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This is an interview with Winifred Farrar on June 10, 1985 for the Teaneck Oral History Project by June Kapell.
(I) Winnie, how long have you lived in town?
(N) Now I've lived in town 22 years, 24 years in November.
(I) What made you choose Teaneck?
(N) Well I was raised in Rutherford and Teaneck had always been known for its good schools and so when we got married and started looking for a house, we choose Teaneck because of the school system. My husband was from Hackensack. I was originally from Rutherford and there just wasn't the kind of affordable housing that young, poor upward mobile couples could afford so we settled on Teaneck.
(I) And did you have any problems finding a house in town?
(N) Well I don't know, I don't think so. We were only shown houses in the northeast but at that time, it wasn't really important to me because I did not know the rest of the area. I knew we had a certain amount of money' to spend and the real estate broker showed us the homes we could afford. Now I think that we were just shown homes in the northeast so I guess we were kind of steered towards the northeast but I didn't mind.
(I) You found it a good community.
(N) Nice neighbors.
(I) And you moved in before your children were born?
(N) No, I had two children when we moved here. Two children and a stepson. So there were three of them.
(I) And they were ready for school?
(N) The older two, my stepson was and my daughter was five, my stepson was eight and the baby was a year old.
(I) Well what was your first involvement with civic activities in the town? In any way, shape or form.
(N) I think that I got involved in the town, I am trying to think if the horse came before the cart. I am trying to wonder if I got involved in the Civil Rights Movement and that lead me to Teaneck. I think that that's what happened. I had been reading in the paper about the action going on in Englewood in integrating the Lincoln school so I think I got involved in that first and then realized I needed to get involved civically in Teaneck so that's just how I did that.
(I) What were the first things?
(N) First there was N.E.C.O. but before NECO there was another organization of northeast residents, a purely civic organization, I think it was called the Northeast Organization then that defaulted and then there was N.E.C.O. NECO (North East Community Organization) was around for quite a while and as a matter of fact, NECO became the group that spoke for the northeast and its problems and its aspirations.
(I) And what was your part?
(N) Well I held office, various offices. Kind of minor offices because I did not have the time. I was working at nights and I didn't have the time to get too involved but I was very active in voter registration and still am. I was very active in getting the vote out and being sort of like a waystop for the neighborhood so that I could put the signs of the appropriate school board member or town council member who was running or the national or state and kind of . . I still do that. I just took down the posters yesterday.
(I) There were many activities. Would you care to start. What were the very first thinhs where you began to be an active spokesperson?
(N) I think the very first one was Little League. That did it really because the Northeast Little League was a very, very good Little League. All children played and all children played but then there was a Babe Ruth League. The Babe Ruth League was highly racially restricted. The Babe Ruth League would raid the Little League to pull our our best players and take them away from us and so therefore we had to kind of like mount an effort to let the parents know that this was not an honor for the kids to play on the Babe Ruth because they would not, Babe Ruth did not want everyone. They just needed a token. And we had that and with several of the parents, we had to enlighten them as to why their children should really stay in Teaneck Little League North, the north league. And the year that my son went to join, there were no coaches. There were no managers and coaches for the team so I was told that he couldn't join so I asked them, was there a rule that said that a woman could not do that and they looked at me and there was none so they said, no, and I did and I was so bad it is not even funny. I had a left handed third baseman and that's a no-no but I was out there and the kids were actually having a ball so the next year, Lou Schwartz said, they asked you to sign up. What is it you would like to do and I put down, Women's Auxiliary and Lou Schwartz breathed a sigh and said, oh, thank God. We just didn't know how to tell you you couldn't coach anymore. But I then stayed very active on the board of the Northeast Little League and Girl Scouts and Brownies and P.T.A. with my dear friend who is now deceased, Agnes Halajian. I don't know if you got any oral history from Agnes but she could have given you tons.
(I) Yes. Agnes was a very vital part of the community and she is certainly missed by everyone.
(N) Oh God, yeah.
(I) All right so from being a Little League coach then what was your next
(I) What did you do ,in P.T.A.?
(N) Well mostly I kind of like was Agnes' right hand.
(I) Which school did your children go to?
(N) My daughter went to Washington Irving and she was in the first central sixth grade which was the Bryant School. The integration plan called to make Irving a kindergarten and central K and Bryant a central sixth grade so my daughter was in the first central sixth grade and then by that time, my second son and my third son went to Whittier where Agnes was the fourth grade teacher for all my children.
(I) They were fortunate.
(N) So in the P.T.A., Agnes made the move a gang of five or six and then went about trying to better the P.T.A. and did a good job at Washington Irving I think.
(I) Had you approved, did you like the set up of the central sixth grade and the central kindergarten as it turned out?
(N) As I told you as an aside, thinking of it now, I would have much rather not have bused the kids. I think that that it not the way you do it. Children do not become friends by sitting next to one another. It is the intimacy the playing, the going back and forth to schools. But what I think I would have opted for now in my enlightening years, is to make Washington Irving and Bryant the better schools in town (inaudible) than fighting to get the kids in.
(I) But at that time, you were in favor of centralizing the schools and integrating them.
(N) Sure because then you have to realize that in order for us to take a stand like that, so I probably could not even do it today because in order for you to take a stand like that, you had to get in bed with some really lousy people and so therefore since I didn't want to associate with folks who were going at this thing purely on a racial, purely on a hate basis, you had to kind of swing with the good guys and it was thought at that time by folks who really were into and really believed in integrated quality education that this was the best thing that we could do at the time but that's my thinking now. I guess it would have been kind of difficult to change it.
(I) But at the time you were
(N) Gung ho. The board of eds were divided, anti school and pro school. The superintendent of schools at that time, Scribner, was an excellent superintendent and so therefore we kind of got behind the folks that knew better than we did and pushed for that program. Now my children are out of the high school. I have no children in the school system at all. And so my involvement in the school system for the past two years has kind of like taken a back stand.
(I) Well there were some very interesting expose in which you were a very vital part. Such as your daughter and cheerleaders.
(N) Well my daughter went to Thomas Jefferson and this one year she came home, I think it may have been her last year, she said, mommy, they didn't choose any black cheerleaders. And I said, what do you mean they didn't choose any black cheerleaders. She said, they didn't choose any black cheerleaders. So we called a meeting to find out why there were no black cheerleaders. The parents wanted to stay out of it and let the children kind of run their own way so I said to my daughter, why don't you meet with the gym teacher and I can't remember her name now, and find out just what happened. So my daughter did this. But what she decided to do was a little spying. She took a tape recorder in her pocketbook to go meet with the cheerleaders, the teacher who was having the cheerleaders, and she asked the question, why were there no black cheerleaders chosen? Especially since there were some kids who had been on the squad from the year before. And the teacher said because they didn't have enough pep. She said, you say black kids don't have pep. She said, I don't mean rhythm. We know you got rhythm, she said, but you didn't have enough pep. Well when we went to approach her, and tell her about the statement that she had made and she didn't even realize that it was racist, she was very upset because my daughter had taped this remark and there it was on the tape. We didn't play the tape and they held a meeting and decided that they would change, what they would do is they would add three spots, they would not put blacks in, but they would add three spots and the black girls could tryout for the cheerleaders. Well all three of the black girls that tried out made the squad and so they were happy. But the funny part about it was when we got home to play the tape recorder, it was just a bunch of garble. You couldn't understand anything at all.
(I) What method had they used for selecting the cheerleaders?
(N) The cheerleaders tried out before and the advisors picked the cheerleaders. This year, the cheerleaders tried out and the cheerleaders picked their friends and it was a majority kind of thing. Well the majority is not always right. Because if the majority is biased, then you've got a biased majority which was not fair. Whereas the advisors had been kind of impartial and did not have to pick their best friends as cheerleaders.
(I) Did the system change after that?
(N) The system changed and it was then done, I don't know how it is done now, but it was chosen by a combination, a pool of combinations so that the advisors and the captain and certain key people and the cheerleaders would pick who their representative would be on this board that would pick the cheerleaders. Which worked out fine.
(I) Was there anything else that your daughter ran into?
(N) She refused to salute the flag and I got a call down that she had to salute the flag and I said to the teacher, why does she have to salute the flag and she said, because she has to salute the flag and she went on about how marvelous the country is everyone is rioting allover the country and I said, but if she is not sincere, if she is doing this for show, then what you are doing is you are playing her out. Leave her alone. If she doesn't want to salute the flag and she doesn't bother anybody else and stops nobody else from saluting the flag, that's fine but then if she should cause a disturbance, then you have every right in asking her to leave because then she denies the other kids in her class who want to salute the flag their priority to do so. And she said, but oh, she's such a lovely girl and she went on to praise my daughter, how much she liked her. I said, don't like her; just teach her. I said you obviously have not had any dealings with black . . and she said, oh, but she is not black and she's so beautiful too. And again, there was these insidious little remarks that black and beautiful do not go together. So she did not salute the flag. What we arranged for her to do was to come in after that was done. And it suited her fine.
(I) She had certain convictions that, she sounds like a very strong human being. Where is she now?
(N) She just got married April 6th and she's living in Newark. She and her husband, her husband is from Newark. She still has strong convictions. She is a child of the 60s. She was on the picket lines, the kids were, so they have strong convictions.
(I) Did she find that her schooling in Teaneck was, served her well? Was it a good background for her?
(N) Yes it was. I still think that the Teaneck school systems are good for those youngsters who are tying to get an education. I think that there is a lot of prodding that has to be done. I think that parents have to be up at the high school. I think that the parents have to be known to the teachers. I think the parents have to be involved in P.T.A. and in the cake sales and the rest of the things. I think those things go along with it.
(I) Do you feel that the black parents have to be even more than the whites or was this just all the children. This is not a racist matter.
(N) I think there are two things going. Definitely the society is racist. Definitely the society is classiest. Definitely the society is feminist. And I think that if you happen to be black, female and from a lower "class", you run into more problems than anyone else in the school. So that I think that the same hindrance, what happens to some white young girl whose parents were not active, who were not astute, I think that it all goes hand in hand. The visibility of being black, of course, is another thing and it is easy then for teachers who are racist covertly or overtly to hit upon.
(I) Did your sons run into problems of this sort too?
(N) My middle boy did. We had had a very, very traumatic occurrence in the family. His father sustained an accident and was hospitalized. For the rest of his life he has to be hospitalized. But my son was very, very angry and there was a lot of craziness going on down at Thomas Jefferson because again, at Thomas Jefferson, you had both the white students, white families and black families of a lower socio-economic strata going to Thomas Jefferson and I had decided with his doctor, Dr. Lionel Bernson, that it would be detrimental to Alfred, Jr. to go there. We called him Rip. So I wrote a letter to and it wasn't Scribner at this time, it was the next one who came there and I can't think of his name, Killory, I wrote a letter to Mr. Killory requesting, with a notation from the doctor, that my son not go to Thomas Jefferson. I got back a letter, because everybody got back a letter, because lots of parents were writing saying that they did not want their kids to go to that school, so it was like a letter that went out, NO, I AM SORRY, and so on. So I had a friend who worked in the Board of Ed, Ramona Hanna and Ramona Hanna said that mine was the only black parent that she recognized that had requested that their child not go there. So she went to Mr. Killory and she said, Mr. Killory, I think you better look at this one. This is from Winnie Farrar and you better look at this and maybe see why she doesn't want her son to go there. He said, no, we are not going to go along with that. When she told me that, I said, OK. I'll take another step. So I asked for a meeting with Mr. Killory. Instead I got Aubrey Sher and at that time, Aubrey was the assistant superintendent of schools and he listened to my story and I got another polite letter saying thank you very much and blah, blah, blah but no thanks. So then my next step was to go see Mr. Killory. I got an appointment with Mr. Killory and I itemized, I said to him that I did not think that all of my children need not go to Thomas Jefferson. My daughter had gone there. Probably my younger son would go there. But this particular young man who was hell-bent on fighting his way through life because he was very angry would find all the opportunities to get at Thomas Jefferson. And that I wasn't sure that Benjamin Franklin would be better for him but that I was positive that Thomas Jefferson would be detrimental and I said that if he didn't, that he was not going to go to Thomas Jefferson and so then they'd have to take me to court because I was not going to send him to that school and then I would have to bring out all the information that I had. I had a lot of it about the racism down there, about the fighting, about the Ashaks and the Vikings which were white clubs that were anti-black
(I) At the junior high school?
(N) At the junior high school. The Ashaks and the Vikings started down at Thomas Jefferson. And about the time that I had had to be called from my job in New York to come home almost herd the black kids across the Route 4 dividing lines because of the fights. And needless to say, Mr, Killory rescinded his opposition and my son went to Benjamin Franklin. So that year, he was the only youngster who was allowed to transfer out of Thomas Jefferson. And he went to Benjamin Franklin and he did well. He didn't do fantastic because he wouldn't have done fantastic anywhere.
(I) There were no fights at Ben Franklin in those days?
(N) A different kind of environment all together.
(I) But there were black students there too?
(N) Sure there were black students. The black students from Benjamin Franklin go from Englewood Avenue north, up around the border of Bergenfield. But Englewood Avenue is the dividing line for Benjamin Franklin. Englewood Avenue north and across the tracks down to Cedar Lane.
(I) What are some of the other incidents that particularly strike you. Oh, by the way, did your younger son go to Thomas Jefferson?
(N) My younger son went to Thomas Jefferson. And no problem. I must say I don't want you to at all think that all of these incidences and the remembrances that I have of Teaneck are bad because there are a lot of good ones. The times up at the high school when one had to chaperone the kids for trips and stuff when there was genuine fun and genuine camaraderie. The same as when my kids went to the Whittier School. My younger two went to Whittier School. And for a while there, the parents had to volunteer at the lunchroom and there was just as many (inaudible) but I think that there was a concerted effort and a concerted force that if one was going to make the Teaneck schools the best that they had to be, then they had to remain as color free as could be possible.
(I) Once you got to the high school, what was the atmosphere there like? Well your daughter was there at a time when there was activism everywhere and your two sons, I guess, are a little bit younger.
(N) My kids are fivre years apart.
(I) Well she was a student in the 60s then.
(N) 70s. She graduated in 73.
(I) That's right. She started in the middle of the 60s. And how did she find high school?
(N) Well she found the high school, she was very active in the Black Students Union which was a time of African garb. She, I will never forget, she was the first one to wear her hair au natural and it was a big thing in school when each of them decided that they would no longer press their hair. That they would wear their hair kinky. And the African dress. And then there was the takeover of the school by Mr. Nash who was a teacher who decided that there was a tracking system there that was killing the minority students. And they wanted the tracking system stopped. And one day Mr. Nash, they took over the principal's office and of course my daughter was right there and I got the phone call. La was sitting in the principal's office. So we went up with friends of ours and they wouldn't let us in the school so they were handing in food and blankets and stuff in through the windows and I cannot now remember how long the sit-in lasted but out of that situation developed another group of people who were interested in changing the school system and we were at first going to stand behind Mr. Nash but then we found that he wanted even more. You see, his agenda (inaudible) Now we wanted him reinstalled. We wanted him, no reprisals against the children that had been sitting in. But then he was calling for the firing of this and that and I did not think and I think a lot of us did, we tried to go along with him but he got, he got kind of way out there so that we could no longer feed, I don't want to say feed his ego because I think he genuinely was a genuine where those kids were concerned but we were never, ever going to be able to satisfy the things that he had wanted and we had gotten a lawyer, Leo Mazer, who is a fine lawyer and Leo Mazer had mapped a defense for him and Mr. Nash did not want to go by the defense and we were raising funds and I don't even know what happened. He just lost. . I don't even know where he is now.
(I) He eventually left the system.
(N) He left the system. I don't know what "happened.
(I) Outside of the Nash incident, was there anything else particularly at the high school. This would be all three of your children.
(N) Oh I know what there was. This was so funny. The Friday night performances. That was a mish mash which I don't know whatever started. I think that you cannot have now performances on Friday night. Is that not true?
(I) I don't know.
(N) That's what it was then. The Terpsichoreans which was not an all black dance but there were several of the white students who were into dancing and wanted to do dancing so they joined the Terpces and the Terpsichoreans were and are still run by Sheryl Miller. Vicky was in the Terpsichorean Dance Review. And so that caused some friction. Until folks realized that if you are not going to have it on Friday night, then if you have it on a Saturday night or Sunday night, the folks who want to come would have two nights and I think that's what we have, Saturday night and Sunday night. But there was a big mish mash and a big polarization around that issue. But you see, if adults would leave them alone, youngsters will find a way around it and they did.
(I) How about your sons?
(N) My oldest son graduated from Rutgers. He was a Business major. And he is now going to work with DYFS(Division of Youth & Family Services) in social services. The younger son is a junior at Morehouse and may or may not be going back, depending on how I feel about his 1.9 index.
(I) And your daughter, besides being married as we said before, what did she do with her education?
(N) She got a masters in sociology from Trenton State and could not make a living at it so now she is a pharmaceutical sales representative for Aerst (?) Company.
(I) And you yourself? Now that the children are out of the house.
(N} I did my education when the children were small. I was a practical nurse before. I went back to college in 1970 at 36. And that's one of the things and I am glad you mentioned brought me to that point because one of the things about living in Teaneck was the kind of friends that one had. I had made friends with Mitzi and Lionel Bernson and I could not have finished school. I was working nights and going to school days and Mitzi is such a great gal, said I'll take care of the baby for you. We called him Charlie Brown at the time. So that I would put the two big kids to bed, take the baby over to Mitzi's and go to work. Get off at seven o'clock in the morning, come home and feed and get the kids up and dressed for school and go to school myself. Come off at four o'clock, stop by Mitzi's and pick up the baby (inaudible) bathe him and dress him and put him to bed where he would sleep and then do my homework and do the kids homework and then put them to bed and pick him up and take him to Mitzi's so that's what I did for two years.
(I) I don't notice any time for you to do any sleeping in there.
(N) Well I did on the job when the patients would sleep, I would doze. But I had summers. I had the summers free. And we planned good vacations for the summer so that it kind of made up for the amount of time that I did not spend with them. But I must say that I don't think that that could have happened in another town. I think that is the specialty of the friendships that one makes in a kind of town like Teaneck. I don't want to make anyone feel that this is such a terrible town but again like anything else, you have to work very hard at keeping it the best and if you allow yourself to get lax, then the kinds of things that sneak in the night and go bump in the night will take over your town.
(I) Well obviously you have stayed here all these years so that it does have some satisfaction for you.
(N) I am going to go to the senior citizens home over there.
(I) What did you do with your education. You went to school nights, worked days, worked nights rather and school days and got what degree?
(N) I got an R.N. and then I got a B.S. and then I got a practitioner certificate at Cornell and I am now supervisor of a school based comprehensive adolescent health care program in New York City. The city has decided that alternative school kids and high school children in general didn't know health care. (inaudible) so that if the schools, if the comprehensive health care program is in the school and it is run by
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(1) We were just talking about the health system in the school. You see them more than their mothers do.
(N) And I do comprehensive health exams, all of them, on certain illnesses or refer them health center which is the parent organization or to St. Luke's Hospital which is the backup hospital and I do family planning and the whole range of health care that adolescents need and health education and that sort of thing. Also in the schools is a day nursery for twenty five of the young ladies who have had children in the school so that we are now going to get those mothers to understand what good health care is for the babies. They will do their well baby care. It is really exciting.
(I) It sounds very exciting. And was worth all of these lost hours of sleep.
(N) I never even remember missing any sleep. I am not a night person. I am kind of like a day person. I get up, I wake up, the sun wakes me up and I think (inaudible)
(I) Are you still active in organizations? You mentioned you just got finished taking down Gibson posters so that you are still working for elections. What else do you do?
(N) United Negro College Fund. I am active in the United Negro College Fund and local politics. Not so much, I haven't done so much in township politics. I was active in national politics and state politics. I worked for Jessie Jackson in New Jersey and in New York in the last election and I worked for Gibson this past election; Byron Baer is a friend of mine, the assemblyman from Englewood. But there was no fun working for Byron because he is always a shoe-in and I am friends with Shirley Lacey in Englewood so I do some politics in Englewood. But basically I kind of, I think that what I have done, and it is kind of sad to say it but I look around and there are the same old folks who have gotten older and grayer and crunchier and I don't see the youngsters coming up to fill the rank and I think that is very sad because it is very interesting and you meet some lovely people. The causes tend to be very, very interesting I think. I think that some of those kids who are bored and looking for something to do (inaudible) I wish that I could find some youngsters but it is the same old N.E.C.O. people. It is like Vita DiBernardo. She was president of every P.T.A. I don't know what she is doing now. But really, I would hope that her kids are there doing her job.
(I) I think Vita is still doing many things and she is still living in town.
(N) And still on the P.T.A.?
(I) Still on the county P.T.A., yes. And I think she has been interviewed for the Oral History Program. Yes, many of the old faces are still around. Are your children activists?
(N) Well I must say my youngest son, my middle son, he takes karate and he has got a group of youngsters that he is teaching karate so I think that and he is a painter and he is a poet and he is a very sensitive young man and I think that once he, with this new job that he has got investigating child abuse cases, it is going to open up his eyes to a whole lot of things that he never saw before and will be sensitive to. My younger one, he is still into partying.
(I) I guess we have covered most of the, of your activities in town, you and your family and on behalf of the library, I want to thank you very much.
(N) Thank you for having me.
END OF TAPE
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