All interviews were taped and documented.  They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library.  The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

NARRATOR: Bernard Confer
INTERVIEWER: June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    May 12, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (7/29/1984)

Previous Page

(I) Well, there's ORT, there's Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women

(N) Yes, the Council of Jewish Women.  I believe they took the lead in organizing that and that was really helpful because not everybody understood about these eight organizations and where they stood clearly and lets you see that this was one way the challenge was to help mend the fences in our community.  And that is important from a social point of view.  And I think that was one of the most important things right after the election.

(I) So the school was implemented in for the following year in September and everything went smoothly.  They had team teaching groups for the children.  They seemed to do quite well.  

(N) Well team teaching is something that in our community had had supporters and opponents.  I've always been a supporter because I believe that it is a good approach to things but in some cases it didn't work out and it was improved later on.

(I) Well once that critical issue had been resolved, then you still had a couple of more years on the board.  What else did you have to deal with? Perhaps not of that magnitude but

(N) Yes, Well I can't recall any more on that one.

(I) Were you there when they were beginning the building programs?

(N) Well yes and we authorized a survey by outside professional consultants and their report came in just before I left the board as I recall and I can't recall what became of that.  Do you remember?

(I) Well that was an exciting night too. They had a projections of 10,000 population; we needed a very large addition.  As a matter of fact, their opening words were - your total school system is obsolete.

(N) That made a bit hit in our town.  Those last two years, we worked on continuing to improve education.  We helped get elementary school libraries established.  We helped get some sort of feeding program into every school rather than just at the high schools.  And this was criticized by some people but usually people were looking for a change to criticize.

(I) Was there anything the board finally did that was not criticized?

(N) No.  You know anyone who goes to elected office ought to be ready to be criticized and to take it in stride.  Only that troubles one is that so often it is not done by bringing forward facts and meritorious stuff but rather in sort of a downgrading way.

(I) Well, after your two terms with the board, you still had enough energy left to get into some other things. Would you care to begin with Fair Housing or Community Relations?

(N) Yes probably a couple of years after I retired, I was asked by the mayor and the township council to suume the chairmanship of the Board of Community Relations and that board has its roots in Fair Housing in our town as it developed in the northeast.  And it became a community relations board when it became clear that this was not the only subject in the area of social relations that needed attention.  For example, when I was on the, when I was president of the Board of Education, Frank Burr was chairman and Marion Cerf Vice Chairman of the Board of Community Relations and we met with that board a couple of times.  We made suggestions to them and the two chairpersons used to get together on occasion to talk about what each group might do to better relations in this town and while the Board of Education over a three year period was emphasizing racial imbalance as one of the problems to deal with, that board was holding community meetings on black/white relations. What the concerns of each group were.  And these were cottage meetings sponsored around town.  And mostly which did not get into the newspapers, you see, which is the best way to approach community relations problems whereas of course our board meetings were always in the newspaper. Then after Frank Burr left that post, Marion Cerf became the Chairperson and when I was approached , a new council had been elected and Marion had informed them that within the year, she and her husband were going to move south and so it was agreed that they would try to obtain a new chairperson and that Marion would continue on the Board as long as she was in town.  And so for the first year, Marion was with us which was very helpful.  Jean Hendrickson was the Vice Chairperson and we concentrated on a number of areas during that period when, for example, we, see I served six years on that board which means that when I took it at first, a new council had been elected and then four years later, another council had been elected so that first year, and then my fifth year, right after the councils were elected, we sponsored conferences for township officials, council members, board of education members, chairpersons of each and every committee that related to the town council, town government such as the Recreation Board Committee and the even the Architectural design community, even that you know.  But there are, you know, about ten committees, standing committees, advisory or other nature, like the Planning Board and the Board of Adjustment which have their own lines separate and apart from the town council. and we were to go on a retreat and the usual session would start Friday evening and we would call it quits around noon on Sunday.

(I) Where would you go for these?

(N) Well the first one we arranged for was a new motel that had just been completed up in Nyack and they gave us special rates.  You may know that the best time to in a new hotel or motel for rates, groups, in the first year when they are trying to build up business.

(I) Who did fund

(N) The town did.  We had a committee on that. Now Jean was chairperson of that committee and actually was the director of.  We had a planning committee of course to work with her and then  the second one we had down at Long Branch at a women's Catholic Retreat Center which gave us good rates too. And you like to go to a place that can take care of you well, you know.  If you change your mind about how many turnover newsprint tripods you need, they can take care of you, you know.  They have film, they have a motion picture projector.  Well you got to be ready to take care of it when demand comes up.  And that was chaired by Palmieri Perrotta.  And both of these I though were highly successful and naturally race relations was one of the things that was high on each but not the only thing.  In general, it was to promote general understanding of what was going on in our town.

(I) Well how many people were there actually on the Community Relations Board, Roughly.

(N) Well, I came at a time when they more than doubled the thing to about twenty five which proved to be too many.  It was sort of unwielding.

(I) Was this an appointed board? By whom?

(N) by the township council and usually I think the Mayor with the agreement of council and usually the way it works is a give and take where you allow each council member to make sure that a couple of his   got on see. But it worked pretty good.  It's not a field most people want to work in.  We also did, when problems developed in an area, in a community, we would hold spot cottage meeting.  We'd get some couple to agree to invite their neighbors in, you  know, and one or two people from our committee would go, particularly very good at facilitating discussions, and the main reason for them is to get everybody understanding each other better because what happens when there is a problem in an area, you have one neighbor telling another and another and you have rumors flowing around and they only tell the things that support their position, you see.  And so to have facts on the case brought to bear.  I got involved personally in several of those but we had several people who did that.  I remember when a voluntary group organized for the purpose bought a house down in one of those dead end streets off Teaneck Road near Thomas Jefferson School.  This was for girls who were running away from their families.  They may or may not have been in trouble with the police in our town and so the organization employed some, a social worker and employed house parents.  They usually made a deal where one parent was there all the time and the other might have a job outside but the social worker would be available all the time and it was mainly getting the facts before the community there and there.  And I didn't know anybody there to ask and Fr. Joel Schevers arranged for one of his parishioners to volunteer which I though was pretty good.  That's down near Van Buren Avenue.

(I) There was local opposition to the girls home too.

(N) There is always local opposition to anything coming to be stationed near where I live, you know.

(I) Somebody else's back yard.

(N) Yes.  If it were on the other end of town there would be no problem.

(I) So that was the Advisory Board on Community Relations.  You were also on Fair Housing Committee too, weren't you?

(N) Yes, I was one of those who organized the initial committee.  This would have been around 59 or 60 and we could see that the black population was increasing in town.  At that time, the blacks were really confined to the northeast through discrimination and we know in the long run, this was not healthy for Teaneck and some preliminary conversations were held primarily by Dr. Harold Letts who lived on woodbine Street and who worked for the National council of churches and was a Lutheran clergyman and Howard Radest who was the, oh I forget what they call him, the general director or general minister or something of the Bergen County Ethical Culture Society which was meeting and still meets over on Larch Avenue and they talked with judges, with people in juvenile work, with probation people and with people in social work around the community and invited others to come together to discuss whether we should proceed to organize.  And we were unanimous when we got it to organize the Bergen County Committee on Fair Housing.

(END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2 - SIDE 1)

(N) We decided that we only wanted temporary officers until we could expand the membership committee and at that time we would elect officers for a regular term and so we elected Harold as chairperson, Howard as vice chairperson and Rae Weissman who was participating very well in that meeting in a forward looking way to be the secretary.  So we had chosen the three persons there who were had really given some thought to this thing, then we were asked to come together in another three or four weeks and bring other interested people in there which we did and eventually after, I know I brought, I didn't find many people who were interested in doing this.  The primary persons I remember bringing were Mr. and Mrs. Bob Molloy who lived on Palisade near the Bogota line and who had received some publicity as an author recently.  I mean at that time and whose book was available in a number of copies at the Teaneck Library and so on and he also was working for one of the New York newspapers and other s brought others.  And we decided that we would work toward getting town committees going in various towns.

(I) I am sorry to interrupt but are you talking about a countywide

(N) We are talking about a county committee.

(I) This first committee was countywide?

(N) We had people from Cresskill, Paramus there and I don't know how many towns but it was clear that we in Teaneck seemed more highly motivated at least for action now.

(I) Was this an all white committee or an integrated committee?

(N) to start with, we only had one black on it.  I forget.  I believe he was a probation officer but I just forget but he came from Teaneck.  We did get committees going in Teaneck and Cresskill and Paramus and a couple of other towns.  We thought we'd get one working in Hackensack but it never materialized and I just forget about the thing.  I know when the Teaneck committee was organized, I happened to be on one of my overseas trips and missed out on the whole thing but later on, I attended one of their meetings and it was handicapped a bit.  There were, not only several blacks joined but a lot of blacks joined and the meeting I attended, please not I had not signed up to be a member, was just so many blacks got up and poured their hearts out don't you know with almost the aggression they had felt from whites in our town and you know, this was not exactly a good basis on which to promote good will between races and it was clear they had good leadership. Later on Ike McNatt was elected president of it.  Isaac McNatt, and they worked with the town council on developing several things. It turned out to be very constructive but got to be dominated by people from the northeast.  Not just blacks but also whites and from my point of view, in a way that was too bad but it was serving a useful purpose so I guess maybe for our, that stage of our development, it was best.

(I) Well, what were some of the steps that the committee actually took? A concrete example.

(N) Well we developed a sort of welcome pledge that we had printed up in quantities.  Not large quantities but enough so that each of us could take them around our neighborhoods and get neighbors to sign them which was really a brotherhood type of pledge that we would welcome people of all colors and races into our neighborhoods and that sort of thing, you see.  And it was maybe five or six points on it.  And so I carried mine around our neighborhood and got about twenty people to sign. It shows that if you take the time to work on them, they will come around.  Now one family I didn't get to sign was one of those who sued us, sued the Board of Education, after the sixth grade play was voted.  I forget to say anything about that earlier.

(I) Well, let's talk about it now.

(N) No. let's finish this first.  Well I didn't expect to get everybody you know.  After all, this matter of blacks and housing had been sort of an emotional issue and so, and the experience in New York City was that if a black family moved on the block, you could consider that block all black pretty soon.  There was a lot of that you know.  And of course that was one of the problems in our town that was dealt with rather effectively I thought by the town council. On the bequest of the housing group from the northeast at that time.  NECO or something like that. 

(I) Yes, NECO.

(N) and then later the McNatt group.  The Teaneck Fair Housing Committee. But see we foresaw, we foresaw that only, that more blacks were going to come into our community and those of us assembled there welcome  this.  We wanted it so that it was spread out for our town.  But just as some other towns were pinched a bit, that it was up to the town, the all white towns, to open their doors our ours could become predominately black eventually.  Now that's one reason we were interested for the good of Teaneck for other towns to open their doors so we wanted to, and in the name of just plain American justice, wanted similar committees at work in other towns.  And we had them at work but you know they never were very effective.  When I was on the Community Relations Board, Marion Cerf's first year proposed that we ought to have a meeting of official representatives of these towns and so we had the mayor invite the heads of governments from these various towns to send person to meet with us and we designated a place in the basement of the meeting room in the basement of the town municipal building and gee, only one person showed up.  You know, the only way you are going to do things, is you gotta go out and talk to them on their turf.  And we tried that for a while too. And we had various people do that including town council members.  I know Frank Hall went up to Montvale one time and hid a real interesting talk on black/white relations until they got on to the housing problem.  Everybody clammed up.  This thing isn't licked yet but we've made an awful lot of progress.

(I) Well, there are still things that you have done. You haven't mentioned your friendship days yet.  Oh, and we have to go back to that law suit too. Let's go back to the lawsuit.  That sounds interesting.

(N) Oh six or eight residents of Teaneck sued the Board of Education and the superintendent of schools and the president of the board by name, those latter two, about the constitutional right being violated on this.  And this went over a number of months and the I remember I never appeared in court but I did get a disposition in some lawyers office over in Hackensack where they had an official court recorder there to, with his stenotype machine, to record the thing.

(I) And you had an attorney defending you as a group or individually?

(N) No, this was me alone and the Board attorney was defending me.  Obviously my own future was tied up with the board on this as was Scribner's. and it went rather well I thought and this attorney, I think his name was Evans, I just forget.  Did we have an attorney named...

(I) Evers.

(N) Yes Evers.  he handled himself real well and objecting when I couldn't see why he objected still but it saved me problems, I know.

(I) Obviously you won the case.

(N) Yes. We won the case.  We were in line with the constitution.  But this was my next door neighbors, Fred Metchulat, across the street.  Now we had been good friends up until this happened..  No doubt they voted for me for the Board of Education. And when we worked together in the Kennedy campaign, his wife was Irish you see, they were real please with the association together and when Kennedy was elected, we had a real hoe down at their home.  No it was our home.  They came over our home and a number of friends.  What I am trying to say is that these emotional issues can split friends real east particularly if that friendship is not based on some philosophical grievance.

(I) Well now we can get to friendship days. It sounds life a good time for it.

(N) Yes I am trying to think of the dates of those.  They were rather early here.  The leadership in that as I recall was Frank Hall who probably wasn't on the council then and Jules Edelman and their wives and they got assorted people together who they thought would be interested in working on better understanding among blacks and whites including clergy in town and the meetings I remember were mainly in Frank Hall's living room and the first day was, the first friendship day was to have white visit in black homes and thus you see we depended on the religious groups to draw their volunteers which they faithfully did for hosting and that was around in October, I think, and the following April was the reverse.  That the blacks would visit in white homes.  And this proved to be successful and I think made a silent contribution.  The next time I think the friendship day was a bit picnic and a year later up in Votee Part and everybody was encouraged to sit with people of the opposite race and so on and I thought that these were real steps forward because later one, more black friends were no longer willing to work at this unless you were working on some joint project.  Why meet just for the purpose of talk when you can work on projects you see.  Which I felt was valid since we were dealing with people who were relatively busy like you and I.  And it became more serious at it went along you see which was good.  What else can I say?

(I) Well have we covered, now that you're semi-retired from some of your activities, you're not going overseas anymore but you are still traveling within the country, are you still active in any of the social areas?

(N) No, I regret to say I've withdrawn.  Partly it was my last few years as the Directory of Lutheran World Relief.  I     on the expansion bit and I had my hands more than full.  And partly since then I have not been in the best of health.  I have some blood problems.  But there are ups and downs on this and naturally I still think of the day I'll get back into things.

(I) Actually there are still a number of things which we haven't covered.  We'll have to go back into history a little bit.  For instance, the Teaneck Political Assembly which you referred to earlier.  

(N) When Dr. Warner and Harry Margolis running on what was really a racial issue had such a wide margin in their victory when they got on the board back there, when was it, 63 or 64, 63. A number of people felt deeply that we had to prepare for a, we simply had to prepare for active at election time because who knows who would be nominated and elected next time?  And wouldn't it be rough on Teaneck is people like that with their rather inflexible position on at least this one racial issue to become in the drivers seat in out town and so the number of meetings were held planning to set up what became the Teaneck Political Assembly and we drew people from various groups in town into that.

(I) Who is the we.  Let's start with the we.

(N) Well I can't recall.  There was

(I) You and

(N) Matty Feldman and Frank Burr and Frank Hall and Harold Glick and his wife and that fellow who had been with the labor union I've forgotten and a fellow named Bloom up there, Phil Bloom, and so on.  And we met in Phil Bloom's house one time.  It was a much larger group that I've given you.  It's hard for, it was twenty years ago and I just have trouble remembering.

(I) I just wondered who instigated it

(N) I am not sure who instigated it but, we decided to go ahead and then we said we need an outstanding person to be the first chairman that this will be important.  And in order to get acceptance for this group, we would need such a person and it was agreed that we ought to approach Joe Coffee who had just retired from the Board of Education and was still on the development staff at Columbia, and since I was, by that time, President of the Board and Matty was Mayor, we were tagged to go over and approach Joe.  So we went over to his house and later down the line, to him and said we want to develop a credo but we want the new president to have a hand in that too, you know, and so on.  And he agreed we needed it.  He agreed that because of time and pressures, he had dropped off the board and yet he saw the special challenge in this and said he would find time and he did.  And we then had a nominating committee bring in names for an executive committee and we organized it and expanded it by inviting anyone who wanted to come in but of course organizations like that are built by your members who get other members in which is what happened and the credo was really and excellent one that would stand any Teaneck organization value in adopting it for itself.  It could be regarded  as patriotic but this was for Teaneck and it emphasizes the important value in community relationship.  And that organization was really helpful down through the years in promoting able people to run as candidates for the town council and for the board of education.  As the issues have gotten less and less pressing in the public eye, it has sort of dropped out of sight.  But I know that you June, and David, were active in it and that David had been the president of it.  Now I should say that on the election that followed the one that I was reelected in, I guess this would be 65, and three board members decided not to run for reelection, we are able and TPA took the lead in that, getting able people with names in our community, with reputations, to run.  That was the time that Sather and Greenstone and someone else.

(I) Joe Coffee

(N) Did he run? Yeah, he ran again, that's right. He did run for reelection and of course that was, we had the most voters out that time for any board of education election in the history of Teaneck and this was the one where the headlines across the country were that TOWN VOTES FOR INTEGRATION OF SCHOOL. That's essentially the main issue there and a good enough job was done in that election mainly by through TPA organizing, having their members and workers out on the streets and door to door pointing out what the issues were and getting people out to vote.  That a good enough job was done that I predict that nobody can ever run a platform of de-integrating the schools in our town and be elected.

(I) I know you had some interesting stories over the years too.  Would you tell us something about going to play gold one pay?

(N) I remember that one.  After the board voted to integrate the schools by establishing a central sixth grade school, this got a lot of attention around the county and I took two people who were close to me,  I invited them to play golf.  They had been close to me through the rough period I'd been through.  Tom Boyd and Frank Burr.  Golfing up in Paramus at Saddle River Club.  And they were having a good time and it seemed wise to have a chat as we went from hole to hole and on one hole, a ball from a neighboring fairway came over in front of us and a fellow came over and shook hands with us, introducing himself as from Saddle Brook and he says what the devil are you fellows from Teaneck doing with your school system?  I see you are having a central sixth grade and you are doing it fore facial reason.  Well the three of us were quiet at that point and then Frank Burr pointed to me and said, why don't you ask him.  He' s President of the Board of Education.  Well the thing is that when get on an issue like this, you live your life in a goldfish bowl.  And I think what happened in Teaneck had its influence around the county and, as you know, a number of people have been in from a number of states to talk to our officials and so on so when they had to develop similar problems or opportunities or challenges, well it depends on the way you look at it, here was a challenge and Teaneck met it.

(I) And you were there helping to meeting the challenge with everyone.  Well I want to thank you very much.  Before we say goodbye, is there anything else that you could think of that you might like to add?

(N) Oh I would like to add that any number of organizations were helpful to us in standing the heat when it was on, you know, and when you really felt the pressures.  For example, on binding the wound after that first election, Dave, your husband, Dave Kapell, invited, he was president of the Lowell PTA, invited me as president of the board over to talk and there was a goodly number of members out that night and I was please to talk that night and field a few questions and I believe that many organizations had speakers in on this and discussed this and made their views known.  I wonder how many hundred of letters, maybe thousands if I knew, I received during this period which mostly saying they were in back of you and I just was so busy, I didn't get to acknowledge them.  It was a pity but I had my hands more than full.  Buy they were very meaningful.  Very meaningful.  A lot of people I didn't know their names.

(I) Well thank you.  Thank you very much.

(N) My pleasure to chat with you June.  It is a great town.

(I) You've made great contributions. Thanks again.

 

Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page