When Jimmy Carter visited the South Bronx

On the morning of October 5, 1977, a parade of limousines, led by six motorcycle escorts and helicopters overhead, drove up the East Side of Manhattan and onto the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

Inside was President Carter (and Mayor Abe Beame). In New York for a UN meeting, Carter made an surprise trip to the South Bronx, then the site of some of the worst urban blight in the country.

“The presidential motorcade passed block after block of burned-out and abandoned buildings, rubble-strewn lots, and open fire hydrants, and people shouting ‘give us money!’ and ‘we want jobs!'” wrote The New York Times the next day.

Carter got out a few times and walked around—as seen is these photos, which reveal just how shockingly deteriorated and bombed out block after block of the South Bronx was at the time.

Carter’s trip meant to show the country that he cared about the urban poor. But his dramatic trip also made the South Bronx a place for other politicians to go when they want to make a point.

While campaigning for president in 1980, Ronald Reagan visited a desolate stretch of the borough to point that Carter hadn’t done anything for the community since his 1977 trip.

Jesse Jackson came in 1984, and Bill Clinton showed up in 1997.

Whether any of these visits helped ease the area’s poverty is debatable—but what is clear is that much of the South Bronx has bounced back, a beacon of urban renaissance rather than blight.

[First and third photos: The New York Times]

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9 Responses to “When Jimmy Carter visited the South Bronx”

  1. NEIL Says:


  2. Dr. Cary Goodman Says:

    President Carter visited the South Bronx after his domestic policy advisor read an article by Pete Hamill in the Daily News. The article highlighted the plight of a resident who had worms coming out of her water faucet. The image linked the South Bronx to the plight of the poor in underdeveloped countries and brought the issue of urban poverty to the attention of the American electorate.

  3. Tom B Says:

    “A beacon of urban renaissance”, is that the same as gentrification?
    Back then when I was living in the midwest I could not imagine a place like this existed in the U.S.A. It reminded me of pictures of Germany after WWII.

  4. Big Sis Says:

    I live in Brooklyn but 2 years ago I was driving around this area of the Bronx, taking pictures of former synagogues. And when I came upon Charlotte Street I was a bit shocked, thinking of the old photos I’d seen. Now it has modest 1 and 2 family homes. Very quiet when I was there.

  5. Upstate Ellen Says:

    I visited the area myself in 1987, accompanied by my brother-in-law who had lived there as a child. His old school, like many other buildings, was vacant and dilapidated, the property littered by broken glass. The only bright spot in this sea of blight was Charlotte Street, where (as Big Sis noted) several modern single-family homes had been constructed. But they were all behind fences.

  6. Elwood D Pennypacker Says:

    Amazing that Reagan would visit. Could you imagine today a conservative candidate visiting a blighted poverty-stricken inner city? They would lose votes from their base for seeing how the other side lives.

  7. Big Sis Says:

    Is that Bella Abzug in the photo? If not, who is the woman?

  8. Upstate Ellen Says:

    @big sis, that very well could be Bella Abzug. She was running for mayor at the time… and I remember those hats she wore!

  9. Jay S Says:

    These political visits ruined the reputation of the Bronx for decades. I came from a nice area, but whenever I tell people I’m a Bronxite, they think I hail from a slum.

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