Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon, and the Fight for the Civil Rights in America’s Legendary Subburb

The Levitts didn’t invent suburbia and they didn’t invent mass production, but they joined the two with impeccable timing, easing the critical postwar housing shortage by building modern, affordable communities with lightning speed. The events in David Kushner’s riveting book occurred in Levittown, Pennsylvania, the second Levitt development, which, like its Long Island predecessor, had a whites-only policy. During the summer of 1957, a left-wing Jewish couple, the Wechslers, quietly arranged for an African-American family to buy the house next door. What followed was a months-long campaign by a group of hostile residents to drive Daisy and Bill Myers and their young children from their home, complete with burning crosses, smashed windows, and round-the-clock harassment. The local police did little to protect the family, while William Levitt, the flashy chairman of Levitt & Sons and a national hero, ignored the controversy altogether. (Levitt, who claimed that 90 to 95 percent of whites would refuse to buy into an integrated Levittown, had once said, “We can solve the housing problem or we can solve the racial problem, but we cannot combine the two.”) Kushner’s fast-paced account deftly re-creates the drama, which, though largely forgotten today, received nationwide coverage as it unfolded. It is the author’s good fortune that the Wechslers and Daisy Myers are still alive and kept meticulous records of their ordeal; the result is a page-turner that’s rich in detail and that also illuminates Cold War politics, suburbanization, and civil rights.