The Block by Herb Goro, 1970

In 1968/9, Herb Goro, a social worker and photojournalist, lived in adecaying neighborhood in the East Bronx for over a year to record stories of poverty and desperation of its residents. Goro was sponsored by American Foundation on Automation and Employment to produce a report on the impact the modern technologies were having on urban workers and the urban poor.

The Block, as he called it, was one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the country — more than 150,000 residents lived there — as well as one of the most impoverished and crime-infested. Working like an anthropologist, Gore set about capturing the black and Puerto Rican tenants of the ‘Block,’ who lived in two rotting tenements separated by a garbage-filled lot, and their daily struggle to survive in their rat‐infested slums.

In New York there are countless people, many of them hardly more than children, who live and die like those on The Block. Their struggle is to survive in a city that has no need for them and which barely manages even to keep them alive.

Herb goro, the block

His black-and-white photographs were published in the 194‐ page book Goro prepared for his sponsors, and simultenously published abridged (26 pages) in New York magazine. The magazine opened with high-contrast version of Goro’s photograph showing a figure precariously leaping from rooftop to rooftop on East 174th Street.

Both the book and the magazine had the accompanying text of tape-recorded interviews with the people in the pictures: the tenants, the police, the dying men and women, and the parents of the children being born, the landlord, the block workers, and Sanitation Department employees who work In the neighborhood. When the book was unveiled at the American Foundation sponsored event, the photos were too poignant, the text too dismal that the attendees, the leading industrialists, were shocked.

GENEVA, 16-year-old mother of two:

I want to get out of this block because it’s filthy. It’s too filthy. Just too filthy to raise children, and like sometimes you see people on the street eating out of garbage cans.

Like the other day I see this man. He didn’t look like a bum, you know, but it looked like candy he was taking out of the garbage cans and everything. So it was my last 50 cents, but I gave it to him. I said, ‘Don’t eat out of garbage cans.’ And he said ‘thank you’ and walked away. It doesn’t matter to me that it was my last 50 cents, but it makes me sad and mad for him eating out of the garbage can.

Now I just want to finish night school. That’s just my ambition. I want to finish school and make something out of my life, ’cause I got to get a job that’s making money. Nursing, that’s what my ambition is.

JOHN, 21-year-old:

“The main reason I want to go to college is to be an ‘All-American.’ Unless I get into college, I can’t do it. I can’t do it in high-school. I don’t want to feel that I went to school for 12 years and I have to work for a dollar. . . . I feel like I can help myself. I can help my younger brothers come up better than I was. . . . I want them to have clothes, I mean decent clothes where you don’t have to wear the same pants for three days. Or even getting up in the morning and they want to brush their teeth and they ain’t got a toothbrush or toothpaste or they even got nothing to eat.”

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