NYC Walking Tour – Learning About Inequality

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On Wednesday, September 16, the staff of United Methodist Women took a walk around the East Village to learn about inequality.

We ended the tour in the West Village at Alma Mathews House, a modest townhouse built in 1888 by the Woman’s Home Missionary Society as a sanctuary for immigrant girls and women. The residence, owned by United Methodist Women, now houses faith-based leaders and non-profit workers traveling to New York City. But the property is for sale. (While I feel sad about this loss, the cost of maintaining the property has become increasing prohibitive. And so the sale, though bittersweet, makes sense.)

We were overjoyed after our several-hour walk when we finally arrived at Alma’s, as the house is fondly called, for pizza. And especially a cool drink of water on a hot day. image

Sung-Ok (Lee) was also happy to reach Alma’s!

We had toured the northern edge of the Lower East Side, visiting neighborhoods where the rich preferred to stay to themselves and the poor were crammed together in row houses. We saw the site of the Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a disaster which killed 145 young women and changed the trajectory of labor laws in the U.S. – creating safe workplace and anti-child labor legislation, causes that have always been on forefront for United Methodist Women.

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As we walked, we talked about the class divide in New York City where people with much may live beside people with little.

Change, we discovered, is inevitable. For example, this neighborhood of St. Mark’s Church had once been Peter Stuyvesant’s farmland in 1660. It is now the oldest on-going church in NYC. image

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Alicia (Pitterson) and I took this selfie in front of McSorley’s Ale House. This neighborhood, housing a bar, would not have been a neighborhood for the rich to live or gather. It is near Cooper Union, a college founded by Peter Cooper on the belief that every one deserved an education — not just the wealthy or those who share the same Christian faith. Education is key to the mission of United Methodist Women too. image

Abraham Lincoln, we learned, delivered a speech which lifted him to national attention as a Republican leader at Cooper Union in 1860. Almost 150 years later, President Obama delivered a speech from the same podium.  image

We saw the home of Emma Lazarus, the poet who wrote the Colossus, a poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty. These familiar words inspires us, still, to advocate for immigrants.

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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The Tiffany glass windows wowed us when we visited this Ascension Church on Fifth Avenue and 10th Street where President John Tyler married Julia Gardiner, somewhat scandalous at the time, as she was less than half his age. image

Our group began our journey at Grace Church, a Gothic church, that has a plaque commemorating Edith Evans who, it says, gave up her seat on a life boat of the Titanic for her aunt. Ms. Evans perished. image

Ebony (Diaz) makes a peace sign behind me as we set out to learn about the Victorian era’s divide — a time when a gap, not simply in finances, but in social conditions, workplace conditions, housing, health, religion, and status, fixed newcomers and immigrants to specific neighborhoods, creating impenetrable walls between those who have and those who have not.

And what does this inheritance of inequality say about the possibility for social mobility of our time? Are our doors truly open (as these church doors were)? image

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