Unlikely Historians: Materials Collected by NYPD Surveillance Teams, 1960-1975



March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom button, 1963. Image via archives.nyc

It’s no secret that the New York City Police Department conducted surveillance during the 1960s-70s.  Any and every individual or organization that challenged the administration was a focus. The surveillance records collected during that period of time are now on view, in the exhibit, Unlikely Historians: Materials Collected by NYPD Surveillance Teams, 1960-1975.

Women’s House of Detention, 1970. Image via archives.nyc

Much of the information that is part of surveillance during this period in time was gathered by the Bureau of Special Services and Investigation, also known as BOSSI or Special Services Division. Their focus was on immigrants, labor leaders, Nazi supporters, socialists, anarchists, activists, and communists ~ those who participated in a wide range of political activities including civil rights, poverty, anti-war, and feminist issues.

Harlem Construction Site, September 1969. Image via archives.nyc

The Municipal Archives acquired BOSSI records as a result of Handschu v. Special Services Division class action settlement of 1985. This documentation of one of our country’s most turbulent times includes such events as the 1967 march organized by the Spring Mobilization Committee to end the War in Vietnam, documentation on the activities of the Minutemen and the Weather Underground (Weathermen), with photos of the ruins of a West Village townhouse destroyed in 1970 (image below).   Anti-nuclear activism, feminist and gay liberation causes, and also class issues like education, fair pay, tenant’s rights, prisoner’s rights, and safe working conditions.

Bomb explosion when SDS bomb factory in basement of West Village townhouse blew-up, March 6, 1970. Image via archives.nyc

Also on view are photographs of the 1967 antiwar demonstration in Central Park, a 1968 protest at Columbia University. There is also film footage of the first Earth Day march and a rally held by the Nation of Islam.

Image via archives.nyc

Unlikely Historians: Materials Collected by NYPD Surveillance Teams, 1960-1975  will be on view at the Municipal Archives Gallery, NYC Department of Records & Information Services, 31 Chambers Street, to February 28, 2018.  The gallery is open for viewing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9am to 4:30pm, and on Thursday from 9am to 7pm.

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