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This is Orra Davage interviewing Evelyn Parker for the Teaneck Public Library Oral History project.
(I) Evelyn, when did you move to Teaneck?
(I) How is it you moved to Teaneck and not some other place. How did you happen to choose it?
(N) Purely accidental. My husband was in private practice in Connecticut and he was becoming disillusioned because he found that more and more housewives and children that he saw during practice were having trouble coping and that there wasn’t really anything physically wrong with them. Some families ran into a lot of emotional problems in suburbia and he inadvertently said one day, if I had it to do all over again, he said, you know, I see a big need in psychiatry. I think I would have gone into that and I said, well why don’t you; and he said, well I can’t; and I said well why can’t you and he couldn’t come up with a good reason so the next thing you know, he was off to New York for a residency in psychiatry, we drew a circle around the area, and started looking for housing.
(I) Did you use a local real estate agent or did you use an agent at all?
(N) You know, I didn’t remember. I think we must have because we didn’t know anyone in this area but I know in Westchester we did. But Westchester was ruled out for one reason or another and we came across the bridge and landed in Teaneck, saw a house on Shepard Avenue that was affordable and considered it temporary while he was in a residency.
(I) Did you go to any other houses in town or do you remember. You said you weren’t familiar with the area.
(N) As a matter of fact, I think that we saw two or three. I don’t know whether you remember those days, but there were just one or two blocks we were shown houses on.
(I) That’s what I am trying to figure out where these houses were that you were shown.
(N) Shepard Avenue. All on Shepard Avenue. In fact, we bumped into another couple looking at one of the houses on Shepard Avenue. They bought that one; we bought another one, and became good friends. They had children the same age.
(I) So you became neighbors.
(N) Yes, Shepard Avenue at that time was going through a drastic change. Do you want to call it blockbusting?
(I) Well that’s what they called it in the newspaper.
(N) Whatever. So we ended up in a house on Shepard Avenue. We weren’t really too concerned because we considered it temporary. And you know again in those days you know what renting was.
(I) Tell me. What was renting?
(N Difficult. You couldn’t rent. As a matter of fact, when Noel was doing an internship and a residency, we had look for a house in Brooklyn and there (inaudible) because again renting.
(I) He wouldn’t rent to blacks.
(N) It was out of the question. And it seemed to be the same situation here for decent housing. So we thought about purchasing and then there was a limited area and who cared, because we weren’t going to be here that long so we bought a house and it was a nice little house and incidentally, we turned out loving the neighborhood because, you want to know the truth, the people that were moving in were a lot more intelligent, a lot more interesting and a lot more concerned about their property than the people that were moving out. They were staid, very uninteresting people and uptight.
(I) When you moved in on the block, how many moved out during the course of your stay there?
(N) While we were on Shepard Avenue. I think it turned over, well it is easier to count the whites that remained. I don’t even know how many houses are on the block but it is a long block and I think by the time we left, there were three whites left. And when we moved in, there were three black families or something like that.
(I) Shepard Avenue goes from Teaneck Road down to, what it that, down to the Englewood border because it is still Shepard after you get down there, isn’t it? So that’s a pretty long street. Well was the Teaneck Civic Conference still active when you were there?
(N) That sounds familiar.
(I) These are people
(N) Incidentally, we our house from ( ) Shick who was very active in
(I) Oh, you bought the house from the Shicks. They were
(N) So we were immediately introduced to Liberal circles and, if you will pardon the expression. But and it is funny the people that welcomed us to the neighborhood and were protesting about people running, they are all gone. And another thing that is funny, one of the neighbors who absolutely refused to speak to us was there longer than anybody. I don’t know whether that was economic or not. I don’t know but they didn’t go anyplace. Maybe they couldn’t afford to.
(I) That could be. That could be. Did
(N) They had their problems too down there. Integration comes hard.
(I) Segregation is harder. These liberal circles that Shicks introduced you to, what did they include? Was Kay a member of the League of women voters?
(N) I don’t know. Actually she didn’t introduce us to that.
(I) These were the people who lived in Teaneck.
(N) No we went to ethical culture. They went to ethical culture. I have been involved with ethical culture off and on sort of all my life. Not a member because I am not a joiner but we would frequently go to ethical culture and we found out that they went to ethical culture so we became involved in ethical culture and met a lot of people through that.
(I) Well that was at least a start in getting involved. Did you meet any Teaneck people
(N) Oh the Mayor. Oh no, not from ethical but
(I) Who was Mayor at the time?
(N) Matty Feldman. He’s been Mayor forever.
(I) Well longer than forever according to some people.
(N) Oh the League. I started to tell you about the League. We moved around, made a few moves with Noel’s school and training, and I found out one way to learn about the town is to join the League of women voters.
(I) I know. That’s how I met you.
(N) So whenever I would move into a town, I’d join the League of women voters. That’s one-way of learning about the town; one way of meeting
(I) People who can read
(N) Interesting. So this was about 58.
(I) Then our children must have been very small. Tell me what was your impression of the school system. That obviously was not a motivating factor in your moving to Teaneck.
(N) No and I’ve had good experiences. When the children were young, I had good experiences with the school system. I was active
(I) Now they went to neighborhood school which was Bryant, right?
(N) Okay, Janet is my oldest and then Judy and then Dean my only son and the baby. Their ages now are, oh my God, well 31, 28 and 25.
(I) Yeah. That sounds right.
(N) We don’t get old. They do.
(I) So they started their public school experience at Bryant School and you found that to be
(N) Well it was my first experience as a parent of school children. It was far from perfect but what is? I can tell you one anecdote that was hilarious. You know my children grew up through the civil rights movement and black consciousness. And my son was very involved. One of his heroes was the athlete who raised his fist at the Olympic Games.
(I) Oh yes.
(N) As a matter of fact, he had that poster on his wall and when our house was broken into and the police came in to investigate the crime, they were more interested in investigating the posters on my son’s wall and subsequently, I think we are someplace on somebody’s list because oddly enough, how many years have we figured out I’ve lived in Teaneck
(I) Twenty six years.
(N) You know I’ve never been called for Jury Duty. Never.
(I) Now that’s interesting. Now this happened soon after you got here. I mean that was in the early 60s wasn’t it.
(N) That’s when all of that started. But in any event, my son was feeling, stretching his muscles as a man and as a black man, and refused to salute the flag.
(I) Oh dear.
(N) Do you remember Engle Mather?
(I) Yes, principal of Bryant School.
(N) And also my son, I hate to tell you, is bright. Can I brag and say he is Phi Beta Kappa and has always, if I didn’t install anything else in my children, I taught them to think for themselves. To experience everything, listen to everything, but the final decision was theirs. And that, incidentally, included me. So whatever decision they made, and we would discuss them and they would give me their reasons and they would have to work it out and live it through, it was their decision to make. And my son made a decision not to salute the flag. Well the first thing the principal did was to contact us and I told him that it was his decision and that I wasn’t going to force him to so anything. Well why it was funny because periodically, Engle Mather would call him into the office and give him lectures on patriotism. Well this would happen during a lunch period, early in the morning
(I) He never took him out of a class to do this or did he?
(N) Well, we are getting to that. And he would come home and tell me about it and I would say, do you want me to, and he would say no. He was enjoying it thoroughly. And you know, what can I tell you about being a smart Alec kid. However, one day he took him out of a class and I said, this is no longer your decision. Now I have got to interfere. And I went up and I told the principal that he could have discussions with Dean any time he wanted to. He could even keep him after school. But that I resented it, that I didn’t want him ever to deprive him of classroom instructions to give him a cockamamie, and he kept saying, well I don’t understand his attitude, you know. You’re doing all right. What do you want? You don’t even bother, you know. You don’t even bother to discuss what makes a man feel like a man, you know. You don’t even go through the history and the aspect of racism that effect our children. So I just said, look if you spar intellectually with my son, go ahead, but just do not deprive him of his classroom instruction. So that was one of the funny things that happened in the school system. Another thing, I will just tell you the incident that we had, another thing, always my son.
(I) Well, why not?
(N) Reason why my son is because he, you know, he would meet it head on. My oldest daughter, she is a con artist. And you know, she just would con her way through and around things and my middle daughter didn’t want to deal with it at all so she came to us and said that she didn’t and she knew, you know, Ed Carpenter in town who is the headmaster of Harlem Prep. And you know what Harlem Prep is about.
(I) Sure. I visited
(N) And she said, I want to go to Harlem Prep and again, with the decision making, she went to Harlem Prep instead of Teaneck High School but the interesting thing, when she graduated from Junior High, she was voted the most likely to succeed in her class.
(I) I was just going to say, now did she have any kind of experiences like Dean in school but she just saw the way her things were going she was sensitive to
(N) You know what happened. Dean would meet it head on. One of the things, I think, and yeah I remember one of the incidents when they were not the recipient but they observed another child and I think the teacher had said something about, you know, typical stupid racist remark. Go back to the jungle where you came from or something like that. And I sat down and I talked with my children and I told them, I said that they need never sit and take an insult from a teacher. That if a teacher even said any thing to them like that, they were to get up, walk out of the class, go to the phone and call me because I have a lot of respect for teachers and I think teachers have a big job to do. But I am also aware that teachers sometimes are frustrated people who teach because they can’t do anything else and have a captive audience and dump their stuff on kids period. And if there is an overtone or an undertone of racism, then they can dump that too. And if I can help it. It is sort of like pollution in the air, you got to breath it but you try to avoid it as much as possible and deal with it and that’s the way I feel about racism and they are going to have to learn how to deal with it because it is there like the pollution in the air but when they were young and going to feel impotent that they had to sit and let someone dump their racial feelings on my children, no way, no way!
(I) So her solution was, after Junior High, I want out. I mean her way of dealing with it
(N) In all honesty, I can’t. There were some negative feelings about the Teaneck School system because feeling were beginning to come, but I think it also was a positive feeling about going to Harlem Prep. So it was six of one, half dozen of another. It wasn’t total rejection of this school because her experiences have been fairly good.
(I) In other words, she hadn’t run into things like Dean had to deal with because he provoked some of the things too.
(N) Well, one of the things. He was a good student. And he brings home a report card with A’s, I don’t even remember now, but normally A’s and B’s and then all of a sudden it is ‘D’ in something, math or some such. I don’t even remember what it was. So at back to school night, we spent all of our time in that room. Teacher was, I can’t even remember his name but he was a ding-a-ling. Okay. And we stayed after and we asked him about Dean. ‘Oh, you know, he’s a nice boy. I said yeah, he’s pretty good. We like him. But we wanted to know why Dean got a ‘D’. Bottom line after much going around, he opened a book and all Dean’s grades were A’s. But if he was two minutes late to class, he’d get a zero. Just crazy stuff. I don’t even remember what. If he spoke out in class without raising his hand, he got a zero. And all of these zeros were indicated behavior and attitude rather than, so I said, look, and I’m serious about this when I get a report card, that report card is going to tell me what my children have learned, what skills they have acquired. Now, if you don’t like their attitude, and incidentally I’m making him sound horrible - he’s not - he was captain of the basketball team, he was very popular and he’s a very nice kid. He just feisty. Okay. Well, let’s put it this way. What do we label a black man, boy, child when he is like this and what do we label a white child, boy, child when he is like this? And my child had a certain amount of aggression in him which is not always accepted or tolerated in a black child. Howsoever, he isn’t that bad. But he’ll challenge, you know. If you are talking about a history class or whatever you’re using all kinds of examples, he will raise his hand and ask about Africa and you know sometimes the reaction to that. And then he keeps pushing. Well, you know, it does exist and it’s got a history and blah blah blah. And these are the kinds of things that we would be marked down on. And I don’t agree with that and I don’t approve. What’s the purpose of the report card? Because I want my son to have certain skills that he needs, that’s all I want. In fact, I told Emil Masser this.
(I) Was this in Elementary School?
(N) No, this was in High School. But I remember telling Masser that and I guess maybe they did it for me, but I said I felt very confident to teach my children their sex education. Their morality, their patriotism. And I said but if you want to go at it, be my guest but I felt that there were certain things that came out of the home and I was very satisfied to leave them in the home. That the job I saw the school doing was teaching, in fact some people complained that we were dumping too much on the schools. In fact, I don’t even need my children to pray in school. If I am hung up on prayer, we will say a family prayer. And I don’t look to the schools for concrete skills and a certain amount of maturing, getting along with their peers
(I) Social skills.
(N) Yes. Also when you think about it, public schools are probably the most democratic experience. And this is why I think they miss the boat a lot of times. It is the most democratic experience a lot of kids have, particularly white kids, because for whatever they say we do as an isolated little cubicles (inaudible) but I think whatever white church you go into, you’ll see a few black faces. I really don’t see many white faces in black churches. But when you look at society in its entirety, there are big areas of segregation and the one integrated area could be the public schools. And should be, you want my views on integration?
(I) Yeah. I said this brings us to, you know, this is what was being said.
(N) Because I want you to know that when I talk about integration, I am not talking about I want to socialize. The realty is that we live in an integrated world and in America we live in a predominantly white world. We are getting smaller and there are a lot of people who are having a lot of trouble with each other and that’s why I am an advocate of integration. However, I don’t think I would get that up tight if my children went to an all black school. Obviously, my daughter did.
(I) Where did she go to school?
(N) Harlem Prep. Remember my daughter.
(I) Oh, she started
(N) She went to Harlem Prep and also when they went to college, both my daughters wanted to go to a black school.
(I) Did they tell you why? Was there something
(N) They were probably sick of integration. I must tell you, let’s go back to ethical culture. I don’t belong to any church, which has nothing to do with my belief in a creator. I mean in a God. Organized religion is something else but we won’t get into that. However, one of the things that I felt I could take the children to in good conscience without too much a fascination, because again, let them make up their minds, was ethical culture. So occasionally we would go to ethical culture. Well, that was hilarious because, were we the only black family at that time, maybe there were other blacks but I think we were the only ones with children and it was funny because they had, actually the Sunday school wasn’t bad, it was a good experience except for the children who’d be talking and they’d ask questions and they’d all, but if one of my children started to say something- quiet, quiet! – We want to hear. I mean, you know. I mean they were so eager. What can I tell you about a white
(I) I guess still standing out in the crowd. In other words, you can’t blend in.
(N) You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Either they don’t want you or they go overboard but if you are going to be liberal, then they are going to embrace you and like everything that came out of my children weren’t pearls of wisdom and they were kids. But they didn’t want to go back there.
(I) And you can’t fool children either.
(N) No. There is an honesty in children that is delightful. And I think my children had just had it with integration and liberal folks.
(I) Well at this time, being that the schools were really, the school population as really white so that they were really in the minority particularly in the High School level. You know, when you all came together in one school and I imagine they decided to be a little more in the majority for a change.
(N) Also, fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t know, there are a lot of things I don’t know but avoided the suburban middle class atmosphere.
(I) Had they ever been south?
(N) No. As a matter of fact, well Jen went to Lincoln in Pennsylvania but Judy wanted to go Spellman in Atlanta, Georgia and we went down twice. We went down to visit and then we went down there to apply. I fell in love with Atlanta, Georgia. (Inaudible) but no I hadn’t been south that much either but I liked Atlanta. I found one thing refreshing about the south and I understood something. People, I heard people say, because my family is northern on both my father’s side and my mother’s side.
(I) Did you grow up in New York State?
(N) Hudson Valley. Up old northern New York State black families and I heard people say that if the racial situation was ever going to be resolved, it would be in the south because there was a certain basic honesty there that wasn’t, and I can testify to that. You know. Talk about gentlemen’s agreement. And I am talking about northern blacks. Swore up and down there was no segregation. Of course there wasn’t. The lines were drawn. They were invisible and they were agreed to. There were places you didn’t go. Things you didn’t do and so as far as you were concerned, and there weren’t that many blacks, so that it wasn’t a big issue and I remember hearing my older relatives say, we never had any trouble until all those southerners started, you know, southern blacks started coming up here and they adopted, that is one of the big problems with integration. You know what integration is? Integration is black people becoming white people in attitude and a lot of northern blacks were integrated so that they had all the prejudices and attitudes of whites even though they didn’t have the privileges and so they adopted a lot of prejudicial attitudes about all the Niggers coming up from the south, you know what I am saying? However, things started to move then. You know Playland, Rye Beach. It was understood. Nobody ever went to the pool. You know who challenged that and brought that down? It wasn’t a northern black because that agreement was so deeply inbred.
(I) This goes back to the sit-ins in the south, right? Around that time when they were
(N) Maybe a little before that but it was in the beginning. What was I talking about? Integration.
(I) In the swimming pool.
(N) I was talking about what integration truly means. You become acceptable to us and we will integrate you. What is acceptability? You act like us, you think like us. You know, you become, what is that famous designation – Oreo?
(I) And the situation apples to Teaneck too, of course?
(N) Listen, we had a ball. Hey, my husband is a doctor and I remember when I was on Teaneck Road in the A&P and a black fellow in a pair of overalls and heavy work boots, obviously a construction worker, came in and they said, oh my God, look what’s moving into Teaneck now.
(I) Talking to you?
(I) Isn’t that interesting?
(N) I found it disgusting but, you know, but at least he was working.
( End of side A- Begin side B)
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