Skip to content
CityLab
Justice

Finding Humanity in a Burning South Bronx

Intentional neglect of the neighborhood reduced it to rubble in the 1970s and 1980s. Mel Rosenthal photographed those who lived through it.
relates to Finding Humanity in a Burning South Bronx
(Mel Rosenthal/Museum of the City of New York)

Between 1976 and 1982, South Bronx native and photographer Mel Rosenthal chronicled a neighborhood very different from what it is today. During that period, the South Bronx was burning to the ground—literally. But contrary to popular belief at the time, it wasn’t arson destroying the neighborhood; it was calculated neglect by the city.

The seeds of this treatment of the South Bronx were planted in a 1970 memo sent by Daniel Patrick Moynihan to President Richard Nixon. In it, Moynihan, who was Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs at the time, wrote: