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Myrna Gillespie interviewing Thomas J. Boyd, 150 Voorhees Street, Teaneck, NJ, March 5, 1984. Mr. Boyd, do we have your permission to use the information you might give us in our publications?
(I) Tom, how long have you been a resident of Teaneck?
(N) 1962, September, 1962.
(I) And what made you decide to move to Teaneck?
(N) I had seen the community while working in the area of the Hackensack office of Internal Revenue Service and I just liked the community.
(I) Could you tell me something about your involvement in the town. Some of the Committees that you were on through the years. Maybe you might not be able to give them chronologically but some of the names of the committees.
(N) Well, the first involvement that I had was with the Bergen County March on Washington Committee. I had, in the summer of 1962, attended the National Convention of the NAACP in Chicago and one of the primary thrusts of that convention was participation in the March on Washington that was coming up in 1963. Having just moved here and not being that familiar with people, Archie I know prior to moving here, and having met Isaac McNatt, I walked up to his house, discussed with him the possibility of our playing some role in this, and out of that grew the March of Washington Committee.
(I) What actually was the March on Washington or how can you see its relationship to Teaneck?
(N) Well, in my opinion, it was an attempt to insure that the phraseology, the term equality, was put into practice. I was on who was firmly convinced that no matter where you were, whether it was the south which I was born and reared and dedicated, or in New York which I had lived for a number of years, that explanation was very prevalent as related to black people and to me this desplation (?) and the march was a vehicle for persons and they sought equality based on their abilities and not on the color of their skin.
(I) Tom, what type of town did you find when you moved to Teaneck I would say as far as integrated living, just general integration.
(N) To me, when I moved to Teaneck, integrated living did not exist. I had seen, for instance, what had happened in Queens, New York. Instances where as blacks were moving in, whites were moving out and I saw, in essence, the same thing in Teaneck when I moved to Teaneck because indeed at that time, blacks were moving into the northeast area of Teaneck only and they were replacing whites that were moving out of the area.
(I) Why were they only moving into the northeast area?
(N) Real estate had never been an open market. Even today, when we exclude a community like Teaneck, we will see an isolated incident here or there but substantially, the blacks are directed into one part, substantially they are. And to some degree, I guess we participate in that ourselves out of desire but for a fact, that certainly existed back in that time. In that time, your options were not nearly what they are today.
(I) Did you help in any way to get black people to perhaps view other areas of Teaneck?
(N) Well, during the mid 60s, the Teaneck Fair Housing was very active and it was during a period when I served as chairman of the Teaneck Fair Housing Committee where there was a very serious attempt to try to stabilize the northeast area. There were documents prepared for distribution and publication. There were interviews that were held and run on television and it was basically built around the theme of Don't Look Just In Then Northeast Area, Look In Others As Well. After having looked at all areas, if you feel you want this area, fine, but hopefully you will recognize that there were opportunities that are emerging in other areas of Teaneck and in some other communities. This is particularly true of Teaneck because the Fair Housing Committee of Teaneck was fairly active at that time in trying to insure that other areas of Teaneck were open to minorities who would be consideration to that. There was testing that was going on with the various brokers; there were some volunteer, voluntary participation by some of the brokers; but primarily it was the ability to test, to publicize the non-openness which we were looking to as a vehicle for encouraging people to go into other areas. There was success emanated from that in opening up other areas of Teaneck. The success did not, we did not have the success that we desired in terms of attracting white buyers into the northeast area. Miss Borden (?) for one takes pride in the fact that she was a person who was attracted to the area as a result of that program. There were a couple of others who were specifically attracted, white families that were attracted to the area as a result of the program but in the overall, the program did not succeed and, as a result of it, the northeast area of Teaneck did proceed to become a predominantly black area.
(I) As a result of your committee that you were involved with in Fair Housing, did any laws go into effect regarding housing in Teaneck?
(N) Yes. As a result of that, there was a state law that was enacted against steering into the northeast area and also, well I think it was primarily against steering if I recall correctly as opposed to mandating militia (?) law, as opposed to mandating that all areas in fact have to be open. I believe, if I recall correctly, that came sometime later.
(I) do you remember about what year that was?
(N) I can't remember. No.
(I) Certainly after that, the township decided to bus children for the purpose of integration. Can you tell me something about that. You were involved.
(N) Well, this was almost simultaneous with the housing movement as I recall it. The year that I moved into Teaneck, there was a discussion of the voluntary plan whereby children, black children within the area, could on a voluntary basis, transfer to school outside of the northeast area. And there were some persons who did participate in that program on a voluntary basis. As is true of any volunteer program, it doesn't succeed very well and this one did not succeed very well and therefore, the thinking was that we cannot achieve out objectives of having an integrated education in Teaneck on a voluntary basis. In addition to the fact, it was recognized that this was putting the soul burden on the black family for them to transport their kids so that there were a pressing of the Board of Education to come up with a mandatory plan which would accomplish their objective. It was at that point the Bryant School was, the Bryant and the Washington Schools, were having very, very selective number of blacks where as all of the other schools with the system, and they were (?) schools at that time, had no black children.
(I) You mentioned that you did not feel that the integration, the busing integration, you mentioned that you didn't feel as though it worked. Why?
(N) Voluntary program.
(I) Voluntary program, right. Only the mandatory program you are saying worked. did you feel that it was a successful move as far as the black children in the area were concerned?
(N) The Mandatory program? Well there are multiple ways of considering success. If you want integration, then I have always said that there are, you must willing to give something in order to get it. It would have been very easy to accept the advocacy of the neighborhood school parents and there would be no integration of the schools. It has been my philosophy throughout, as a matter of fact I make a joke of the fact, that every group of whites that I know by any large can identify one person who happen to be black whom they happen to define as an unusual person and I've always said that if they would turn around and introduce themselves and take a look at the fact, they would begin to realize that this one person that they see and the one person that another person can see, represents a significant number of black people who are looking of everybody else. Who desire the same things that others so desire. And it was for this reason that I felt that integration was a necessary step to take to have the major population recognize that blacks can have talents. I said, during that time and I've never changed my opinion, I went to all black schools, through college, and I think quite frankly that the education was equal to any education anybody got in any other school system. But most people did not know it and did not recognize it. I could very easily recognize it because when I came to the New York area, when I enrolled in graduate school and there I was the only black for the most part in my classes, I could hold my own with them. When I entered employment with the Internal Revenue Service again I underwent an intensive six month training program, one of two blacks in the training program, was first in my class in that training program, so that I had no doubt about why my abilities were but because I had attended black schools, including a black college which many whites at that time did not know about, there might very well be some question of whether my abilities were what I know them to be. It was my feeling that through the day to day exposures of an integrated school system, all were going to benefit. First of all, the black children were going to benefit from it in that they would be able to see first hand their abilities as related to all kids; equally so for white kids. There were going to be able to see their individual abilities as related to all other kids. and they were going to begin to see the end result of the fact that it is the individual, not the color of the skin, which is determinative of one's ability.
(I) Tom, what other boards or committees had you sat on that you feel that have really made a change in public policy of Teaneck?
(N) Well the one I think, I think there have been, you know, several that have had an impact of public policy. First of all, I think that the work of NECO in publicizing the concerns and aspirations and desires of blacks in the northeast had a very possible
(I) Excuse me. Let me interrupt for a minute just to say NECO is the North East Community Organization.
(N) The North East Community Organization was formed I guess almost immediately following the March on Washington and indeed that integration of the school system, the attitude of the governing body, specifically the Council, the Board of Adjustment, were major concerns of that organization.
(I) That was in 1963 or 1964.
(N) 63, 64, 65 yeah. For instance, some of the things that happened in the school system were discussed but also we had discussed the fact that there was a strong strenuous protest made by the people of the area under NECO's direction with respect to a liquor store that was being placed on Teaneck Road where by the residents of the area were going forward and saying that we don't want this to become the typical black area if indeed it is going to be a black area were it becomes loaded with liquor stores and bars. This is the pattern of what has happened in communities throughout the country as they have changed and you find more and more of the undesirable types of element being brought into the area. We also had numerous opportunities to oppose some of the editorial comments that were made in one of the local papers that existed at that time and I don't recall specifically the name of the paper but apparently Councilman Henderson was on the council at that time and did a great deal of negative writing about the schools, about a number of things in the town. That involvement was followed in 1965 with involvement in the, all of a sudden I can't recall the name of it, it was a townwide organization that was formed, and its primary, the initial thrust of it was to give support to those persons who were candidates for the Board of Ed following the integrations of the school system. And one of the founders of that and eventually it became its chairman, it's thrust not only gave support to the persons who ran that year to insure that there was not a reversal of the action that had been taken by the Board of Ed but also to support other candidates for the Board of Ed and candidates for the council.
(I) You are or you have been a long member of the Board of Adjustment. Could you tell us something about the Board of Adjustment and how it effects public policy.
(N) The Board of Adjustment is that body which is authorized by the state to grant variances to our zoning laws. I suppose the thing that motivates me most in becoming a member of the Board of Adjustment would come from the earlier comments I made about the appearance that we made before the Board of Adjustment with respect to a liquor store that was being located in the area and it occurred to me at that time that we didn't have anybody on that board who were making those decisions ultimately. You could go and we were out in force and we protested very strenuously the right of the applicant to do this buy they, not too courteously I might add, listen to us and notwithstanding our protest, they still made the decision in favor of the applicant so that I saw the board as a vehicle that was important to insure that we had some margin of protection against things that the neighborhood would not particularly like taking place and indeed, after going on the board, there were some opportunities to begin to do, play some roles, in this regard.
(I) Were there any other blacks in the Board at the time you became a member?
(N) There was none on at the time but there had been one before me. Witherspoon I think had gone on before me but when he went off, then I went on in his stead. And what I found even then was that it was no enough to be on the board. You had to be a forceful applicant in order to get something done and if you became a forceful applicant, then even though you were only one of seven, the fact is your impact could be very, very significant. I would say almost single-handedly. To give one or two examples of what I am thinking about, Ed. Gerard, as a homeowner in the area and myself, were singly responsible for the improvement that was made by United Jersey Band when they sought to locate that branch in the area. Ed Gerard was a homeowner who came out and spoke not against it but against just putting a bank there in name only. At that time, the bank took over the property, their intent was solely to take the existing building, do a couple of minor things inside, and call it a bank. Ed Gerard made a very, very forceful argument that we want you to come into the area but come in that area as you would come into any other area and as a result of his argument from the floor and mine as a member of the board, we were able to influence the bank to make a significant improvement in the building so that it would be something that the community could be proud of as opposed to merely taking down one old sign and leaving the building literally as it was and throwing maybe a coat of paint over it and saying it is now a bank building. It's just one of the illustrations of the type of influence that you have by serving on the various bodies.
(I) Generally, do you find that the township of Teaneck has dealt with its growth and its integration?
(N) Teaneck, I guess, it a community like any other town or maybe somewhat different that most town in this respect. Without involvement, nothing happens. Nothing will happen in Teaneck without involvement. Its difference comes about in that with involvement, with input, you generally can find more support that you would normally expect to find in many communities; therefore, something does happen. But I, for one, am somewhat critical of the lack of vigilance on the part of the black community because I believe that they could have accomplished more if there were more vigilance on the part of more people. All too often, people want free rides and there are no free rides in life. You must pay some dues for anything that you get out of life. And I, for one, do not believe enough people recognize this and as a result of it, a lot of the problems that Teaneck has today and has had, should not have happened. should not have happened. I have always said that if ever there were a community that had all of the ingredients to succeed..
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I have come across a number of communities regarding the blacks, and I don't think you'll find a more homogeneous group of people, black and whites, than you do in Teaneck. I think you have a higher level of education in Teaneck than you would find in most communities than you would around the country and if a community of this nature cannot succeed, than in my opinion, no community can succeed as an integrated community.
(I) You have been in Teaneck approximately twenty one years. Can you think back and give a comparison of Teaneck twenty one years ago and Teaneck now? Can you thing of any great changes that have taken place besides the integrated schools and the busing. Have you found, you mentioned that there was not that much involvement, there weren't as many people from the northeast section involved in many organizations and on many boards, as many boards as you would have liked to have seen but has there been a change from the time you came to now?
(N) There have been both positive and negative changes. The positive changes would be evident. You look at the makeup of the various bodies that exist throughout Teaneck, whether they be official bodies or citizens bodies. It is almost impossible to find a body that does not have a minority black participation in it and indeed this was quite different than what it was years ago. Years age, it was a pretty well recognized fact that there were just a handful of us that were going into everything really in order to insure that there was participation. so that from that point, it has been a positive, there have been some positive changes. I also have to admit to the fact that I believe that there have been some negative changes as well. I for one am greatly disturbed about the lack of achievement of black males in Teaneck. And I emphasize black males in Teaneck. I was personally indoctrinated by my family that they were seeking to give me greater opportunities than they has so that hopeful my achievement would be greater than theirs and that my responsibility was not to them but to my children and they to their children so that there would be a continual reaching upward from the level of the prior generation. I see too many instances in Teaneck and again I emphasize among males who certainly are accorded far greater opportunities than their parents were who aren't even equaling the level of their parents let along thinking in terms of exceeding the level of their parents and it is a depressing factor with me.
(I) Tom, tell me why you think that black males have not achieved in a town like Teaneck that supposedly educationally had everything to offer?
(N) In my opinion, it is the result of a combination of factors. For one, I think that too many parents are inclined to believe that the system alone can do it without their involvement in the welfare of their child and I don't believe the system alone can do it in most instance. there are always exceptions to every rule. Well that is one of them. The, another of the contributing factors, in my opinion, is the error that many parents make of their sense of guilt of, and thereby giving much to their children and demanding nothing in return. I can recall back to my own childhood days, for instance, that I had to perform chores before I could gent the money that I needed to go to the Saturday movie which was the big thing at that time and if I didn't get those chores completed, nothing happened. I can also think back to the involvement that my parents played in my educational advances. They know whether or not I had homework to do; they know whether or not I did that homework or not. I don't think parents have been as vigilant as they should have been in many instances with their children. I think they felt that, you know, I moved to Teaneck; Teaneck has a good school system; and the mere attending of that good school system means that the result is going to come out good. And it just doesn't work that way. Children are going to be children no matter where they are and if there is not an insistence on their meeting their responsibilities, concurrent with wanting to give to them the tangibles that we all do afford our kids, then I think we lose along the way and certainly boys are paying a very serious price on this. No I would be negligent if I did not say that I recognize that that attitude of some of the people in the educational system does not contribute to that but I could not put that as the sole factor with the most bigoted teacher. If you are a vigilant parent and already concerned, some results can be achieved but it takes a combination of those things in order to make it work. But where you simply rely on the system itself, recognizing that there are teachers who do have that preconceived attitude about the aspirations and the interests of their black kids, clearly this does not afford the maximum benefit to the child but again, I would have to say, because I feel very strongly, that it's not just that attitude of the teacher or the people within the system. It is a combination of the parent not playing their role. Indeed I have been an advocate of the fact that there are two school systems within the Teaneck school district. There is the school system which exists for black and white parents who are concerned, who are in there involved, who get to know what's going on, get to know the good teachers, who get to know the bad teachers and with that combination of involvement and support and demand on the child, it is an excellent school system; alternatively, there is the system that exists for the other kid and they can be black and white because they don't particularly show any strong aspirations for achievement and because the parents don't play that role of having the system know that they are interested in the welfare of their child, they allow to just slide along and not aspire for their maximum potential.
(I) Since Teaneck has and is considered the model town and if we were making any suggestions to someone or township that might want to look to Teaneck as far as setting up a town, you've just mentioned about the young black males not achieving the way that you feel, not achieving as much as they could have in this town, can you give any suggestions that you think might have helped young black males achieve in a town that has so much to offer and it doesn't seem to that they are taking advantage of it?
(N) Well, one of the things that has to occur as I view it is that we must begin to separate those kids who have abilities and also have desires from those kids who, whether they have the ability or not, certainly don't have the desires. Peer pressure plays a tremendous role in young black males life and, unfortunately, it seems as though the peers who attract the attention of most young males, young black males particularly, are those who were the fine clothes or have a lot of money in their pocket or who may in some persons opinions, look attracting, etc. Rarely do you find recognition and encouragement being given to the young male who may be serious and is seeking to do a good job in order to encourage others. People like recognition and people like to emanate others that are recognized. Hopefully, as the more and more black organizations involved in the area, they will begin to give strong recognition to the young black males who are achieving so that they can become persons who are looked up to by males as well as females because even the attitude of females also plays a part in all of this. If the black female is encouraged to look to a young man who demonstrates a desire to go someplace and is really committed to getting there, then this is going to happen to another young black girl and males as well. Just as we currently give, in my opinion, too much recognition to athletes. I think athletics is all very important as a young person but it is a dreamland to believe that every black male is going to become a professional ballplayer or any type. The number who enter into professional ranks are infinite small as compared to the overall so that yes, while it is good to enjoy athletics and to be athletic, the primary focus ought to be on where am I going with my life; what do I want to be; how do I get there. And hopefully Black organizations will begin to give more emphasis to that type of thing than they have in the past.
(I) Teaneck must have at least five hundred different organizations. Can you tell me, since you have mentioned the black organizations, which ones, what are some of the black organizations in Teaneck that are active and have had some impact.
(N) Well most of the organizations are not limited to Teaneck. They are probably countywide really and I must sadly say that I don't think any of them really address themselves to this question in a very serious and meaningful manner. I really regret to say it but it is the truth. I think that they are more socially oriented than are concerning themselves with the welfare of people and improving the plight of people and particularly serving as positive role models to black kids.
(I) So you would think one thing that could possible happen in the township is, like Teaneck, for minority, is to have organizations that would primarily look out for young people in the community.
(N) Clearly. Clearly young people are your greatest asset. Or on the alternate, they can be our greatest liability. Either young peoples' talents are going to be challenged in a very positive manner or just be inertia they are going to be challenged in a very negative manner. And if we don't address ourselves to how do we have those energies channeled in a positive manner, then the other is going to be there to happen.
(I) Tom, thank you so very much for taking the time to have me interview you. I am going to review your tape and possible I might be getting back to you to further answer questions.
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