Elsie Richardson, left, with Shirley Chisholm. Courtesy: Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration
If you’re not familiar with Elsie Richardson, do yourself a favor.
Elsie Richardson, who died in Brooklyn on March 15 at the age of 90, was a school secretary and community organizer whose activism in the realms of civil-rights, housing, and community development spanned six decades. Her signature moment occurred on a frigid February day in 1966, when she led Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on a lengthy tour of the impoverished, majority-black Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Kennedy at the time was plotting a new front in the War on Poverty, which had been declared two years earlier by President Lyndon Johnson but had yet to score significant victories. Richardson, meanwhile, hoped to rally political support for a set of ideas she and her fellow Brooklyn activists had been developing—ideas about how to stem capital flight, create jobs, and revitalize crumbling housing stock. Their meeting resulted in the founding of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, the first federally-funded Community Development Corporation and a model for the grassroots rebuilding efforts that would unfold in cities around the country in decades to come.
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