Essex Cnty Film Maker: Talking Integration and ‘New Neighbors’

By mark-slade May 18, 2011

Talking Integration and ‘New Neighbors’

Filmmaker screens documentary about racial integration at Congregation Beth El.
A community that embraces integration to stave off disinvestment and decline, as well as fight racism?
Sounds like South Orange-Maplewood, but actually it’s a model that has been embraced in a number of communities throughout the country — including Pennsauken, NJ.
The Community Coalition  on Race will be talking about Pennsauken — and, by reflection, Maplewood and South Orange — tonight at Congregation Beth El in South Orange with a special screening of the new documentary film “The New Metropolis” at 7:30 p.m.
Award-winning filmmaker Andrea Torrice, an Essex County native, will be at the screening to discuss the film.

The film opens with 1950s home movies and family snapshots from Pennsauken, a suburb of Philadelphia, to give viewers a quick history of suburban development. Springing up after World War II, the nation’s first suburbs were “dream towns,” places that returning GI’s and many middle class families could realize the American Dream of home ownership. But it was mostly whites that were able to take up suburban living. Access to the new housing tracts was largely controlled by federal and local policies, including exclusionary zoning and mortgage companies’ redlining practices. 

Then in the 1960s, Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act helped protect the rights of minority families.
Since the 1980s, the number of minorities living in suburbia has doubled. Many of these families have bought property in the first-ring suburbs, older communities that are close to city jobs. Meanwhile, new development and wealthier homeowners continue to move farther and farther out from metropolitan centers. Despite federal laws, many suburban towns are segregating along racial lines in the same manner as urban centers did decades ago.

The film anchors its story in personal portraits of two community leaders. Harold Adams moved his family to Pennsauken, New Jersey in the 1990s for the good schools. As more people of color began to buy homes in the area, many older white residents put their houses up for sale. A black real estate appraiser by trade, Harold saw firsthand how rapid turnover and changing demographics were starting to push Pennsauken towards decline.

One morning, Lynn Cummings, a white housewife who had moved to Pennsauken decades before, noticed a parade of “For Sale” signs on her neighbors’ lawns. She suddenly saw that white flight had hit home. “Racism was happening in my neighborhood,” she said. “I looked at myself in a mirror that night, and I said, ‘Well, if you want somebody to do something, you’ve got to do it yourself.’”

“The New Neighbors” follows its two protagonists as they work with an integration specialist from the Fund for an Open Society, residents and local public officials to work to reverse a declining housing market and create a vibrant, integrated community.
After the screening of “The New Neighbors,” the Coalition on Race will host a dialogue on the benefits of intentional integration and the on-going challenges faced by South Orange/Maplewood, a community 15 years into the process.   
 
To find out more about Torrice and the film, visit www.torriceproductions.com or call Torrice Productions. Event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.twotowns.org