|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:||Morton & June Handler|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 11, 1985|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (8/1985)|
This is Helen Klein and I am talking to you from the house of Mrs. Handler whom I am interviewing for the Oral History of Teaneck.
(I) June, could you tell me when you first went to Teaneck.
(N) 1951. Our children, our son was going to be four in about three days and our daughter was about two and a half because I remember we, I rang doorbells to round up children to have a birthday party for him. I remember I had promised him a birthday party and we knew no one so I remember ringing doorbells to find children to have a birthday party for him.
(I) What was it like when you arrived?
(N) We lived on Kensington Road off, between the railroad and Sussex Road and there was nothing on the other side of Kensington Road in those days. It was great because they were just beginning to build across Sussex Road. They were just beginning to do some building and I remember about five o'clock, five thirty, after the men left every day, I would go up and get small pieces of wood that my children would use in the basement for woodworking with their father. But it was an interesting community because it was after the war and so many of us, a lot of us I guess came from the New York area or from other parts of New Jersey and had been living in apartments or small, tiny houses and we wanted a place for our children and for the most part, for instance on our street, everyone was older. But this was kind of the feeling from all over Teaneck, young people were moving in. It was frightening to some.
(I) Frightening to some young people.
(N) No, to some older people.
(I) I was about to ask you that. I was wondering what happened because I have heard that there were some feelings against Jews moving into Teaneck at that time.
(N) There were. It was interesting because we really first wanted to move to Tenafly. We didn't know New Jersey at all. And no one would sell us a house
(I) In Tenafly?
(N) In Tenafly because we were Jewish and I asked where we could find a house. My husband's work was in Bergen County. And they said move to Teaneck. Even on our street we found anti-semitism in the beginning.
(I) You mean overt?
(I) For example.
(N) My son picked some flowers in somebody's garden and got hell for it. He saw flowers, he thought this was the greatest thing. On his next birthday, this same woman came over with flowers for him for his birthday because she remembered it and we had become friends after that. But that kind of thing.
(I) Petty little stuff. And when did they start going to school, your children.
(N) The following year our son started Whittier and our daughter went to nursery school in Englewood. I was studying early childhood education at Bank Street at the time and that was the only nursery school I liked and I guess we started becoming very active in P.T.A. over at Whittier right away.
(I) And how did you find the P.T.A. then?
(N) A little dull. I think P.T.A. in those days was a little bit too much interested in buying curtains for a school or something like that. I was more interested, I was studying education so I was more interested in really looking at what his curriculum and how can we help our children in creative ways.
(I) How did you find the curriculum when you started looking into it?
(N) I thought Mrs. Hoak ran a very tight ship. I would have liked more social studies, more trips, more things like that. But I thought basically she ran a very good school. I felt the schools in Teaneck were highly competitive. I think they were a very good school system but I felt that people wanted a lot for their children and that was because of that.
(I) When did you become more active than simply being a member of the P.T.A.? Were there any special issues that came up?
(N) Yeah. There was a Taxpayers League in town and I don't remember the names of people who were in it but they were very much against well they were against the newcomers because we were the ones who wanted more schools and we needed more schools. We had more children coming in. And I remember we lost a referendum for a junior high I think it was and at that time, we became interested in it. We met the Leys, Teddy Ley, who later became president of the Board of Education and somehow or other we started to talk about schools and at that time, I think my father was on the Board of Education in New York or was president of the Board of Education in New York. I don't know where he was at that point but he was on the board and we started to talk about it and I had entry to a lot of I could talk to a lot of people in New York City and we, because we lost this referendum, we formed a Teaneck League for Better Schools. Actually we formed it in our living room. And we had a very long living room. We had two young children so it was very hard for us to get out. And Teddy became president, Teddy Ley, and I became vice president and I think that Ed Seltzer became treasurer. Clarence or Virginia Lee became very active, were very important in it, and Morty, my husband here, did all the writing, anything we needed, either public relations or anything that was for the newspaper or to give out and in those days, the Taxpayers League were giving out every day, you know, you'd find in your boxes and everything, we were doing the opposite and they had found out that Mort had been a newspaper man so it was a natural that he should do all the writing. And I remember I hurt my neck once because we set the alarm for three in the morning and I didn't realize it was going off and I twisted my neck. He had to take me to the hospital with it. But we became, that's when we became interested.
(I) And you did get Ben Franklin built.
(N) We got Ben Franklin built. Someone said to us once that we had bricks in Ben Franklin. But we worked very hard, I don't just mean my husband and I but it was a whole nucleus of us. Looking back on it, it was both husbands and wives. It was interesting.
(I) Well that's very nice. Your children went all through the Teaneck schools.
(N) All through the public schools.
(I) And you felt that they were good schools.
(N) I felt that they were very good schools. As I say, I felt they were a little bit competitive. I didn't feel in those days that they really helped the child who was overly creative. I think today they do, they have all sorts of plans. And I don't think it was just the time that they understood that kind of thing. It was an easier school system for my daughter for instance than for my son. But I think it was a very good school system.
(I) Eventually however, this was an activity that you were involved in in the 50s and eventually came the topic of segregation in the schools and I think we ought to get into that. Tell me how that started.
(I) Well, it was an area of concern for Morty and me, I guess, all our lives. Again, we come from families where we have always been involved both of us and I was, we felt it was very important with our children also. Our son and daughter were in SCORE which was Student Core and I remember our son was very busy integrating a barber shop in Englewood. They both were activists, they were activists even in college.
(I) How old were they about at this time?
(N) About, well I guess from the time they were about fourteen on they were and again the League for Better Schools became the organization and then later on another organization formed and Ruth Glick was very very important in that second one but we really rallied around Harvey Scribner.
(I) What was he appointed, do you remember by any chance?
(N) I really don't remember. But he was really appointed superintendent of schools because he cared a great deal about integration and I think maybe he caught it from Teddy Ley. I think Teddy Ley by the time may have been on the Board of Education and had been very important in interviewing him. Teddy got that way from having come up through the League for Better Schools.
(I) May I interrupt here. Then in other words, Harvey Scribner was appointed because there was already interest in integrating the Teaneck schools.
(N) One of the problems really and truly even before that was the, a lot of the real estate brokers went around to different homes and said, you know, the blacks actually the negroes in those days, are coming in and if you sell your house, or if they come in, property values are going to go down all over Teaneck and you don't want negroes for neighbors and I can even remember even at Ben Franklin where there were children and when my daughter was there, she used to purposely sit at tables which were integrated and I remember the principal calling me up and saying, I'm having trouble with it. I don't want to mention her name because her husband at the time was on the Board of Ed, but I'm having trouble with Mrs. So and So because of Roberta and I asked why and he said, she wants to meet with you and I remember when I met with her, she said, what would you do if your daughter was to marry a black man and I said, well my concern is that I have enough trust in my daughter that she is going to marry someone nice and if he ends up black, then he ends up black but I am concerned more about the quality of the man she marries and I remember very soon after that this couple moved out of town. But already we were beginning to get black/white. There was really feelings, even on the block, and
(I) What do you mean on the block there were feelings?
(N) Well there were some people who would have felt terrible if a black person had moved in. This sort of thing. And it got very hot. It got very hot. And then the Board of Ed was trying to make the Bryant School a, I think it was to make it an early childhood school.
(I) May I interrupt you. Then the Board of Education at that time was interested in integration.
(N) The Board of Education really very much were with Harvey Scribner.
(I) Were there any blacks on the Board at that time?
(N) I don't know if Lamar Jones was on the Board at that time. I don't remember if he was or wasn't. He may have been. You might check that one out. But I remember there was one meeting in terms of, it wasn't the sixth grade school, I can't remember if they were going to make it a sixth grade school or an early childhood school. .
(I) Well Whittier school was a sixth grade school when I moved here about thirteen years ago. And Bryant I think got the kindergarten and first grade.
(N) This was Bryant School. I had done my doctoral research at Bryant before that and on black/white relationships and I remember this meeting that the Board of Ed was so scared of what was going to happen to the town because you could feel the tone all over town. But they were bringing it up in terms of that this would be financially sound and much better for the schools.
(I) Well that was because the objections had been raised.
(N) The objections had been raised but that's all they said, that it was going to be financially sound and at that point, I remember raising my hand and somebody on the Board recognizing me because they were asking questions from the audience and I got up and I opened it up. I said that we are really not talking about something that's financially sound. We are talking about black/white relationships and I quoted from Gunner Myrtle's American Dilemma and I said that this is our moment in time and that we really have a wonderful opportunity to do something which no one is asking us to do. This was before towns like Montclair had to integrate. And I brought up how blacks were being held back. And I just talked my heart out because this was an area that I was very involved in professionally. I was in the, I had either just finished or I was doing my doctoral research in terms of attempt to change kindergarten children's attitudes of prejudice toward the negro and I had been doing this over at Bryant and I was very enmeshed in this and felt, we all felt very strongly. We knew, those of us who were working so hard with Harvey, what he was trying to do and I remember when I went back to sit down, people were saying to me, I thought this was just going to be on economic reasons and that night, our phone didn't stop. There were, most of the calls interestingly enough, were positive but we got some negative calls too. But it just didn't stop. I mean people called and said, I'm so glad that you did that because somebody had to say what we really were trying to do and that night, the Board took a vote and voted it in.
(I) That was the busing?
(N) That was the busing.
(I) That was to separate schools according to grades and bus children all over town.
(I) And what happened after that? It worked.
(N) It worked. It really worked. There was no explosion in town. Things really, I think, calmed down a great deal and it really was the making of Harvey Scribner. He went on to become chancellor of schools in New York City and then he went to U. Mass. He is being honored this month, you know. You didn't know? It is twenty years from the anniversary of that time. And there is going to be a big party, actually the party, the purpose of the party is to raise funds for the Teaneck schools, for the kids. It is this month, the end of this month, on a Sunday night in March. You should find out about it. And of course Harvey is coming back and he is going to be the guest of honor. So it is very nice. I think you should be there with this because a lot of people. .
(I) Well there are other people who do all sorts of other things. I am just one of them. June, you mentioned to me when I was talking to you before something about a tutorial. Do you think you could tell me about it?
(N) There were a lot of kids who weren't making it in the high school in reading or math mostly and at the same time, my son was part of a Senior League at Temple Emeth and one of the responsibilities each of these youngsters had was to develop an idea, something that they wanted to do, that was of community interest. And Peter thought about this idea of tutorial and went to see Harvey and Harvey thought it was a very good idea so Peter organized it and a group of youngsters at the high school volunteered, I think at the junior high too, I think it was the junior high, they volunteered anyway to tutor youngsters at the junior high level I think it was who needed it and it was extremely successful. And I think Peter did it and chaired it for two years and then my daughter Roberta chaired it for two years. And after that, I think it was taken over by the adults and interestingly enough, and I can understand it, it wasn't as successful when the adults did it as when the kids did it because youngsters are closer to youngsters and they relate better. But it became a prototype for tutorials all over the state. And at one point they had a meeting on it at Fairleigh Dickinson and both Harvey and Peter, I remember, went to that meeting.. It was very funny because Peter wanted to act grown up so he smoked a pipe and Harvey was a pipe smoker. I mean he always had a pipe in his hand. So Harvey said to me later, he told Peter, if he didn't smoke a pipe that he, Harvey, would not, so neither of them smoked pipes. And they talked to people, from allover the state about how they came into being; what they saw as its positives; what's the best way to develop it. I still think that tutorials are a very important way of going but I still think that it is best when youngsters tutor youngsters and adults stay out of it..
(I) I don't believe it is in effect now. Do you know anything?
(N) I don't know. I teach at Kean College. I have been there twenty years and most of the work that I do at the college or volunteer work professionally has been basically in Union and Essex County. So I really don't know.
Teaching on a college level, I've seen changes in youngsters and I've talked about it to both my kids and my daughter and son and son-in-law are in their middle thirties now and my son-in-law was one of these same type of kids who was very involved, he was living in Paterson at the time, and they've all said how lucky they were that they were born then and that they were in because that was a time of great involvement for students. These were the same students who got involved in the anti Viet Nam War later on when they were in college and involved on their campuses and off their campuses but they said there was an excitement about being involved because teens need that. It makes them feel that they're important and that there is something that they are looking forward to and that they are part of what is going on in life and I feel very sad today because I think many of the teens who have gone to drugs or have gotten into trouble other ways or who just feel a dreadful sense of loneliness, I think it is because they, this isn't a time of an involvement. This is a very selfish time. This is a time when it is a "me" time and I see it. It is quite different.
(I) Well, now, do you think we've finished with the schools? Do you want to go on to the time of Viet Nam, the 1960s and Viet Nam? Do you know very much about activities that were going on at that time?
(N) Well I think the town was sort of divided like the town is divided on everything else and I remember our rabbi was very outspoken. Anti Viet Nam. In his own congregation it was divided in terms of people who felt that it was none of his business and he should stay with rabbinical subjects. Of course we, in this house, thought it was great. Our children were extreme£y involved in this in a very non-violent way. I remember once they were going to Washington and I felt like we were a stop on the underground railroad because both of them said could they have friends come with them and they came with maps and they, and gas masks, because they were afraid they were going to be . . remember that? And we were telling funny jokes and they were
(I) That must have been the first March on Washington.
(N) Yeah. And they were explaining how they were told to hold hands. That was the time when they were caught in that, they were to block bridges, and my son was coming from at that time from Ithaca and my daughter was coming from Boston and they both had maps of the area but they had been trained by older people who said, now you are not to get angry and what you are to do. And I remember a lot of them ended up in this big field where Nixon had illegally put them or something. Luckily our kids rang doorbells and people took them in. So they slept in strangers homes that night. But it was a vary hard time to be a parent and yet we felt that, I mean we were very much with them in terms of what they were doing.
(I) But didn't people from Teaneck go down in buses or was that a later march?
(N) No, Teaneck went down. We didn't go with them I remember. Grownups did go. We didn't. I don't know why we didn't go.
(I) Because do you know Marcia Strean? I interviewed her. She was involved in that.
(I) And then this went on and the war was over and you've been in Teaneck until very recently and how have you found the changes over those years in Teaneck?
(N) I think part of my problem was that we had a lot of family medical problems and I was very busy working in school at that time on, not in school but in the community on problems related to infants and toddlers and I was working, doing a great deal of work in Newark at the time so that I think we were sort of out of it at that time.
(I) Well I think after you've had enough, you sort of leave it to somebody else to do it.
(N) We had been active in the A.F.S. Actually not active as much as Libby Machol was very active and she had called us up one time and said would we be willing to take a student and I remember the fun of it was we said yes, we would, but we discussed it as a family and the children thought they would and Mort thought so and that was important and I remember the fun of it was that you had to, everyone in the family had to write a composition for the A.F.S. on why you wanted a student and I remember the children saying that it was important to be community minded and nationally minded and in the same way, we used to have so many of these meetings at our house and their favorite way of playing when they were very young was to play meeting and they would play with all their dolls and they would bring every chair into the living room and put all their dolls on them. And I remember getting a call from Libby saying would you be willing to break the color line and we said sure, for Bergen County. We were thinking we were going to get. . we wanted a girl not a boy because my daughter's bedroom was bigger than my son's so we were going to put her on the third floor because she could have her own room but we felt there would be times when she would be very lonely and if she were, then she should be able to sleep with someone. So we thought we were going to get a black youngster from Africa. We thought that's what they meant by the color line but they meant Indian. And the interesting thing is that in India, they had told Venea that when she went into New York City, she was always to wear her sari so she should not be taken for someone who was black because the United States was terrible about black people.
(I) And this was when, what year?
(N) 1968. Even at the high school, there was, the Margaret Street, I remember my daughter Berta saying that, funny I called her Berta in those days, now she is Bobbie, that I don't know if it still is but blacks used to come in the Margaret Street door. I remember Bobbie used to sit on the Margaret Street bridge with them. I hope it is no longer like that, I don't know.
(I) Well I have heard about a black door which they wouldn't let the white students use.
(N) See in those days it wasn't that. In those days, I think it was that many blacks were uncomfortable because Bobbie and her friends who were white used to go in and out that door. I mean they didn't fell that way. They wanted to use it because they were showing their support for the black youngsters.
(I) Well I think it did become. . there was a period when there was a certain amount of hostility allover. Now do you think there is anything else we should talk about? Do you think you are finished? So I can turn this over to Morty. Thank you very much. This is the end of the interview with June Handler and on the reverse side, I will interview Morton Handler.
(END OF SIDE I - BEGIN SIDE 2) Interview with Morton Handler
(I) I am interviewing Morton Handler about, and we are starting off with Harvey Scribner who was the superintendent of schools under whom our schools were desegregated.
(N) When Harvey first broached his plan for integration, it was sometime shortly before I recall a Board of Education election and the issues which divided the members into a very distinct division was for integration or against integration. For busing as Harvey Scribner posed (inaudible) and there were very sharp lines. That was the only issue. It was a one issue election. And the first time, the first election at that time, the anti-integration- forces won out and I remember being down at the Town Hall where the election results were coming in and the adults and the school children were there and at first when the results came in which showed that the anti-integration forces were going to win, the kids linked arms and they sang WE SHALL OVERCOME. And then a year later when the next election was out it was reversed.
(I) And they started busing. I understand that Harvey Scribner had had a plan before the busing plan for integration and that was, I think it must have been the same thing as what they have Magnet Schools now that people would send their children voluntarily.
(N) I don't think so. I don't remember that.
(I) You don't think so. Maybe it was beforehand.
(N) I don't think that was part of his plan.
(I) I am interested in why it won the second time and not the first time. Had anything happened in between?
(N) It may have been a combination of a referendum on new school buildings and on the Board of Education election that it was felt that we believed that people would vote the so called "right way" without being pushed and that when the election results came out, we found that we had to organize the way the other group was doing and so there was a very strong political drive and organization to see that the other side was (inaudible)
(I) I see. And you were successful.
(N) Yes. The schism at that time between integration people and anti-integration people was so strong that neighbors who were friends just weren't talking to each other anymore. It was that bitter.
(I) What happened after when it was over. Do you think things became less bitter among. .
(N) Yes I do.
(I) They went back. People found it didn't really make an awful lot of difference.
(I) I have heard that the A.C.L.U., the American Civil Liberties Union Chapter of Bergen County was organized in Teaneck. Could you tell me something about that?
(N) Yes. Originally when I first came to the American Civil Liberties Union, it was a Bergen/Passaic Chapter and it was decided that the time had come for Bergen County to have its own chapter.
(I). Do you remember the date?
(N) No, I don't. It must have been probably in 64 or 65.
(I) Was there any particular reason for starting a new chapter that you can remember?
(N) Yes. We felt that Bergen County because of the problems in Bergen County should not be diluted in the Bergen/Passaic Chapter and there were so many people in Bergen County, the population had grown, that we felt that Bergen County should have its own chapter. And the organization meeting really was held in our living room again.
(I) A lot of things started there, didn't they?
(N) And my son was studying law at the time, or pre-law at college and he took the chairmanship of that meeting and it was he who tried to organize, get the chapter and temporary officers so that it could be organized.
(I) Do you remember any specifi.c activities that specifically concerned Teaneck involving the A.C.L.U.?
(N) No I don't.
(I) I'd like to go back to the business about busing and Harvey Scribner and your part in it because I understand you did do a lot of publicity for that.
(N) When we organized the Teaneck League for Better Schools and then later the T.C.P.S. or Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools, I assumed the public relations job and I used to, I don't remember whether I called or I wrote Bill Orio! who was then handling Teaneck and later Carl Buscher for THE RECORD and they were, both of these men were pro integration and I did a bit of writing for them. (inaudible) were used very freely by both sides and we learned that the other side, which I guess was the Taxpayers League, was going to distribute a flyer and it was felt that we, the Teaneck League for Better Schools had better get to work and do something too. And I had to get up at three o'clock in the morning to get up and write it so it would get out on time. And June as I recall reached over to turn off the alarm clock and she hurt her back.
(I) I hope you realize that time wasn't necessarily on your side at that time. Were there any other things that you remember about it? What sort of things did you write that you remember?
(N) Well it was on a public relations basis on what we were for and what we were going to do and what we did do in order to organize our efforts.
(I) Who distributed, you or the kids?
(N) Well no, all the work was done in articles in THE RECORD. THE RECORD was pro integration at that time and I made sure that the articles went to Oriol and Buscher.
(I) Thank you very much Morty. And June, you had something more you wanted to say.
(N) In the same way that our children look back on this time with pride, I think we do and I think something else. I think it drew a cohesiveness amongst all of us and many of us were not actually seeing each other socially but to this day, when any of us see each other, we just put our arms around each other and have to kiss and talk about it. It is always a good feeling. It is almost like a password that we were part of a moment and that what we did was meaningful.
(I) Well, you changed Teaneck.
(N) And we changed Teaneck. Well, if we hadn't, someone else would have because it was a time when young people were coming out. Just after the war, and I am sure it happened in many other places.
(I) Thank you very much..
(N) You're welcome.
END OF TAPE