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The New York Blackout of 1977

80 min
  • Students will be able to identify alternative explanations for urban decline in the United States in the 1970s
  • Students will be able to illustrate the conditions faced by post-industrial U.S. cities
  • Students will be able to identify the policies that were created to reverse the urban decline in the United States

Handout A: Student Document Packet

  • Document 1: Blackout coverage from ABC News, 7/14/1977
  • Document 2: Photos of blackout experiences
  • Document 3: “The Message” music video by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
  • Document 4: President Gerald Ford, “Address to the National Press Club,” 10/29/1975
  • Document 5: New York Daily News article, 10/30/1975
  • Document 6: Mayor Ed Koch inaugural address, 1/1/1978
  • Document 7: “Jordan urges Carter to visit looted areas,” The New York Times, 7/25/1977

Students will need internet-connected laptop or desktop computers to access the electronic documents that are included in this lesson. Ideally, the lesson documents will all be distributed electronically to facilitate collaboration and continuity between written and electronic documents. Students will also need earphones to watch and rewatch some of the electronic documents.

The teacher should project document 1 on a screen in front of the class.

Students will participate in a short class discussion, led by the teacher asking the questions from document 1. Students will pair up and examine document 2. As a pair, they should come to agreement on answers to the analysis questions in reaction to the pictures. The teacher should also project the pictures on the screen. Once the students have had about five minutes to complete their analysis, call on students to share their conclusions with the class, offering insight where necessary.

Students will examine documents 3-7 and answer the analysis questions that accompany them.

Students will then get back together with the partner they worked with on the warm-up and compare answers. The teacher should move from group to group at this stage to ensure students’ analysis is accurate.

Students will be imagining themselves as one of the stakeholders in the wake of the New York blackout. Once they have chosen their role, they will write a response to the prompt.

Roles (choose one):

  1. Tony – white, middle-class auto mechanic who lives in Flushing, Queens
  2. Maria – Latina, unemployed resident of the low-income, high-crime South Bronx
  3. Arthur – white, wealthy investment banker who works on Wall Street and lives in Midtown Manhattan

Writing Prompt:

Write a letter to the editor of the New York Times expressing your support for either Mayor Koch or Vernon Jordan’s vision for solving the problems that led to the looting during the blackout. Your letter should cite specific evidence from at least three of the documents used in the lesson. You should express why you do not support the other side of the debate, citing specific arguments and evidence from the documents provided.