|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.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||April 1, 1985|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
(I) When did you first come to Teaneck? .
(N) I'd say it was probably spring of 1955 roughly.
(I) You were in what grade at that point?
(I) What prompted your family to move to Teaneck?
(N) Probably the congestion of uptown Manhattan and the search for upward mobility.
(I) Did they know people here, had they heard stuff about Teaneck?
(N) No, but after speaking to my mother, she told me that there were either advertisements or people actually came to New York asking people did they want to move out of New York. If they were able to move out of New York, then here was a nice place to move. But I don't think it was actually Teaneck because we had originally seen a house on Forest Avenue in Englewood and something happened and the house in Teaneck just kind of popped up but she said there were advertisements or there was some kind of invitation to come to Bergen County.
(I) And so you entered the second grade?
(N) At Bryant School.
(I) What was that like?
(N) I don't remember too much about second, third, fourth, fifth other than it was fun. I had a good friend who lived down the hill and we went to school together and that was about it.
(I) We will skip ahead to when you do start remembering what school was like but do you remember what, how your family felt, the things you heard around the house, what was their general reaction about Teaneck?
(N) There wasn't any verbal reaction that I remember until much, much later because there were, when we moved on the block, I think there must have been a good, well I will say neighborhood, three blocks, and there must have been at least twenty white families still here or there. And then within a year, or two years, or maybe even a couple of years, it had dwindled down to three, five, but at that age, I didn't understand what was going on.
(I) So your parents may have talked about blockbusting but you didn't
(N) At this time she tells me that that's what was going on and she knew very well what was going on. Because she said reporters or news people were calling and coming by to find out if they understood what was going on, did they know what was going on. I never saw this but that's what she tells me.
(I) Well just pick up from whenever you sort of are conscious of remembering what being here was like, what school was like. You were in school for some of the major things that happened.
(N) Sixth grade I remember only because it was a difficult year and it wasn't so much the school. I really didn't have that much to do with school. I mean I went, I remember hating to do, homework but as far as any really momentous occasions to remember, there were none that were negative. I mean I wasn't picked on, I wasn't, I don't remember being abused in any way. And once I got out of Bryant School, junior high school was even better because that's when I got really involved in sports so I only went to school so that I could eventually get to play either baseball, basketball, football, didn't matter.
(I) That was great. You did everything.
(N) Junior high school basketball, baseball and Ivy League football.
(I) What was Ivy League football?
(N) It is kind of like there is no football team in junior high school so they have different teams of twelve to, ten to thirteen and that was junior Ivy League and that was very rewarding and then I think in eighth grade, I think it was eighth grade, I was voted principal for the day. I don't know how that whole event happened. I don't even remember it happening the year before or the year after but that probably was a tremendous thing that happened but it didn't strike me as being tremendous. It was just nice.
(I) What did that mean? What did you get to do?
(N) For that day, I think it was Mr. Simmons was the principal, and he took me around and we sat in on classes and reporters came and took pictures. Whatever principals do for a day. Looking back at it now, it was fantastic. I mean I don't even remember who was running but it turned out kind of like a unanimous thing. I didn't know I was even in it until it was announced so it was kind of a popularity contest but I didn't, I was kind of shy then. All I wanted to do was play basketball. So when it happened, it was nice and that was probably the first thing that happened and then that's kind of all that happened throughout school, just sports. I was kind of sports minded and everything evolved around that.
(I) You were in school here the year that integration. .
(N) Yeah, and couldn't even imagine it going on. Looking back now, I have no idea what was going on at that time.
(I) Did you know something was happening?
(N) No, not at all. Especially as far as integration was concerned because it wasn't necessary. White kids came to my house, I went to their house. We didn't know there was a problem.
(I) So the school that you had been going to before that did not seem like it wasn't integrated.
(N) Bryant School went, when I was at Bryant School, it had to be 90% white and junior high school couldn't have been that much different and there were only thirty black kids that graduated with me from high school so we didn't know anything was going on. I mean living in the northeast, you know my good friends were the people that I grew up with but I also had good friends that I played on teams with and being sports minded I guess maybe that was the door that opened, that got opened that I could go places on the other side of the tracks as it is called.
(I) So you didn't even pick up just tension.
(N) No tension, no nothing. And I don't think
(I) Nothing from teachers or
(N) Well I wouldn't call it, that was probably their own. I mean I find out now that there were quite a few prejudice teachers but in my case, there still wasn't too much to do to me. I mean I wasn't the nicest person, I mean I did get into trouble but
(I) I wasn't even thinking necessarily just people who were prejudice but if, here is school and you are in there and outside there are people that are angry and people that are saying we don't want to do this, we don't want
(N) They didn't do a thing. The only thing that could have happened that I remember outside of school would have been and this wasn't in a lot of places possibly going to kids houses and their parents openly being upset and that was only a few times.
(I) That was really the exception when that would happen.
(N) Yeah, very rare.
(I) What's corning out is that your experience, you were like special.
(N) Might be different from everybody. Maybe. See sports might have done that for me. I have to admit that. But those kinds of things didn't happen to me. I really did not see any prejudice anywhere.
(I) And you didn't have friends from the neighborhood who said, I am not on any teams and it is different.
(N) No. I do know that there was the only prejudice that I know that was definitely there was the baseball team and my class was the first class to break the color line on the high school baseball team.
(I) Wow. What happened before?
(N) There were none. And that's not to say they weren't good enough. There were none. But we had one Spanish kid, this class graduated in 66, and I think the two kids that played on it, I know they played in 66 and I think they played in 65, but one kid was, oh yeah, definitely because in 66, that's when he got offered the contract. One kid was good enough to play semi-pro in high school and the other kid was Rodney White whose father is the dog and cat hospital person over on Forest Avenue. He was just so big, he had to be good. He was 6'6". He was a dream person and those were the two, the first two non-whites to play on the baseball team.
(I) Do you remember was there any talk, like were you aware that this was something different?
(N) No. It was just, Rodney was on the basketball team, Gary was not on the basketball team but he went out for the baseball team and he was that good. He may not have played his first year but he was still good enough to make the team which was a first in itself but the three of us were kind of like probably the best there was non-white so that would have been too open at the time and at that time, things were happening. You didn't know that things were happening but that's probably what happened and Rodney was a standout in baseball, basketball and I played baseball, no basketball and Gary played baseball and soccer as a matter of fact. But I think he had a problem with soccer, because soccer was non-white up until 63. Soccer and baseball were non-white up until 1963. Nobody. You are talking staunch individuals who refused it and the basketball coach, I found out, was prejudice not point of blacks, but to the point of he thought Teaneck was just too good for well blacks too but anybody who wasn't strictly middle class and he didn't think black people were middle class. But he also said there were some white people who weren't middle class so to speak and
(I) So did he give people a hard time?
(N) Very hard time. Very hard. He took a lot out on me but being a standout, it didn't affect me. The day I was made captain of the team, I got caught smoking in the bathroom so I was suspended for two days which was just totally unheard of and he just kind of gave me one of those kind of sermons where it was all I did was smoke. A credit to your race and all of that. It was like, wait a minute, what are you talking about? And honors that I should have gotten, I didn't get because of that kind of an incident. He just felt that I didn't live up to the honor of Mr. Basketball or those kinds of
(I) Did you feel, not just in basketball, like you had to be superman or
(N) I had no idea I was. I was just doing it. I knew I was good at basketball because I played every day, at least five hours a day and everything else just kind of came. You know they told me I was one of those athletes that comes around that just has natural talent but I didn't do anything outside of basketball. I was asked to play baseball, I was asked to play to do track but it didn't phase me. In my neighborhood, all you did was play basketball. Baseball once in a while but that was it so I didn't feel I had to.
(I) When you played basketball, did you feel the coach used you the way he should or did his opinion effect how he played you?
(N) It wasn't so much his using or not using, it was he was from the old school. I was from the new school. Or the beginning of the new school. And he just could not accept that. He wouldn't allow it. I had to play by, I almost had to change my way of playing to fit his concept of how it should be played. He wanted me to shoot the way he shot. We are talking two hand set shots from twenty five feet out. I mean that was unheard of. But it just didn't work and that kind of turned him against. But he had had black players on the basketball team. That was one thing that was open but there were a number of people that were standouts that got nowhere because of him and after I left, I found out that he had a lot to do with my not going elsewhere.
(I) Like being sought by other colleges?
(N) I was supposed to go to Seton Hall and he told me I had a full scholarship and everything but I had to shave off my moustache. That was the in and I couldn't do it. I just said, what does that have to do with playing basketball? My mother just, I mean she knew then, the one thing that I do remember was the Guidance Department told just about every black family and every black kid, take vocational courses so that you can
(I) Even you?
(N) They told my mother that. They didn't tell me that.,
(I) Do you know how she reacted when they said that?
(N) I think she told me that the main thing that she could say was, how are you going to tell me that a kid that plays basketball that well is going to be a manual laborer? And that was the end of that. But they did a lot to try and keep me from, just basketball and that was it. And fortunately they had to get me out of school. Well they didn't have to. They had to let me out of school ahead of time because I got a basketball scholarship to a school that was on trimesters and the trimester began, they wanted me to come for the third trimester of the year so 1 would be ready for September so I had to leave in April. 1 was in college in April.
(I) Wow. Did you go to graduation ceremonies?
(N) No, I think graduation was around May something. I was still in school so
(I) You were in college?
(N) I was in college. Yeah, I was a college student.
(I) You must have finished all your high school requirements.
(N) No, I remember they took me up to the office, they called me up to the office and they gave me a form and I had to go around to all the teachers and all of them passed me knowing that 1 wasn't supposed to be passing because I didn't do too my senior year but I am sure that was he's got to go, get him out of here. I am sure that is all it was. Because I know I wasn't supposed to graduate. I know it. That's how little work I did. So sports did it. I am not going to take anything away from it. I can't give myself a pat on the back other than the ability was there.
(I) What about traveling around on the basketball team to other towns in Bergen County, was that
(N) I never got it. I didn't even see that until I started coaching myself in Englewood, going into different towns. That was the first time I ever heard racial slurs at basketball games. I never got it.
(I) It is almost like the period that you were in school was like a little
(N) It was like a shell was over it. Nobody really got into those kinds of, there were no
(I) What about the black door at the high school?
(N) There was no black door. It was, that same door was the black door only because the majority of kids who came in it were black but there were only thirty. We all lived on that side of town so there was, but the white kids came in it too. There were, we won't call them gangs, there were social clubs, black, white, two whites, a black, and it wasn't until after I graduated or the year that I graduated that they said you can no longer wear your jackets in school.
(I) They said that to everybody?
(N) Yeah. These groups were, had been there and that was part of your identity being either an Ashack or a Viking. If you were a Viking, you played football; if you were an Ashack, you did something else and so the black kids had no alternative but to come up with their own club and sweater or whatever and it wasn't until we got ready to leave that they said, OK, there is no more jackets. That was when I guess that was then the integration started and they were all whites, two all white groups and one all black group. So it was very obvious they had to stop that. But I mean, there were no black/white fights. There were no, very few white/white fights. There were very few black/black fights. It didn't happen. It was, there just wasn't and I can't tell you why. We really were in that small period of time where it was transition and it happened outside of our realm. We had no idea what was going on. The only thing I remember that really shook everybody up was when Kennedy was assassinated and all you saw was emotion through everybody and that might have even been the door that opened up and, OK, I don't know why but everybody loosened up a little bit.
(I) Well maybe because they had been through this sort of trauma.
(N) That's a good possibility. But I remember that being, because I sat there and cried and I don't know why. Either ninth or tenth grade. But that's the only thing I remember that was kind of. shocking. Everything else was, it was fun to go to school.