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I am talking to Dr. Phoebe Slade, one of the founders of Teaneck Together.
(I) What is Teaneck Together?
(N) Teaneck Together was a group of citizens who were concerned about the racial steering practices that were going on by the brokers in Teaneck and we decided that something should be done about the practices. These practices, as you probably know, are illegal. Racial steering is illegal, and we felt that something very definitely should be done. What was happening was that black families were being encouraged to move into Teaneck and the white families were being dissuaded. They were being asked to, not asked but they were being shown other communities in the area in Bergen County where either there was very little, a very small black population or none at all.
(I) Did this group effect or change policies in the town?
(N) Yes. Teaneck Together started in 1973. We went before the town council and we informed them of what was actually going on and the town council, the township council, passed a resolution, Resolution #390-74 on December 17th of 1974 and the resolution was to, let me get this straight, the resolution involved setting up a Public Relations Program that could provide information to prospective homeowners, real estate brokers and realtors on the merits of living in the township of Teaneck.
Let me backtrack just a moment. I just want to talk a bit about Teaneck Together. Teaneck Together was composed of many, many people who had similar feelings about Teaneck. Everyone of them felt that Teaneck was a wonderful community and moved to this community because of its diversity, its religious diversity, its ethnic diversity, its class diversity, and we wanted the community to stay just this way and did not appreciate and reacted emotionally to this racial steering that was ongoing - at first very subtle and then of course we met other families who were indeed steered and many white families who were steered and resented this practice and therefore decided that they wanted to move into Teaneck anyway and did and some of these people became members of Teaneck Together.
We have a, the group was extremely large and many well-known citizens in Teaneck were a part of this group. I think that everyone of them actually deserves some recognition for the wonderful involvement that was shown by all. Going back now to the town council, it was after we had gotten our facts together and made our presentation, did the township council then become concerned and interested in what it was that we were doing. They became so concerned that they indeed, let me go back again, Teaneck Together became a committee, a viable committee, in 1973. And we worked until about into 74 when the council became aware of what it was that we were doing and gave us support. We decided, along with the members of the council, that something substantive needed to be done and we worked also with the Bergen County Committee on Housing, I am not quite sure if that is the exact title, but that is a strong organization that has been concerned with racial steering for many years in Bergen County.
We did testing with them. We would send out white potential buyers and black potential buyers - these people of course were actors - they were attempting to find out where the brokers were steering white families and where they were steering black families and when the testers went out, they had, they were both aware of, they had a fact sheet and they knew exactly what to say and their stories were basically similar in terms of what it was they were looking for. They both looked for the same type of house, within the same price range, with the same number of rooms and so forth so a lot of the information had to be similar so that when the brokers showed the black family and the kinds of things that they said to the black family, these things were recorded and if they said that this house is not available for a variety of reasons, that too was noted. When the white family went in and wanted to see basically the same, well not basically, did request to see the same house because of the same specs, if the broker showed them the house and told them that the house was available, then we knew therefore that the broker was practicing steering, racial steering.
When we got all our information together, we then went back to the council with this information and the council then decided that after they reviewed the data that perhaps we needed to have a survey done of the community to find out just what Teaneck's strengths were and what their weaknesses were as a residential community and they engaged the services of T. J. Ross & Associates and that was in 1975. Basically they wanted to see if T. J. Ross would, what kinds of data they would come up with in terms of what were the perceptions of the residents within the community and if these residents were new residents, how did they decide to live in Teaneck and if they were old residents, what their conceptions were at the time.
After we engaged the services of T. J. Ross, or just prior to that, let me backtrack again, the council drew up a special task force of which I was a part of and that was called the Mayor's Special Task Force on Housing and this was done in 1975 and then it was through the work of this committee that we decided to engage the services of T. J. Ross. We had many, many public relations firms that we had sent out information to and they sent us bids and materials and we went about trying to select that particular firm that was going to be best for us and one in which the council approved and the council, of course, approved upon our recommendation on T. J. Ross. It was T. J. Ross who later then engaged the firm of Benson & Benson in Princeton to undertake the survey of the community opinion in Teaneck and we worked on the Task Force, we worked very closely with them as well as with T. J. Ross.
(I) What were the findings of the T. J. Ross Report?
(N) There were many findings that came out of the survey from Benson & Benson. They did a very extensive survey, I don't need to go into how they randomly sampled the population, not because it is not important but because it was quite detailed, the manner in which they went about selecting community residents and there were about 300 of them that were selected. The public relations program in terms of the findings that came out of this survey indicated, well first some of the findings indicated that people enjoyed living in Teaneck, they thought that the community was a stones throw from New York and therefore in terms of many people buying homes in suburban communities, they had easy access and fast access to New York City and Connecticut and also to Pennsylvania where many of them worked and they enjoyed the diversity of groups that lived here and they felt that it was a very rich environment in which to bring up their children. There were so many different cultural activities, educational activities, the people that lived in Teaneck were vibrant, dynamic, they would rally around a cause and they were extremely expressive and very, very much involved and these were very positive types of things that attracted many people to this community.
In terms of some of the public relations findings, there were many and a lot of these findings of course were developed predicated on the fact that something had to be done to thwart the steering practices of realtors so as a result of that, a public relations person was to be hired by the township to develop a newsletter, to talk to the realtors and to get them involved in the merits of a community such as Teaneck and also brochures were to be distributed to not only the brokers but also many different organizations in the community and surrounding communities. We also found that becoming involved with many of the organizations in town and making them aware of the kinds of dynamic activities that were ongoing was also an important part of good public relations. In addition to that, what was thought to be extremely important and that was an ongoing kind of activity regarding basically monitoring the real estate practices and this came about, the Teaneck Housing Information Center was one of the things that therefore was recommended and this was going to be a group I guess that's what you call it that would be advisory to the council but also would initiate its own activities to keep the idea of Teaneck as a viable community and as a wonderful community in which to live. For one to live and to bring up their children.
A part of the activities, of course, some of the activities were to develop a newsletter and in that newsletter they would talk about the merits of our school system, the kinds of people that are involved in a community such as this and to talk about many of the assets basically of Teaneck. The public relations firm was hired full time and the council, I believe, also had another person that was involved in public relations but not in public relations as it relates to housing. The person that they hired, they stayed in that position for about several years, I am not exactly sure of how many years, and he left to take a position with Marge Roukema the female state senator. It was then the responsibility of the Special Task Force to hire someone part time at first to take over some of his responsibilities and the council was agreeable and it was then that the Task Force started to interview people for that position.
We sent out letters to the press for people who might be interested in that particular position and we also sent to many community organizations and we did a very broad sweep, so to speak, to see that we could get the best person for this position. As it turned out, we did feel that the person that we did ultimately select was a fine person who was very, very involved in community activities and that person was Rori Kanter. After we talked to her and with many others interviewed many others, she was the person that received the majority of votes. It was then that Teaneck Housing Information Center evolved and it was her responsibility to set it up and she then set up a Board of Directors and I was a member of the Board of Directors for the advisory committee.
It was then that Rori and Jeanie Cole started making other kinds of contacts and started getting community development grants to make sure that the program was an ongoing viable program. They went to various communities all over the nation to see what kinds of information they could obtain to make their program a very good program and these were communities that were basically similar to Teaneck with population and percentage of population. That group is still very viable and they are the ones who are responsible for Discover Teaneck and they became involved with the Rotary and other corporate groups within the community to make sure that Teaneck still maintains a fine name and to make people on the outside of Teaneck aware of the kind of community that we have so that its reputation would never be indeed tarnished and also to work cooperatively with many of the realtors and real estate brokers all over Bergen County and outside of Bergen County as well and that basically is what has happened as a result of the coming together of at first a small group and then a large group of citizens who were concerned about what was going on in Teaneck and through the years, from 73 until the present day, we find that Teaneck has survived in many ways and it has still retained its integrity, its beauty as a community and its diversity in terms of different groups ethnically, religiously, religious groups as well as class groups. I think Teaneck should be proud of the kind of citizenry it has and the work that has gone into keeping it or maintaining its reputation.
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