A Review of Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in American's Legendary Suburb, by David Kushner
Jared Kushner is not a historian. He makes that very clear in the “Author’s Note” of his book Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb. I do not believe that I would have read the book and thought, “He is not a historian.” The book is excellently written and well-researched. His access to Bea and Lew Wechsler and Daisy Myers, via his mother-in-law, the real people who lived through these events is evident by the number of intimate details he is able to provide.
Since its founding, the United States’ identity has been one wrought with contradictions. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” What was not explicitly written, but implicitly meant, was that all white land-owning men were created equal. This excluded women and most certainly blacks. Even after the abolishment of slavery, blacks were treated as second class citizens throughout much of the United States.
Many African Americans went overseas during World War II to help secure peace in Europe against Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Upon their return, the freedoms they helped Europe fight for, they were denied themselves. For Daisy Myers’ husband Bill, his situation was no different. He wanted what most Americans want, a safe place and a home where he and his wife could raise their children.
Many communities during that time period would not sell homes to African Americans due to an irrational and racist fear that blacks would somehow lower the value of the homes and the neighborhood. Levitt and Sons, who changed the home building industry, was no different. They built Levittown, an idealistic community that Donna Reed would have been proud to live in. This American dream was available to everyone, unless you were African American.
Levittown tells the story of how a Jewish communist couple and an African American couple set the world on fire by demanding equal housing opportunity, regardless of your race. The Myers made a completely selfless decision, essentially putting themselves at risk, to defend their right and ultimately the rights of so many others to be able to have a little piece of the American dream without fear of retaliation due to racist and bigoted beliefs. Kushner, while not a historian, exposes this story so brilliantly that the reader will find themselves captivated by the strength and determination of both the Myers and the Wechslers.
Kushner, David. Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Suburb. New York: Walker & Company, 2009.