribution to the Education of Minority-Culture Students,” Italian American Review (Fall 1996): 36-44; “Leonard Covello: A Pioneer in Bilingual Education,” The Bilingual Review (Jan.-Aug. 1985): 55-61; “Leonard Covello and Vito Marcantonio: A Lifelong Collaboration for Progress,” Italica (Spring 1985): 54-66.

      Leonard Covello, The Italian Teachers Association: Eighteenth Annual Report–School Year, 1938-1939,  22, published in The Italian Community and Its Language in the United States: The Annual Reports of the Italian Teachers Association, edited by Francesco Cordasco (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975), 380. Franklin’s Italian American cohort in 1940 was 40.6 percent of the school’s enrolment, which was only slightly less that its 1945 figure of 37.1 percent. Robert Freeman, “Exploring the Path of Community Change in East Harlem, 358. The Annual Reports of the Italian Teachers Association ceased publishing as of the 1938-1939 issue. This was one consequence of the war which also brought about a reduction in the teaching of the Italian language, Italian-language broadcasts, and Italian American organizational life. Robert Schaffer, “Multicultural Education in New York City during World War II,” New York History (July 1996), 314.

On cultural pluralism, see: Susan Dicker, Languages in America: A Pluralist View (Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, 1996),  35; Horace Kallen, “Democracy Versus the Melting-Pot: A Study of American Nationality: Part I and Part II,” The Nation (Feb. 18, 1915), 190-94; and (Feb. 25), 217-20; Louis Adamic, From Many Lands (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1940); Nicholas Montalto, “The Forgotten Dream: A History of the Intercultural Education Movement, 1924-1941” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1977).

Shaffer, “Multicultural Education,” 301-32. The term “intercultural,” which is now out of use, roughly equates with the current term “multiculturalism.”

            Renzo Dalzin, “William Spiegel,” Benjamin Franklin Year Book, 1942, 3. During this period, Franklin’s basketball team, with the exception of Boys High in Brooklyn, was unequaled. Joseph Dorinson, interview, Oct. 31, 2002.

Covello with D’Agostino, The Heart, 187. Covello further said that “[Pergola] could throw an arm around a boy churning with resentment against some teacher and make him smile and feel ashamed, or he could berate another in a voice that could be heard half-way down the corridor; and the boys always had the feeling that he was one of them, trying to help them in his own way. They could no more think of hating Sal Pergola than they could think of hating an older brother.”  

            “Notes on the Racial Incident at Franklin,” unsigned but probably Covello. CC: B 54, F 7.

  “Police Reassure Mothers, Guard Harlem School,” Herald Tribune (Sept. 29, 1945).

This narrative of these events has been culled almost entirely from a statement of facts developed by a group of faculty meeting on Monday, October 1, and then distributed in English and Italian on Tuesday October 2nd. My research on these events substantiates the veracity of this report. “Benjamin Franklin High School/James Otis Junior High School, Dr. Leonard Covello.” CC: B 54, F 4. “Police Reassure Mothers, Guard Harlem School,” Herald Tribune (Sept. 29, 1945).

“500 Boys Battle in East Harlem.” Unidentified clipping CC: B 54, F 7.

            “Notes on the Racial Incident at Franklin.”

Italian Harlem was a community that had been routinely devalued and denigrated by the press. See for example, “As the Communists Went, So Went Marcantonio,” PM (March 5, 1942), 7; and “Marc’s District: People Are Poor and Mostly Foreign Born,” LIFE (Dec. 30, 1946), 16.

Many of the newspaper articles cited in this paper were collected by Don Dodson (the Executive Director of the Mayor’s  Committee on Unity) which can be found in CC: B 54, F 7. (Page numbers are only occasionally present on the clippings.) 

“Wallander Maps School Protection,” World-Telegram (Sept. 29, 1945).

“Police Reassure Mothers,” Herald Tribune (Sept. 29, 1945).

   “Student ‘Strikes’ Flare into Riots in Harlem Schools: Knives Flash in Street Fights as Elders Join Pupils in Battling the Police,” New York Times (Sept. 29, 1945), 1; “2,000 High Students Battle in Race Riot,” Daily News (Sept. 29, 1945); “Chicago, Harlem Torn by School Race Strife,” and “Harlem School Riots Bring Petition for Race Segregation,” New York Post (Sept. 29, 1945).

Cheryl Lynn Greenberg, Or Does It Explode?: Black Harlem in the Great Depression (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 221.

  Untitled, four-page analysis of initial articles about the incident organized into two columns–one with a precis of the articles the other with Covello’s version of the events. Although this summary was unsigned, its first-person voice and style indicate Covello’s authorship.  CC: B 54, F 7.

“2,000 High Students Battle in Race Riot,” Daily News (Sept. 29, 1945).

“Chicago, Harlem Torn by School Race Strife” and “Harlem School Riots Bring Petition for Race Segregation,” New York Post (Sept. 29, 1945).

“Agitators Blamed in School Riots as Cops Man Buildings,” Daily News (Sept. 30, 1945), 4.

“High Schools Get Police Guard as New Outbreaks Are Hinted,” Daily Mirror (Sept. 30, 1945), 5.

“School Fights Bring Study,” PM (Sept. 30, 1945), 13.

“Provvedimenti dopo i tumulti di Pleasant Ave.: Le scuole sarrano protete,” Il Progresso Italo-Americano (Sept. 30, 1945).

“Demand Mayor Act on Harlem Anti-Negro Riot: See School Outbreak as Part of a Nationwide Racist Plot,” Sunday Worker (Sept. 30, 1945).

            “The Community School and Race Relations,” unpublished manuscript (Nov. 19, 1945), 6. CC: B 20, F 9. Excerpts from Covello’s manuscript, however, were published in this journal in an article entitled “Social Front,” which minimized the events at Franklin, and went on to state: “Perhaps, the most significant aspect of the affair was the positive manner in which it was approached by the administration, faculty, and student body with the cooperation of concerned community organizations.” (Dec. 1945), 138-39. A Monthly Summary of Events and Trends in Race Relations was sponsored by the Social Science Institute at Fisk University. 

Benjamin Franklin was housed in an architecturally distinguished, red-brick, Georgian-style edifice that spanned two blocks. The interior boasted terrazzo floors, wainscoted walls, inset display cases as well as an oversized auditorium and library. It was the only New York City high school with a roof garden. With one façade overlooking the community (incidentally, dwarfing Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church) and an second façade overlooking the East River, Benjamin Franklin represented a major civic monument, which was intended to serve not only as a school but, in accordance with Covello’s philosophy, a community center.
Chapter XVI “Adult Education,” CC: B 19, F 19/11.

Untitled set of minutes with a hand-written notation: “Meeting–Sunday Eve–Sept. 30, 1945 at Mr. Covello’s home.” CC: B 54, F 4. Although not listed on the minutes as “present,” Robert Shapiro, an English teacher at Franklin, is identified as being present at this meeting in Robert Peebles, “Leonard Covello: A Study of an Immigrant’s Contribution to New York City” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1967), 281. It is possible that others, who were not listed as attendees on the minutes, were also present. However, given the venue of the meeting, Covello’s living room, it is unlikely that many others would have been present. 

            Untitled set of minutes with a hand-written notation: “Meeting–Sunday Eve–Sept. 30, 1945 at Mr. Covello’s home.” CC: B 54, F 4. Although not listed on the minutes as “present,” Robert Shapiro, an English teacher at Franklin, is identified as being present at this meeting in Robert Peebles, “Leonard Covello: A Study of an Immigrant’s Contribution to New York City” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1967), 281. It is possible that others, who were not listed as attendees on the minutes, were also present. However, given the venue of the meeting, Covello’s living room, it is unlikely that many others would have been present.

Despite his management position, Covello always maintained a warm relationship with the Communist-led Teachers Union. In 1938, for example, he was a speaker at its annual convention, and at its 1941 Conference, he received the Teachers Union’s annual award, because of his “outstanding contributions to education democracy.” “The Student Movement Comes of Age,” New York Teacher (Feb. 1938), 14; “Educational Conference,” New York Teacher (April 1941), 10.

Covello recalled in his biography that Kuper had “always made himself available. . . . [and was someone who Covello] could always count on his advice, help, and active participation in all our undertakings.” Covello, The Heart, 194.

              Covello, The Heart, 115, 163, 188. Rose was Covello’s second wife. His first wife was also a teacher, Mary Accurso, Rose’s sister, who died in 1914, a year after their marriage. The Accurso family came from Avigliano in Basilicata, the same home town as the Covellos. Their arrival in Italian Harlem predated the Covellos  and  Covello’s father, lodged with the Accursos for six years before he, along with his mother and siblings, arrived there. Like Covello, both Mary and Rose had converted to Protestantism (22, 55, 67, 101-2).

  Harlem House (today Fiorello LaGuardia Memorial House), which is located on East 116th Street, between Second and first Avenues, was founded by a Canadian Methodist missionary, Anna Ruddy, in 1898, as the Home Garden. It was the oldest and, closely tied with Union Settlement, for the designation of, the most progressive, of the community’s settlement houses. Ruddy was the great influence on Covello. Marcantonio worked in Harlem House while attending New York University Law School and, of course met Miriam Sanders there. See  Meyer, “Italian Harlem: Portrait of a Community,” 61-62.

Peebles, “Leonard Covello,” 199; see the letterhead of East Harlem League for Unity, Dec. 4, 1945. CC: B 54, F 11. “Unity League Sees Increased Tension: Inquiry into Incident in [East] Harlem Brings Warning, with Plea for Better Safeguards,” New York Times (Dec. 11, 1945).

Marcantonio’s reputation rested in part on his sponsorship of civil rights legislation in the House, where he led the fight against the poll tax, fought to make lynching a federal crime, and to ensure the funding of the Fair Employment Practices Commission. See Gerald Meyer, Vito Marcantonio: Radical Politician, 1902-1954 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989); Gerald Meyer, “The American Labor Party: 1936-1956,” in The Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America, Vol. I, 682-90, edited by Immanuel Ness and John Ciment (Armonk NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2000).

During Benjamin Franklin's 1939 graduation ceremony, Covello introduced Marcantonio by pointing out that: “There was never a time when [Marcantonio] as a young high school boy (or the more mature man of today) would permit in himself a feeling that the restrictions and hardships of immigrant life would be a reason for being ashamed of his community, his friends, or his origin. As he grew older and became better known in the outside community, he said, in effect, to the whole world: ‘East Harlem is my community; these are my people; we stand or fall together.’” Of course, Marcantonio could have turned around and said the same about Covello.
Benjamin Franklin’s graduation ceremony, June 28, 1939. CC.

This assignment was taken by “RAC,” that is, Rose Accurso Covello. “Minutes–Sunday Eve–Sept. 30, 1945.” CC: B 54, F 4.

“Minutes–Sunday Eve–Sept. 30, 1945.” CC: B 54, F 4.

This was not an entirely impractical proposal because Michael Pinto, Marcantonio’s law partner, represented the left-led Film Technicians Union.

            “Incident–Sept. 27-28,” CC: B 54, F 4.

            “Harlem School Tension Eases, Five Inquiries On: Students Warned against ‘Bilboism’; “Four Hundred Police Stand Guard on Streets,” New York Herald Tribune (Oct. 2, 1945).

            Meyer, Vito Marcantonio, 133-34.

            “Athletic Coaches Scored by Mayor,” New York Times (Oct. 1, 1945).

            “Police Guard City Schools: Step Taken to Bring Halt to Racial Outbreak,” New York Sun (Oct. 1, 1945).

            Howard Zinn, LaGuardia in Congress  (New York: W. W. Norton, 1958),

              From 1933 until 1942, LaGuardia lived with his wife and two daughters in a four-room apartment (# 6C), at 1274 Fifth Avenue, which is between 108th and 109th Streets. “Mayor Loses His Vote; Didn’t Shift Address,” New York Times (Aug. 12, 1942), 1; from 1929 until 1932, the LaGuardias lived at 23 East 109th Street. Before then, he lived in the Bronx.  Freeman, “Exploring the Path of Community Change,” 144.

            Covello, The Heart, 182; Peebles, “Leonard Covello,” 191. Covello also gave much credit for LaGuardia’s decision to his campaign manager, that is, Marcantonio. LaGuardia’s support was also critical for the selection of the best possible site for the school–a two-block lot on a bluff overlooking a bend in the East River. The Heart, 227-28. 

            On his third term, see Ronald Bayor, Fiorello La Guardia: Ethnicity and Reform (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1993), 160-78.

            “Benjamin Franklin High School/James Otis Junior High School, Dr. Leonard Covello.” CC: B 54, F 4.

            “Guard Harlem Schools to Bar Riot, New York Journal American (Oct. 1, 1945), 2. The Journal-American was an afternoon paper.

            Ted Poston, “Calls Race Riot Story ‘Bilbo-Type Smear,’” New York Post (Oct. 1, 1945), 4. One of the five African American teachers was Layle Lane, who taught at Franklin from its founding in 1934 until her retirement in 1953. Layle has been described by her biographer as: “High school teacher, civil rights pioneer, teacher unionist, Socialist activist, [Socialist Party] political candidate, lifelong pacifist, adventurer, and humanitarian.” Jack Schierenbeck, “Lost and Found: The Incredible Life and Times of (Miss) Layle Lane,” American Educator (Winter 2000-2001), 4, 19.

            “‘One of Those Things’: Cops Call School Riot,” Daily Worker (Oct. 1, 1945), 2.

            “Teachers Urge City Officials to Act in School Race Friction; Protect Negroes,” Daily Worker (Oct. 1, 1945), 2.

            “Marcantonio, [Benjamin] Davis Call for Unity against Fascist Provocation in High School Clash,” Daily Worker (Oct. 1, 1945), 2. “Marcantonio e Davis denunziano il pericolo di provcazioni: I disordini di Harlem atribuiti al lavoro di agenti fascisti,” L’Unità del Popolo (Oct. 6, 1945), 1. L’Unità also published a shorter version of this article on its English-language page. “Marcantonio, Davis Tell New Yorkers to Be on the Alert against Fascist Provocations.” Thee articles essentially repeated the Worker’s article, which was somewhat surprising because its reporting on Italian American topics generally reflected a deeper and more sensitive understanding of the specifics of these communities. See Gerald Meyer, “L’Unità del Popolo: The Voice of Italian American Communism, 1939-1951,” Italian American Review (Spring/Summer 2001): 121-55. Davis could be elected because from 1937 until 1947, the City Council was selected by a system of proportional representation which permitted third-party candidates (and even Republicans) to be elected. Proportional representation was yet one more casualty of the domestic cold war. Gerald Meyer, “Proportional Representation and the Left: The Urgency of Real Electoral Reform,” Against the Current (Nov.-Dec. 1996), 17.

“School Rioting Endangers Unity,” People’s Voice (Oct. 6, 1945), 2. Its reporting of the Benjamin Franklin incident was almost identical to the Daily Worker articles. “School Rioting Endangers Unity,” People’s Voice (Oct. 6, 1945), 2. On the ties of the People’s Voice to the Communist Party (which was published and directed by Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.), see Mark Naison, Communists in Harlem during the Depression Chicago: University of Illinois Press,1983), 313. Also note the masthead of this issue which lists individuals who were prominent members of supporters of the Communist Party, including Max Yergan, Ferdinand Smith, Doxey Wilkerson, and Leonard Lowe.

              “Racial Tension in School Eases, New York Daily Mirror (Oct. 2, 1945).

            John Hughes, “Faculty, Kids Act to Thwart Racial Battles,” Daily News (Oct. 2, 1945), 8;
Lola Paine and Harry Raymond, “Rout Bilboism, Is Plea to Pupils Returning after Harlem Riot,” Daily Worker (Oct. 3, 1945), 3; “Centinaia di poliziotti furono ieri assegnati alla protezione delle scuole: Misure precauzionale per impedire il ripetersi segli incideni de venerdi scorso,” Il Progresso (Oct. 2, 1945).

            “Four Hundred Police Watch Harlem Students: Escorts Provided at [Senior and Junior] Schools as Third of Those Enrolled Stay away; Negro Group Plans Aid; ‘Affirmative Program’ to Aim at Better Relations in Classes and the Neighborhood,” New York Times (Oct. 2, 1945).

              Arnold Blom and James Parlatore, “Adult Education Seen [as] Solution for Harlem School Situation,” PM (Oct. 2, 1945), 12.

            “All Is Not Well,” Herald Tribune (Oct. 2, 1945).

            “Harlem School Tension Eases, Five Inquiries on: Students Warned against ‘Bilboism’; Four Hundred Police Stand Guard on Streets,” Herald Tribune (Oct. 2, 1945).

            On the manuscript, Covello crossed out “fully” before “accepted.” “The Community School and Race Relations,” 7.

            “School Inquiry Sifts for Agitators,” World-Telegram (Oct. 2, 1945). This article also reported that “students entered the building quietly. There were no signs of tension or disorder.” The Daily News also published the positive attendance figures. In regards to the five investigation being conduced, it quoted Covello as saying the school’s  student council wishes to “handle the situation without outside aid or interference.” “School’s Muster Rises after Riot,” Daily News (Oct. 3, 1945), 24.

“The Parents of Boys Who Are Absent Today” (Oct. 1, 1945). CC: B 54, F 4.

            “Board of Education Scored: Handling of Disorders Seen Causing a Setback to Human Relations,” World-Telegram (Oct. 3, 1945). Algenon Black was a leader of the Ethical Culture Society, who for many decades played an active role in New York City’s liberal community. See also, “Blame Harlem Outbreak on Economic Unrest,” New York Post (Oct. 3, 1945), 16. The following day, The Herald Tribune quoted Rose Russell, or the Teachers Union, that overcrowded classes “Contribute to the low morale of the teachers and is one of the major causes of unrest during the last few weeks.” “Teachers’ Groups Call N.Y. Schools Understaffed,” Herald Tribune (Oct. 4, 1945). Algenon Black, who for many decades played an active role in New York City’s liberal community, was a leader of the Ethical Culture Society.

            “[Peter] Cacchione Holds Officials Evade Duty in School Riots,” Daily Worker (Oct. 4, 1945), 4. Cacchione was a City Councilman from Brooklyn who had been elected on the Communist Party line three times–1941, 1943, and 1945. Simon Gerson, Pete: The Story of Peter V. Cacchione, New York’s First Communist Councilman (New York: International Publishers, 1976).

            “Students Plan Program to End Racial Strife: Alumni of Benjamin Franklin H. S. to Its Defense,” PM (Oct. 3, 1945), 16.

            Interview with Dominic Ammariti, 1999.

            “Who Gets Hurt?” / “Chi ha sofferto da tutto questo?” CC: B 54, F 4. No printed copy of “Who Gets Hurt?/ Chi ha sofferto da tutto questo?” exists in neither the Marcantonio Papers, the Covello Collection, nor does any published source that refer to its distribution as a leaflet. However, it is possible that mimeographed copies of the entire leaflet were distributed. The Marcantonio Papers, which are deposited in the Manuscript Division of the Forty-Second Street Library, are a rich source of material about East Harlem in this period.                         

Covello to Rev. Guido Steccati, Oct. 1, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            Untitled manuscript dated Oct. 6, 1945 of an address in Italian by Covello broadcast over WOV. CC: B 54, F 20.

            Covello to Parents, Oct. 5, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            Marcantonio to Friend, Oct. 3, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            Although he was not observant and married a Protestant, Marcantonio maintained warm relations with the local Catholic clergy. See Gerald Meyer, “Italian Harlem’s Biggest Funeral: A Community Pays Its Last Respects to Vito Marcantonio,” Italian American Review (Spring 1997): 108-20.

            Check lists of names of invitees; program of meeting with names of participants; telegram from Rev. John Mulcahy to Covello, Oct. 8, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            “One Thousand Parents again Uphold Racial Accord: Meeting at Franklin School Reaffirms Faith in Community Program,” PM (Oct. 9, 1943), 12. Founded in 1940 as an unabashedly left-wing and unconventional journalistic venture, PM folded in 1948, as yet one more casualty of McCarthyism. Paul Milkman, “PM: A New Deal in Journalism, 1940-1948” (Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 1994).

            “On Thousand Parents,” 12. James Rankin (D, Miss), Bilbo’s counterpart in the House, not only race baited, but Jew baited. When Rankin referred to Rep. Emanuel Celler (D, NY) on the floor of the House as “the Jewish gentleman,” and Cellar objected. Rankin then queried if Celler was objecting to the term “gentleman” or “Jewish.” Only Marcantonio rose to defend Celler, pointing out that: “When you single out a person by his race color, or creed  . . you are baiting the  gentleman. . . . The injection of race, color, or creed, in my opinion, is not only dangerous but it is subversive of the orderly process in this House.” Annette T. Rubinstein, I Vote My Conscience: Debates, Speeches, and Writings of Vito Marcantonio (New York: Vito Marcantonio Memorial, 1956), 204-5.

            A. Salimbene to Covello, Oct. 8, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            “Resolution at the Community Mass Meeting at the Benjamin Franklin High School: Monday, October 8, 1945.” CC: B 54, F 13. The adjective “trivial” before “incident” was crossed out of the original draft

            Meyer, Vito Marcantonio, 5.

            Alan Schaffer, Vito Marcantonio: Radical in Congress (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1966), 5.

            Peebles, “Leonard Covello,” 295.

            Peebles, “Leonard Covello,” 260-62; “Towards Building a Better Community,” East Harlem News (March 1941). A number of issues of the East Harlem News are in the possession of the author.

“Two New High Schools Put into Operation,” New York Times (Feb. 3, 1942), 17; “Mayor Tells Boys of Facing Two Wars: New School Dedicated,” New York Times (April 17, 1942), 22. Among other things, Covello requested and obtained a greenhouse (the only one in a New York City high school), as well as community rooms, and an auditorium with balcony with a capacity of 1,500. CC: B 20, F 20. The auditorium is dedicated to Covello, and remains (aside from a senior citizens center in East Harlem) the only memorial to Covello.

            Memo from Covello to Faculty to the students of Benjamin Franklin High School and James Otis Junior High School, Oct. 9, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13. The idea of having the students sign pledge cards may have originated with Marcantonio, whose organization canvassed East Harlem and when they expressed support for Marcantonio were asked to sign pledge cards that they would vote for them. These cards served as a reminder to the voter, but also had the effect of psychologically committing the signatories. Meyer, Vito Marcantonio, 98.

Pledge card and parental-consent card. CC: B 54, F 13. The minutes of the September 30th meeting record that the “newspaper articles [be] used in SS [Social Science] classes as example of how bad reporting is done.” In fact, they were discussed in every class. This was a critical decision, because key aspects of this fight-back depended on student initiative and involvement.

            Covello to Faculty, Oct. 9, 1945. CC: B 54, F 13.

            “School’s Intercultural Program Seen in Need of Stronger Support: Under-Surface Race Tension Is Still a Problem Particularly at Benjamin Franklin; More Well-Trained Teachers Urged,” Herald Tribune (Oct. 7, 1945).

            “Slogans for Columbus Day Parade”; memo from Mr. Shapiro to All English Teachers, Oct. 4, 1945. CC: B 54, F 4.

            “Columbus Day Tributes Today,” Daily Mirror (Oct. 12, 1945).

            “Unity and Pleas for Aid to Italy Mark Columbus Day Fetes Here,” New York Times (Oct. 13, 1945).

            “Fifty-Three Thousand March in Two Columbus Day Parades,” Herald Tribune (Oct. 13, 1945). The slogan “Americans All” was featured by the International Workers Order, a fraternal organization coalescing fifteen nationality groups that was closely allied to the Communist Party. Thomas Walker, Pluralistic Fraternity: The History of the International Workers Order (New York: Garland Publishing, 1991).

            “Mayoral Rivals Join Forty Thousand in Columbus Fete,” Daily Mirror (Oct. 13, 1945), p. 6. There were no girls in Benjamin Franklin, so the “girl” personifying the Statue of Liberty was either a girlfriend or sister of one of Franklin’s students or a very pretty boy.

            “Un’ Immensa Fiumana di Popolo Onora Cristoforo Colombo Lungo la 5th Ave.,” Il Progress Italo-Americano (Oct. 13, 1945), 2. The efficacy of the parade as a device for healing and creating solidarity was tied to the processional mode that is a critical component of Southern Italian culture. Joseph Sciorra, interview, Sept. 26, 2002.

            Gerald Meyer, “Frank Sinatra: The Popular Front and an American Icon,” Science & Society (Fall 2002), 320-21.

            “Sinatra to Give Ideas on School Cultural Plan: Singer Says He’s Going to ‘Lay It on the Line’ in Talk at Franklin High,” PM (Oct. 23, 1945).

            “Frank Sinatra,” program for Oct. 23, 1945, assembly. Oct. 4, 1945. CC: B 54, F 16. The limited capacity of the Benjamin Franklin’s auditorium required Sinatra to speak twice–first before the pupils of the junior and then before the pupils of the senior-level school.

            “Sinatra Tells Kids of Racism, PM (Oct. 24, 1945), p. 14. The article was accompanied by two photos. The limited capacity of the Benjamin Franklin’s auditorium required Sinatra to speak twice–first before the pupils of the junior and then before the pupils of the senior-level school. The article was accompanied by two photos.

            “The Voice Talks to the Boys,” Daily News (Oct. 24, 1945), p. 4. The limited capacity of the Benjamin Franklin’s auditorium required Sinatra to speak twice–first before the pupils of the junior and then before the pupils of the senior-level school.

            “’He Speaks Our Language,’ Say Boys Who Heard Sinatra Talk on Bias,” Daily Worker (Oct. 27, 1945), p. 4.

            On Sinatra and “The House I Live In,” see Meyer, “Frank Sinatra,” 318-20.

Covello had explained that: “The community-centered high school must be the leader and the coordinating agency in all educational enterprises affecting the life of the community and, to a certain extent, the pivot upon which much even of the social and civic life of the neighborhood shall turn.” “The High School in the Immigrant Community” reprinted in The Italians: Social Backgrounds of an American Group, eds. Francesco Cordasco and Eugene Bucchioni. Clifton NJ: Augustus Kelly, 1974. In another context, he expanded the definition of a community-centered school by stating that it “accepts responsibility for the social well-being of the community as well as for the educational training of the students committed to the care of the school.” Peebles, “Leonard Covello,” 202. “A Community Centered School and the Problem of Housing,” Educational Forum (Jan. 1943): 93-133. Benjamin Franklin became a synthesis of an academic high school and a settlement house. In Benjamin Franklin, the community was not viewed as an object of shame, but as a resource. Covello made Benjamin Franklin High School the fulcrum for successful community-wide campaigns, including a spectacularly successful movement to bring low-income housing to Italian Harlem. Benjamin Franklin constantly interacted with the community. It became linked more completely with the community than perhaps any public school has ever been.
Meyer, Vito Marcantonio, 70-79.
The Heart, 242.     

Gerald Meyer