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: Eleanor Kieliszek
INTERVIEWER: Helen Klein
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    July 9 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (11/6/1984)

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(N) Yeah, and I didn’t say anything at the time but that was my first inkling that there was a remnant of that sort of person, people who weren’t comfortable in living in a community that Teaneck would become. But since I had come from New York city to me it was only natural that one would look around and find all sorts of people in, all different kinds of people in your community. But as I do recall at that time, as we looked at the board of education, it was dominated by white protestant males although there was one woman who came on, Carolyn Day Harsh, as I recall, was the first one I can remember but (end of side 1-begin side-2)

(N) Yes, I think there were more people who ran for the board from the newly emerging Jewish community as those years went on and there was I recall when the first black was elected to the board of education and as a matter of fact, I was a contributor to his campaign and that was Lamar Jones. He was a member of the Methodist church, perhaps the first black member of the Methodist church down on DeGraw Avenue and he and his wife were both teachers and that was a very interesting time. It was breaking new ground.

(I) Yes, was there much opposition to him when he ran?

(N) I don’t recall it at that time because I was fortunate to always be involved in groups that were interested in opening up the community rather than closing it up. The more conservative groups seemed to be on the wane. Or I wasn’t involved with them. So

(I) Or else they didn’t vote.

(N) Oh they did. There were periods when the whole school integration issue came up. I was part of a study group in the league of women voters that was looking at it.

(I) That started about 1954, didn’t it?

(N) That’s right.

(I) Can you go into that a little more?

(N) Well I was busily having a baby at that time and didn’t participate as actively as I might have if I were not pregnant. I had to resign my presidency of the League of Women Voters. Can you picture that? These days resigning from your presidency because you are pregnant.

(I) Even then I can’t imagine it.

(N) Well I did. But I was prolifically active but not as you would call Senator Feldman, many of the present people who are active in town were very deeply involved in that integration battle. And I was on the fringe of it because of my retirement, my retirement as the, well I became a mother sort of somewhat later. There was a big period between my first children and the last one. But my daughter went to the first Central Kindergarten.

(I) Oh that’s interesting. Was that at Bryant?

(N) That’s right. So she became ready for, I was having a baby while that whole battle was working out and the, by the time all of the all of it had sort of boiled down, may be it wasn’t the first she was in one of the first classes that were held at Bryant, the kindergarten school.

(I) Of course, all this involved busing. That was part of the

(N) That’s right. Yes, I remember that whole, lived through it. It was a time when there were disagreements among families and if we learned anything from that, it was that with good will and there are a lot of people who really made tremendous efforts. I was in the auditorium the night that the Board of Education voted on the integration plan and I was here in Teaneck the night that Martin Luther King was killed and the tremendous outpouring of grief was it was so moving, great big event was held at the high school. Archie Lacey who was, had worked with Martin Luther King, lead the evening’s event and also participated in one of those Marches in Newark after the riots in Newark and people from the suburbs went down to Newark to show their support for people who were trying to bring peace to the riot areas.

(I) That was a time of great turmoil and yet everything seems to work out in those instances fairly well, don’t you think so?

(N) Well, the issue isn’t over yet.

(I) Well no but, how do you think it has worked out in Teaneck?

(N) I think that Teaneck has handled it better than most municipalities. I don’t think that we’ve had all successes. After all, we now have, we’ve reached a point where we have a black Mayor, we have a black President of the Board of Education, blacks are elected to the Board of Education regularly and so all those things representation in a way has been achieved. I know that there are those who believe that affirmative action has not been as successful as they might like it to be in municipal hiring but as a member of the governing body that when Isaac McNatt, the first black elected to the council and a dear friend, when he introduced the first affirmative action program resolution, we thought it was quite revolutionary but since then, it has been carried out to the best of our ability. The manager is responsible for the affirmative action implementation and if you look right next door, we see black executives in the municipal building although there are many people who come in here and believe that because a person is black and a woman, she is not an executive. But we have made a conscious policy of hiring blacks. Where we have perhaps been a failure is in the civil service area and police. We’ve not been as successful as we’d like to be because of the lack of applicants but we have to deal with state civil service, our record of recruiting blacks to the police department has been poor and that’s one area that we attempted to do something about several years ago by trying to pursue Teaneck High School students to consider the police department as a career place but of course that was in the area, in the period when young people were looking upon the police as pigs. I hope that is over now and that more young people will start looking at the police department as a place.

(I) We do have black policemen.

(N) We have black policemen we have a good number. But the community, the black community feels it is not enough.

(I) If they don’t come, if you can’t recruit them, I wonder what the reason is. Do you have any idea?

(N) No I don’t. It is not because we haven’t explored it. I feel that, knowing what I do about the attempts that have been made over and over again, to get blacks into our uniformed services and we are still doing it, we are still doing it, one has to look at ones own conscience. And if you feel that you’ve done everything

(I) Yes, then you just relax.

(N) No you don’t relax. You keep on trying. But nevertheless, you cannot beat your breast. I believe that the Teaneck school system has done perhaps a better job than any other school system I know of in recruiting black teachers because they’ve gone all over the country to

(I) Well they advertise too.

(N) We advertise on a municipal level for employees. We advertise in all the black publications. We notify the Urban League. We notify the NAACP and the chief is committed to finding people to take the test and become part of the police department.

(I) Now it is interesting that everybody does talk about blacks and Jews in Teaneck. I mean this is the things that have been worked out. But there are other, many other diverse ethnic groups in Teaneck. I think there are some Indians, there are some Asians.

(N) I would say that is occurring a little slowly, sort of coming upon us in the last ten years. Less than that. Six to eight years. We see Philippinos, Indians, Asians. Teaneck is a place where a person who may not feel comfortable living in Alpine for financial reasons or, let’s say other reasons, the rest of the county is largely closed with the exception of Englewood and Teaneck and Hackensack. If one is a member of an ethnic group, racial group that is not considered to be part of the white community, you cannot fine a home in

(I) That’s in spite of all those state laws about it.

(N) The state laws are not effective and I recently attended the conference out at Starratt City that was conducted by a nationwide group called National Neighbors and other metropolitan areas, in Chicago and other parts of the country have experienced this same thing. While they may be doing well in terms of integration, the white flight has largely stopped. The fact that in a suburban area there is just one central core where blacks or Asians or Philippinos or south Americans, Columbians for instance, Hackensack has a large Columbian population, the fact that only these areas the small core area here in Bergen County and in other suburban areas around country are open to these groups means that the concentration grows and reghettoization occurs and that’s what we are seeing happening.

(I) Except that doesn’t it seem to be that Teaneck is fairly stable?

(N) Teaneck has made great efforts in that area to try to maintain because very early on, we attempted to control the activities of the real estate brokers and we were somewhat effective but until we do something about the larger county, I think that we are doomed maybe to reghettoization. It’s historic and it’s a place where we have to give our attention. As I said, when I attended this conference, I learned about groups in other parts of the country where they are going out into this larger county area and attempting to positively integrate them and, on the other hand, there are members of the black community who feel that the main concentration, as far as people of good will are concerned, are seeing to it that blacks are able to buy anywhere and if they choose to buy only in Teaneck, Englewood and Hackensack. That should be their choice. And one has to respect that view. But on the other hand, if you believe that integrated living is worth while, then you have to consider the other side of the question and that is, how do you maintain a community that has a racial composition that involves all people. I don’t know how you do it. Starrett City attempted to do it in a

(I) And they got in trouble with the law because of it, didn’t they?

(N) There was a court case and actually the court found, the court didn’t find, they came to an agreement. They came to a compromise. And it Starrett City is much more integrated than the figures would have you believe. But it is a question whether it can be done. When we talk about quotas these days, or any time, quotas are an Anathema to Americans but there are those who believe that affirmative action does not mean quotas. That it is achieving goals, setting standards. I think that is what we’ve tried to do in Teaneck.

(I) I have, in the ten years I’ve been here, I’ve been thinking of it as a fairly stable community.

(N) Well Teaneck has always, in my opinion, been at the center of the change and it’s changed in the thirty two years, no I guess it is more than thirty two years I’m, thirty six years married, well it is over thirty three years that I’ve been here. I’ve seen nothing but change and we shouldn’t be surprised.

(I) No but I was just thinking, it seems to be fairly stable in the time I’ve been here. Not much change here or there. I am just talking about the neighborhood where I live.

(N) Well it is probably true in your neighborhood.

(I) It is very settled.

(N) That’s probably true. We don’t have the panic that occurred when blacks first started to move into Teaneck in numbers.

(I) Yeah, well that was partly real estate doings, wasn’t it really?

(N) I think it was.

(I) And it is a little harder for them to do that sort of thing in Teaneck. We do have local ordinances.

(N) We do have local ordinances and we do our very best to enforce them but we receive no assistance on the part of the state or there’s very little help in the courts.

(I) I guess since these are private deals, it is hard to find out what’s going to happen. Now I think I will end it here unless you have some further statement you’d like to make about Teaneck. You’ve gone through a lot of things here.

(N) That’s true. I, as I have reviewed these things in my mind, I realize that we haven’t talked about so many more things.

(I) Well what would you like to talk about?

(N) I wouldn’t like to do any more today. But it is almost like scratching the surface of the history that I’ve participated in and it’s been a privilege, a real privilege, to have been part of a governing body, to have been the first woman appointed to the planning board, to have been the first woman councilman, the first woman Mayor and to have served, this is my fourth term on the Teaneck council and it’s been a privilege for me to have been able to serve the people of Teaneck. It has been an education for me and I wish I could get across to people now, the citizens that have supported me all these years, and even to those people who have not, how grateful I am for the opportunity to be part of this very unusual community, very unusual.

(I) I do want to ask you one more question. What do you think of the fact that although you were the first woman Mayor, there hasn’t been a woman Mayor since and that you were the first woman on the planning board, there are some other women, but there is only one other female member of the council. What do you think? I mean wouldn’t you have expected that having broken this ground, there would be more women?

>(N) Well that’s why I presently am president of the New Jersey Association for Elected Women and I was part of a group of women who went to Yale to conference and the New Jersey group got together and decided that it was our duty to recruit women to urge them and to educate them to help them get started in politics. Now why is there only one other women? I can’t tell you that. I certainly would do my best to recruit women but of course Teaneck has this, well we are non-partisan, actually a group of people to get together and run together and it’s, since my first term, I have not done that. I feel it is more important for carry out the intent, what I believe to be the intent, of our form of Government is that you present yourself as an individual and then whatever body gets elected as a team and so the team the last time included two women, one of whom resigned. Of course they didn’t expect me to get elected.

(I) No, that’s true.

(N) But I would like to see more women become involved. Especially younger women.

(I) Do you think that it used to be that people from the League of Women Voters were more involved in local politics than they are now?

(N) You have to, serving in public office involves great sacrifice in terms of financial returns, in terms of time taken away from your family. These days most women who would have belonged to the same type of women who belonged to the League of Women Voters when I got involved are now out working at their profession and when they get back to the township after a day in New York or a day out in the county, or even if they conduct their profession at home, or their business at home, they do not have time for the civic activity that they used to have.

(I) (Inaudible)

(N) Well they don’t have to run a home too. Maybe as time goes on and more and more share with their wives the upkeep of the home, and of course families will be smaller, but I’d like to see us get women involved before, even before they marry and we see that on the partisan political level. I recently was appointed to the platform committee of the democratic party and spent a week in Washington and I can’t tell you how thrilling it was, Geraldine Ferraro was the chairperson and the young women who were involved, the staff people who came as delegates. And I am going out to San Francisco next Sunday to the convention so the whole area of my latter political life has been, has broadened since I left the office of Mayor. We’ve only had two Mayors since I left. I would like to see women get out there in force and participate especially in their home town. I mean women are sensitive to the issues.

(I) They do get involved I think in parent teacher associations when their children are in school. Don’t you think so?

(N) That’s true.

(I) But that’s about it.

(N) I think too women should become more concerned and especially in Teaneck about this whole question of our high taxes. There’s an incredible cost of living in this community and redevelopment while it has eased some of the burden is not the only answer. The answer is cost containment and we are not, in my opinion, considering the young family in terms of our tax rate. We keep thinking of the past when people’s incomes were rising and they

(I) In the 60s, anything went.

(N) Yeah, we could do anything. Every time we looked around there was a new proposal for building new schools and I supported those during that period but we have to realize that the young families find it very hard with our very high tax rate and I see that as one of our problems. If we don’t do something about that, we are denying our own children places to live.

(I) Okay, thank you very much.

 

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