|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.|
|INTERVIEWER:||Clifton B. Cox|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||October 24, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (7/1985)|
(I) Sylvester Gray, is he a white fellow?
(N) No, he is black. He ran one of these sweepers out here and he worked in the Department of Public Works for eighteen years. He drives a bus now. And he sued them, it cost him a lot of money out of his own pocket but he lost the suit. There is another fellow that has a case against them and I guess he will lose it because they had, the Civil Service Commissioner whose office for the northern part of New Jersey, his wife is the township secretary. She takes notes at the council meetings. She gets $40,000 a year. I forget her name now. The notices that go out from the township and the minutes that are taken at the council meetings, she gets $40,000 a year and her husband is in charge of Civil Service, the Civil Service Commission for the state of New Jersey in the north, maybe it is for the whole state, I don't know. But we are not even in the planning. There is no need to get into Bernie, I mean, what can he do? Two or three people on the council, Adelman, Menkes, I think Frank Hall is basically a decent man but the rest of them, no need in naming them, the pity is that they don't even understand what they are afflicted with. It is like I said to one of the fellows I work with at ABC one time, Nick, you are a bigot and that's not what bothers me. You don't even know it. He stormed out of his own office and went up to the vice president but you don't even understand what it is. It is a part of you, it is a part of your makeup. And I am not going to spend the time that I have allotted to me by God almighty trying to convert you because it is hopeless. It is like Schmid, Schmid doesn't, Arlene and he Arlene Howard are good friends but I mean, you say what kind of man is this? I turned to him and to Robbins, superintendent of Public Works, at a meeting one night about two years ago and said to them, what is it, what is it? Both of them said, why do you feel this way toward us? What have we done as a group of people that both of you treat us like that? I have been down Mr. Robbins to the Department of Public Works, I have met men who work under your jurisdiction on the street who are afraid to death. I know they have families and whatnot. Maybe I can be a little more independent than the average man. I know they have families and I respect them for that. If I knew their names, I wouldn't tell you. But they are frightened to death. Why do you treat us like that? They don't even answer. So what I am trying to say to you, I am sick of reading about this great municipality, this township of liberality, and I call it, and I've said it to the council, this town is a cesspool of bigotry and I can't find five other black people in this town that will agree with me. They are just so happy to be living in Teaneck. Your neighbors and mine. They think this is the grandest place in the world to live in. I don't think so because of what my father taught me when I was a little boy seventy years ago - you are no better than anybody else, nobody else is any better than you.
(I) In other words, they got to do more than just sleep here, eat here they got to be involved.
(N) This is the bedroom community. You can't get people, half of these people who live here don't go near a church and if they do, they go over to New York and they go for show. I have no right to criticize somebody else's religion but to get somebody aroused, now it takes something real, some real strong, Englewood is just as bad. Two years ago when they wanted to hire those, turn the garbage and rubbish collection system over to private cartels, thirty eight black men would have lost (END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2) . . making some progress in race relations, it is going to take an assault, public assault on this community. Massive attendance at the City Council. That's the only way anything will come. You go find somebody. They said they couldn't find black male teachers. Do you know the story of the teachers? When they had the strike two years ago, you know how many they found?
(I) How many did they find?
(N) 150 black male teachers out of work over in New York in the surrounding areas. Paid them $80 a day for about three weeks, five days a week. 150. Two months ago, they hired eight men at the high school, in the school system, head of Biology, to direct the Mathematics, direct the Science, whatever, there were eight, $45,000 a year each one of them. Do you know who they were? All eight of them were white. All eight.
(I) Not one a minority?
(N) Not one. If there was a semblance of decency in the community, in the power structure, in the administrative body, if there was a semblance of decency, they would have said, well let's hire one. As I told them last April when they hired seven new policemen, I said if you had a semblance of decency in your heart, just a semblance of decency, you would have said, well, we only have five out of ninety, let's hire seven blacks. That would give us twelve out of ninety which wouldn't be a bad percentage when we are, at that time I said 31%, it is a fraction less than 30% of the population. What I am saying, Cliff, is you are not even in their thinking. You are an after-thought. You too. What's his name, Bryant, Theodore and Lacey and his wife and her husband, Lacey, Wasserman was with me, Tom Wasserman, and Gene Thorn was at the meeting last night. Of all the 12,000, 13,000 blacks that live in Teaneck, and as I say many of them may not have known it but they, we had nine blacks and Schmid looked over that and he was just so, you could tell from the smirk on his face that there was no interest. If it will be, it will be. It may be immodest for me maybe to say it but so after a while, I am meaningless and I don't mind that because I am going to keep on doing it as long as God gives me health and strength, until something is done to rectify this vicious, patronage system in Teaneck and I am not going to sit idly by and allow somebody to talk about what a great big community this is. This is not a great community. When you think of your children, I have children, you talk about role models and images and whatnot, up at the high school, it is 50/50 up at the high school, black and white. As you know, many of the wealthy whites and the Jews as well have taken their kids out of school and put them in private schools so it is down to 50/50 at the high school. It is 47% overall black. It is 50/50 at the high school. They have 100 teachers at the high school.
(I) How many are black?
(N) Nine. Nine. You have 392 teachers in the system. There are 44.
(I) 44 blacks?
(N) Out of 392.
(I) That's a poor percentage.
(N) Well I would think so. If we are 29% of the population, I'll just make it easy and say we are 25%, there are 38,000 people that live in Teaneck. So if 8,500 of them or whatever, 9,500 of them are black, that's 25%. I am sure it is a little higher than that. You would think that they would try to give you, if you got 392 teachers, you would think they would try to give you at least 100 or 75 but these are good jobs Cliff. These are good jobs over against New York, $5,000 maybe for somebody who has been teaching as long as my daughter in New York would be maybe making $36/37,000. That's only $4/5,000 less here.
(I) They don't have to commute.
(N) Don't have to commute and you don't have the hassle. It is a lot easier teaching. .
(I) You don't have to pay the New York City tax.
(N) That's right. It is a lot easier teaching here than it is over there. You know where the teachers come from here? Tenafly, Dumont, Saddle Brook, Saddle River, Fort Lee, Leonia. You know where Gage comes from, one of Schmid's assistants? A kid about 29 years old. I said to him two years ago, he doesn't know his way across the street in the rain. And when you needed somebody as your assistant, you went over to Leonia and got him. You didn't even make an effort to get a black assistant because he makes $47,000, you pay him $47,000 a year. You don't want a black person. I said that in the council meeting. And it is a fact. But you see those who are here, the blacks who are here, they are working. Like my wife said the other night, they are working, they got jobs, they haven't got time to be bothered. Until something comes. Ask her. When they get in trouble, when they don't have a job, when something, somebody is mistreated, ask them where they go? But we've got the NAACP to the place now where they are starting to call Tom Washington like they used to call Brian Whittier which is the way it ought to be. They come to the Freedom Fund and they, that's about all they will do. They don't deserve, we got hands on the people, 20 or 25 people that work their butts off, that really work to try to make it effective and they can't do it by themselves and it is heartbreaking, it is discouraging. I got a man that talks, we have people from time to time that they talk a good job, they talk freedom and equality, but you've got an element in this town that says well, all you have to do is work hard like me, you can make it, they live under that kind of illusion and it isn't just working hard like me. It takes more than that. It's scary from my point of view. I wish it wasn't that way. I'd like to feel, I'd like to be able to say this is a great community. I'd like to be able to say, like my friends in Sumter, South Carolina say, and I love to go there, my wife's never been there with me, the next time I go, I am going to take her with me so she can see for herself. You go downtown and see black policemen, if they come to pick me up in, if I fly into Columbia, they come and pick me up and drive me 45 miles south to Sumter and along the highway you may see three or four black highway patrolmen. When's the last time you saw a black highway patrolman in New Jersey? When I go down to Tuskagee or go to Montgomery or wherever, have a good friend down in Montgomery, he's been practicing medicine down there for thirty one years, Dr. Jones, when I go into Montgomery, vicious things have happened in Montgomery, then you go thirty two miles up to Tuskagee and see what's happening there under Johnny Ford, the mayor of the town. Go to Birmingham. I've spoken in the 16th Street Baptist Church where those girls were bombed into eternity in September of 1963 and I go there and you get up to speak, you choke up when you think about it and you stop and realize the mayor of this town is black.
(I) What do you think of the busing?
(N) Well, that's the one bright spot in the history of Teaneck. The busing system which kept us from having all black schools. That's the one bright spot some twenty years ago that helps to make this some kind of halfway decent town. To tell you the truth, Cliffs, I think we've overdone the busing thing to the point where it has make us feel inferior. Many whites draw the impression that all you want your child to do is sit in class beside my child so your child will feel good. It isn't that at all. It's a matter of being, knowing that the power structure which is white is going to see to it that their children get a good education so if your child is in that room, he's bound or she is bound to benefit from it. I frankly wouldn't care, it is like this street, and I told the councilmen, I wouldn't care if everybody on this block was black. If they kept all their homes like all of us, you've been down here, down in Stuyvesant, the same way, what difference does it make? Sure the most of them are black there. What's the big deal? We've got five or six white families in this block. When I came here, there were maybe fourteen. Slowly they moved out. But the man who sold this house in 1955 or 56 to Elston Howard, the man who sold it to him, I met him at a Fair Housing meeting two years after I came here in 1964 or 65, he told me at the meeting, he said I understand you bought your house from Elston Howard. I said yes I did. He said to me in these very words, 'that was my house. I was a damn fool.' Those were the very words he used. My wife and I designed that house the way we wanted it and we ran when a couple of negro families, the term they used then, moved in. I think Bill Taylor, no it wasn't Bill Taylor, Al Hibler, Dr. Bennett next door, and I think Mary Bowles up on the other side, three or four black families moved in, Knox who died a couple of years ago lived over there where what's her name lives
(I) Billy Taylor is the pianist?
(N) No, no. Bill Taylor he's retired too from the Army I think and
(I) Didn't Billy Williams used to be here from the, what's that singing group?
(N) No. He was over on the next block. His wife is Lois, his former wife, they separated many years before he died. He died I guess twenty years ago, almost twenty years ago, but Lois is still active in New York and quite a social flyer and a wonderful girl but the tragedy is that they, busing makes us, if we don't look at it objectively, makes us feel inferior. I am against all black schools in a community like this but the system generates all black schools. You know of course we have a strong law now in New Jersey about blockbusting but for a long time before they got the law, that's how we all got up here. All of us, you and I, and all the rest of us, they pushed us all here. You must know the story of Elston Howard when he bought that lot over there. He bought that lot through a white friend and when he started building, they found out it was going to be Elston Howard's house, he was one of the most popular ball players in the country at the time. They started to get a petition together
(I) To keep him out
(N) To buy back, yes to keep him out, to buy the lot and whatever he had put into the construction and the foundation and to give him twice what he put into it and in all fairness to, there is a semblance of decency here
(I) Was this his neighbors?
(N) Yes but one guy got a petition to go around and when it got to another fellow's house, I think Arlene or Elston had told me the story, it got to the second signature and the fellow said to him, no, he said, I'll go with you. You talk for the signatures, I'll talk against them. He said, you don't mind them nigers? He said, mind them, he's playing ball with the Yankees and you say mind him? As nice a guy and as popular a guy as Elston Howard is? I understand the guy was almost in tears and he gave up the petition idea. But even until today, there is only a limited number of negro families over in that immediate area. In direct answer to your question, the busing was a good think because it kept us from having all black schools. Well I've been over talking now.
(I) Well, I appreciate all this information. I'm sure that even the township of Teaneck can't expect it to be all roses and they have to take the good with the bad and
(N) Well, I would like to feel that one day this town will be what it, what the white community thinks it is. It isn't today by a long shot in October, 1984, since you are recording this. It isn't what it ought to be. Maybe some day it will be. I've seen some changes come particularly in the south, in areas where I've had whites say to me at an NAACP meeting in the south, I'm not about to go anywhere. We have learned to live together in peace and tranquility. In South Carolina, they were having tension about fifteen, eighteen years ago and they met every night except Sunday for three weeks and finally one of them said, we can't go on like this. We need each other and they resolved to and I understand it is one of the finest, I think it is where Jesse Jackson is from, I'm not sure. It is either Green Castle or Greenville, South Carolina. And all the blacks were asking before then were paved streets and sewer lines in their side. I don't know if you know much about the south but some areas on the black side of town there are no sewer lines and there are gravel roads instead of cement hot roads and whatnot and they just wanted not necessarily integrated schools, they just wanted good quality education for their children. I don't think that's asking too much and I think the average black person like myself, all I want is decent living accommodations and an opportunity to participate in the body politic. If you are going to share the goodies, unlike what Mr. Schmid does today as the boss of this town, don't give it all to whites, don't give 98% of it to whites when we are better than 25/26% of the population. Let us share a little which he is not willing to do hiding behind the excuse that we would do but we can't find them and that's not the case at all. It is unbelievable and I would like to see, I would like to feel that I've lived 21 years in a decent democratic community. I can walk the streets unlike South Africa and maybe not be shot down but I'm shot down psychologically if you know what I mean. My children have to be effected. My daughter works here but most of them have no interest in coming back here to live and I think that's a condemnation of the system under which we live at the present time and this is a rich community. I mean the taxes that come in here and whatnot and all you need to do is see that Glenpointe thing, that Glenpointe development, and when they first started talking about it way back in the early 70s and sold that land for a very small price, it was ditch land and it was hardly usable and built it into a great development, we were given the idea that when the development comes, it will ease the burden of taxes on us. Taxes are worse now than ever because they have taken the income from it and distributed it among their friends and that's what it is. There isn't a person on that city council that doesn't have somebody, I dare them to deny it, that doesn't have maybe the last man but I dare them to deny that there isn't one of them that doesn't have somebody close to them who has got some of the goodies
(I) Out of that project?
(N) Right. Except possibly Bernie, the black mayor. I don't know if he's been able to put anybody on the payroll or not because I have said to them, Cliff, over and over again as I said to you earlier, this man runs the town, the township manager, like a czar. That's what it is. And this ought not be. In 1984, in a democratic community, in a democratic society which we are supposed to have.
(I) This town should belong to the people.
(N) The township, right, belongs to the people. That's exactly right. As things stand now, that is not the case under any circumstances. All you need to do is look around and see what is taking place.
(I) Well thank you very much Mr. Goode and I know that I'm quite thrilled to be able to talk to you like this because you have been so prominent in the news media and this is quite an honor for me.
(N) Well that's not my choice. It is just that I just, I don't know, I can't bring myself to being mistreated. My grandparents, I am the grandson of slaves and I knew all four of them in Virginia, was born on the land of my father's mother and father, land was given to them by their slavemasters at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation 121 years ago and I had lots of things that happened to me to make me feel less but I was galvanized and undegirded by a father who taught us, he could hardly read and write, but he taught us two things. You are no better than any body else and nobody else is any better than you. Because he knew what we were going to run into. And it is personal but it is a fact of life. Anybody who's been black like you and I all our lives, don't tell me about you've never suffered bigotry. To say that is wrong and to have come here with a feeling that this is the great democratic community in 1963 and it will be different here. It is no different here than it was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The only difference is that in Pittsburgh frequently I was arrested but here they don't do that. The police, I have said it at the council meeting, I think we have a good police force. We had one night my wife woke up early and she thought somebody was in the house fifteen years ago. And I went to the phone and turned on all the lights and went to the phone and maybe she was having a nightmare but it wasn't five minutes till we couldn't count the police cars and they went all through the bushes and the hedges and whatnot. We had a fire New Year's Eve in 1969, caught up in my daughter's bedroom upstairs there and did about $2,800 of damage up in the hallway and that main bedroom particularly but we called the Fire Department and it was amazing. Those guys were here putting that fire out. I had gone to the hospital with my daughter because she got burned on her leg, the one that's a lawyer and when I came back, the street was blocked, I said that's my house that's on . . because my wife had called me and said, come back, the house, we had a fire. But they put it out. And I sent them letters. We have a good Fire Department. We have a good Police Department. But I . . except the denial of the opportunity to work, to blacks, on an equal basis, on a share/share basis. We don't want all the firemen. We don't even ask those of us who are interested in this, we don't even ask for 25%, give us a fair share. If you have 90 policemen, surely 20 of them could be black. If you have 68 firemen, surely 15 of them could be black. Since you are going to put it on that basis, what else do we have to use except, call it quotas, call it what you will, Cliff. What else is there except to say, let's be fair in the distribution of the good things.
(I) Have fair representation.
(N) That's all. It is just like the street sweeper. Many times, I've called when they've missed during the week, they say, well the equipment is broken or something like that. I say, you haven't been up here. Where is the street sweeper. You have to do that. There are certain things that they allow over here. Look at some of the streets over here, two or three blocks and see there are certain, things that they allow that they wouldn't allow over on the other side of town.
(I) Patching here and. .
(N) That's what I mean. That's right. And this, I just say, look at it subjectively in every respect because when you divide that money down there, you don't say this is for the black people and this is for the white people. They don't do that. So let us share a little. I don't think that's asking too much.
(I) That's right. Well thank you Mr. Goode.
(N) Oh, nice to talk to you.