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: Orra Davage
INTERVIEWER: June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    April 18, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (1/7/1985)

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(I) Let me go back to something. You talked about the Board of Education and I know at the high school they had been working for some time to get a new library or learning center as they call it. Were you instrumental in that in any way too?

(N) No. That, only just to say we needed it but that was a part of their business. 

(I) Actually that was money too. That leads to TCPS perhaps.

(N) Yes, well, you know this town is a funny town. I understand just before we moved into town they had just built the junior high schools and I understand that they really had a real bruhaha with that. And I can understand I guess when you have to pay your money for things but up until then, I guess there hadn't been any defeat of a school budget because everybody, you know, it just went along and it was taken for granted that it would be passed but there was a public defeat one year. I think it was right after Scribner got here. When he wanted a few extra things and I think there probably was a reaction against new this, new that and all of that and I guess that's when, didn't they have a Taxpayers League or something in this town? Anyhow, all of these who were anti-spend money groups I shouldn't say that because I think I belong to one now, but let's say anti-public school spending, let's put it that way, and we had a budget defeat for the first time and we with our kids in public schools were saying, you know, where are we going to send our kids if we don't send them to public school decided that maybe we ought to find out and let people know exactly what they are getting for their money and that this is an investment worth investing in and so a few of us getting to be many more and started Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools, Bearsteins, the Glicks, Gilinsky, a lot of people. Anyhow what happened was that we made comparisons with expenditures of money - how much we paid in taxes, what we got for our money in terms of how much we spent per child, teachers' salaries in comparison to all the others and the upshot of it was that Teaneck was a pretty good town to live in if you wanted to have your kid get a good education for the money that you spent and we were going around promoting this idea, particularly at every School Board election that, you know, it is to your advantage to be investing in public schools.

END SIDE A - TAPE I

(I) Was Teaneck the highest in the county per capita expenditures?

(N) In the top group. I am not sure exactly. I think not in that group, in that area. Other towns, Ridgewood, I think was higher and

(I) Was Tenafly?

(N) And Tenafly is another town that was high in the money but it is funny, teachers' salaries is where Teaneck was pretty high too and you know listening to some of these people around here, you would not think it was that but we were in the top 5 or 6 townships or school districts and there are what, 77 in the county that we were had done the work on and Stan Gilinksy did most of it. He was one of those demographic experts and anyhow we did this for several years. Had this information and made it available to the public. We would go around to various small groups or meetings and we would also present that kind of information sometimes at public hearings of the School Board so that it was not, and of course we used our local "rag" excuse Ire, newspaper, to get this information out and it got to a point where we thought we had done a pretty good job, made people aware that you really get your dollars worth but we had sort of went into limbo and then finally I think a couple of years ago, we officially disbanded and we did something with the money, turned it over to the School Board I think or something. And immediately after that, then we get the directions from Washington that we have to spend public money for private schools to do this, that and the other thing and I said, my goodness, you just cannot win. You know.

(I) Well public funds for public schools was another organization. That was also, Ruth Glick was the prime mover. That served as an umbrella but Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools as well as

(N) That was part of it. That was a part of our concern see and so we said, well we have to let them do that on the only other level but you know, it shows you that you just cannot relax your vigilance on anything that you are going to work on. You have to keep at it.

(I) Well, you've been vigilant on a number of things. What else? You were vigilant in Fair Housing and NECO which is entirely different from the library. Let's get on to those

(N) Yes, I think these were the things when we first moved into town because as you said, I was not aware of the kind of housing problems that existed or the problem in obtaining housing. I had had my experiences in other towns mind you but

(I) In other towns

(N) In Ann Arbor to be specific getting housing because of race. But it just never occurred to me here because I had never heard of Teaneck, let's face it so but when we moved into town, it immediately become apparent and what I didn't see in my neighborhood was certainly made clear to me when I met, went to League meetings and people asked me questions about, you know . . . the realtors I soon discovered were steering blacks into the northeast part of town only. With great reluctance, they admitted there was another part of Teaneck but you know, you don't want to live there or we just wouldn't do it, and then we, I noticed that people would ring my doorbell, realtors or their agents, wanting to know if I was going to sell or if your neighbors were going to sell, in other words, they were just destroying up the neighborhood, going to see, is your house for sale, being a little, you know, if they see a black face, a little, you know, well what do I do. And I didn't, I got a little upset about it and I remember that Matty Feldman was the mayor at the time and I called him. I said you know we've got some very unscrupulous realtors in this town and we are going to have to do something about it because I think that they are really causing problems. And he said, well, you know, is there anybody in particular? And of course there was one person in particular I was worried about his tactics and that was my friend up here on the corner, Handlemen, he well of course he sold us this house. I mean he was the realtor that we went to because this house was one of the, well he owns or manages a few places around town in this area so he was the agent for this house and two or three other houses that were new houses for sale. He got a lot of rental properties and his rental properties were really causing problems because he doesn't care, you know, people coming in. He wants them in and out and he wants the money and big turnovers, no fixing up. Anyhow, he was one of the ones I was complaining about. And it doesn't take long to find this out in the neighborhood because you look in the houses and you can see which ones are kept up and which are not, which ones look . . . and you find out the ones that were seedy were rental properties. So when I found out it was the same guy who sold us the house, then I figured it was time to do something about this fellow because he didn't, he was not pleasant at all with our business and transactions. He made it very difficult because my husband is a pretty hard-nosed business person and well, you know, your first house and you got, you know, well he had his hands full. Anyhow, Matty wasn't too enthusiastic about getting, stirring up a little trouble. I said, you know, come on Matty. That's not the way to do it. He said, you know, there must be some other. . . I said, well, if the township isn't going to do anything about it, see I thought the council would be the place to go. I mean after all this was a local thing, you know, don't you have any control over people who do business in your town. I mean this was my question to him. And he said, no, he said, you know, well I'll see what I can do. This is Matty, nice fellow, politician, blah, blah, blah. So I said well there must be some other way you can do it. I said, there's gotta be, isn't there a Fair Housing thing around town. I gotta find out about that. So I nosed around and finally got Fair Housing, you know, belonged to the Fair Housing thing which was at this time affiliated with the Bergen County Housing Council and they, I told them about, you know, we got problems. We got to do something. The township isn't going to do anything because they want to act like it doesn't exist or it is a peculiar circumstance. It is peculiar -all right to the northeast. Anyway the upshot of it was that we organized the Fair Housing Council organized sit-ins, not sit-ins, walk-ins, test cases. In other words, they'd get a house that was, we tried to get, they'd test a property with a black couple and then a white couple. In other words this documentation that we had because you know everybody kept saying, we don't do this, we don't do that, so we were trying to document our cases and when we finally got enough evidence we thought, we decided that we, it was time to go public and let people know what is going on - that this is happening. Well, we got people all over town who know people from all over town and the next thing you know, the Advisory Board for Community Relations with Frank Burr the head of it is calling us to say, no, no, no, you can't do that. That's bad publicity. I said, well, you know, you can't tell us what to do and nobody ever promised you that we would not make these things known. And Frank was very upset when we went public but the upshot of it was that it stirred up a lot of people. I think things began to open up after that. And those of us who were shouting at each other across the table, smoothed our feathers and become very good friends but you know, I mean that was a pretty touchy period. Everybody seemed to be thinking that Teaneck was the ideal town and we kept saying, no, no, no, it isn't and well

(I) Well in a legislative way, this is what you are referring to the anti-blockbusting ordinance which eventually lead to the

(N) But you see you can't do that unless you have documentation and you had to do that in, of course, you can't do it in the dark either so, well, anyhow, that did it. But that still, and of course even now there are still problems but also the people in the most, many of us in the northeast and that means both black and white homeowners decided that we are going to have to do something ourselves so what we did was we formed the Northeast Community Organization and Lou Schwartz was a member too. Anyhow our goal was to work on this problem by encouraging people who put their homes up for sale, realizing there are legitimate reasons for moving. I mean you are not running, you know, you need more space, you move out of town or whatever. But what we wanted people to do was encourage white buyers so that we could stop the concentration of the black influx into Teaneck into one area because it was at this time beginning to reflect in our school system, school population so that the minority population in the Bryant School and the Washington Irving School that served the northeast district was becoming much higher and there were schools in other parts of town that didn't have a black face and this was ridiculous. It was not serving any good purpose. It was depriving all the children of what we call a good education. I mean, you know, you have to learn to live with people, see people, and so that was what NECO was focused on. To change or at least stop the concentration of, as nearly as we could, of these people being concentrated in the northeast and encourage white buyers in and hoping that all these other agencies would encourage black homeowners to go into other parts of the township or be welcomed in other parts of town.

(I) You referred a moment ago to the segregation that was beginning to take place in the Washington Irving and Bryant schools.

(N) Well, the increase in the number of minorities. And I'd like to point out one thing - those were the two only integrated schools in town because that, what black population or minority population there was, lived in the northeast but Washington Irving also had not only blacks but Spanish, South Americans, you know, in other words, it had a very good mix of ethnic groups in it, population, school population but the increase in the blacks increased sharply, you know, during those early, late 50s and early 60s.

(I) And that eventually lead to the change in the school pattern.

(N) Oh yes. You see Harvey Scribner came in then and he was the one who I think pointed out and was pushing for a change in something in the school system so that all of the schools would become integrated and I think he had a volunteer voluntary busing program which didn't

(I) For one year. One year I think there was also a volunteer exchange with the parents providing their own transportation.

(N) I guess so. That was pretty crazy. But well I guess you have to start somewhere and if you're not involved, this probably sounds good on paper. It wasn't successful because anything like that, I mean you know, if you are going to have to have a voluntary something to change, it ain't gonna work. People will say, all right, as long as you do it. But it really was, but at least it was an attempt to address a problem which a lot of people didn't admit exists. Now you gotta admit that you have a problem in town. People didn't see this was a problem because they didn't see us, you see, so they didn't realize that they had a problem.

(I) But with the establishment of the central sixth grade, that changed

(N) That changed everything. And you know something, it goes right back to what I have noticed all the time. That everybody was predicting dire things to happen and the kids had a ball. They learned and they didn't have any problems. The parents, it is we parents who are the pains. You know, if we just let the schools be run by people who run schools, we'd get along a lot better. Anyway that was one experiment that started on to the other business of beginning of the integration in the schools.

(I) Well, the schools is something else which you at least have had your hand into. The Operation Community Talent.

(N) Oh yes. I think that I found out about I guess through the Board of Education. That was when the boys were in elementary school and growing out of the business of helping kids, wanting them to learn, I got involved with a tutorial, after school tutorial program there and I found out that that was part of a Board sponsored group that evolved into furnishing people with various kinds of expertise, sharing their experiences with all the school children instead of being sent back and forth to various schools and I thought, you know, well if I can let them know whatever I do, I told them that I knew a little bit about pathology and whatever

(I) More than a little

(N) Well, you know, yeah but you know when you teach medical students it is a lot different from teaching elementary school system but what are you going to do? But I found it was very simple. You start out with the use of a microscope and what can you see and a little bit of anatomy. I mean you know, you play it by ear. I found it was fun. Every once in a while, I'd get called to go into a classroom and we'd have fun.

(I) And you'd do this on all levels - elementary and high school.

(N) Yes. Well by the time you get to high school, it is a lot more sophisticated and they were not too much interested in what I could tell them but how you get there. You know, in other words, it was more how do you become one or what do you need to do and those kinds of things.

(I) You had been teaching medical students before you came here.

(N) Oh yeah. That's, I worked in teaching hospitals and that's what I love to do.

(I) There was something else you did for the Board of Education. You've been working with the Affirmative Action group.

(N) Oh yes. You know, you think you are through with school, right? But you find out you live in town and then you say, my goodness, I just can't stay at home. Well, with the Affirmative Action Legislature Title XIII, anyhow on local and federal levels, there was enabling legislature for the first place that required certain kinds of affirmative action programs in schools like females and minorities being having equal access or whatever, you know, not being discriminated against and then it empowered the Board of Education of public schools, this is in New Jersey I know specifically, to have affirmative, appoint an affirmative action officer first and have an, the superintendent of schools would appoint an affirmative action advisory committee to advise him on what needs to be done in his school district and this committee is comprised in Teaneck of members of the community, members of the staff of the school districts and the affirmative action officer as the liaison between the Board, I mean the superintendent who then conveys this thing to the Board. It is not, I say the Board of Education, but the superintendent reports to the Board on what we do. And right now we are involved in, or concerned about, what is happening to the minorities that are in the school system without tenure and who are in danger of losing their jobs because of the reorganization because of their lack of tenure. You know, last hired, first fired. And we are trying to see if there is some way we can, I don't know how it can be done but, at least to point out that hiring practices whatever it is possible in spite of this thing to continue to hire minority qualified people. Maybe we will get to a time when we can speak about the tenure thing but we also tried to work on the legislature to, and of course they don't want to touch this with a ten foot pole, ten foot pole, with any kind of pole, but then of course we went up to our friend Matty Feldman again here in the state who is chairman of the Education Committee. Well you gotta work with what you have. So he is getting real sick of us but we are still pounding, you have to start somewhere and you have to make them aware that it is causing a lot of problems. We are getting the short end of the deal with the T&E because we were up in the high brackets of people spending for our kids and when they want to level off so everybody gets their share of the money, we end up getting less available to us because we had more than some of the others. So we warned them again to try to do something, there has got to be a way we can get around this tenure thing and we watch very carefully these actions that are coming through the Supreme Court about in other parts of the public sector, you know, the firemen and the policemen and stuff to see is there any kind of precedent. You know, nobody wants to be the first to do anything anymore so we are getting a little closer but you have to watch. Meanwhile we have managed to make a lot of our present staff aware of the content of the material of their courses, and our of existence, our guidance department in trying to get them out of the dark ages in making things available to everybody saying that everybody can, you know, these are the things you have to constantly do. So we are busy.

(I) You sound so busy but you still have time for some of your hobbies. Your tennis.

(N) Well you can't go nuts you know. You would if all you did was to go to meetings they have around town.

(I) How are the town tennis teams doing?

(N) Everybody except mine is doing fine. No what happens is we do belong to, that is the township belongs to the Bergen County Women's Tennis League which is a league of tennis teams that had formed to play for fun and a few years back, anyhow, they field teams on three levels, A, B and C. According to, you know, that is supposed to be ability. And I am the captain of the C team which the Bergen Record level is the one that has the least expertise but it still has, you have to know how to play tennis to get in. And we have more fun than those who are up in the B and the A because they are so competitive that it is tough to go out there and play and we go and we play for fun and you know something - we win a few. We usually end up in the middle of the league which makes it fun. So our competition is in the spring. We just started this week and it is over in the middle of June because then all of the other teams in the league, they belong to clubs or they go off on vacation and it makes it nice. It is before the courts get busy with everybody else. So we have fun and

(I) How many women are on a team?

(N) Well, the competition is for three sets of doubles which means you have to have six people available every week and but if somebody is going to be off or their kids have to do that or, so we end up with about fifteen on a roster and that means about 45 people are officially on a roster in town because we have an A team, a B team and a C team. So we, and that way we involve a lot of people from the township and our only problem is to get them to pay their dues on time. And of course that is the story of Teaneck. I finally learned, you know, that since we have started at the end of April, in February I will go and say, all right, send the vouchers so that it will get

(I) How much are the dues?

(N) Well, $10 per team per year so it is $30 and they furnish the township, furnish the balls which we give back to them when we finish so that they can use them for the public lessons. I mean you know

(I) The whole expense is what, $50 a year?

(N) Sure. But the contract for the tennis balls has to go out on bids and they can't do that until after the budget is passed which, do you know when they sent the bids out for the tennis balls? The end, the first of, last week and our competition starts this week and I went over to get the tennis balls yesterday so we could play and they said, well, we'll get the rest of them in.

(I) How many tennis balls do you use?

(N) Well we have to have used three cans per team per day. We furnish for the home games. Now my team is home five days so that means I need 15 cans. See, three for each of the five times we play host. And it is usually no more than that. Sometimes less. So what do you say, Forty five cans of balls.

(I) I don't know how much a can of tennis balls costs. 

(N) No more than $3. 

(I) Even on bids.

(N) Well it can't be any more than that. It is not even that much on bid I wouldn't think. But I mean, I am standing there, even though my knees are giving me problems and the ladies yell at me, nobody wants to be captain because you have to do all the nitty gritty stuff.

(I) Well, we are almost at the end of the tape. I want to thank you very much for it has been a great pleasure with this interview.

(N) I have enjoyed it. (END OF TAPE)

 

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