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(I) Anita, you have lived in Teaneck all your life except when you went off to school and perhaps other things and you came back. Would you start by telling us what your childhood was like. How did your family come here in the first place.
(N) My mother and my grandparents purchased, they were from the north New York State area, and through a real estate broker purchased a farm on Englewood Avenue in Teaneck. My mother is one of twelve children.
(I) When did your grandparents first arrive here?
(N) They arrived in the 1930s. So we've been in Teaneck for a very, very long time. My mother and an uncle of mine they are graduates of Teaneck High School. There is a, in my early childhood, my mother is very light skinned and my father is dark skinned. My mother, although she had some problems at Teaneck High School, somehow I don't know whether it was because of her color or what, she did not experience the same kind of problems that I went through and yet she was here for some time before.
(I) She grew up then here in this area.
(N) Yes, she grew up in Teaneck and graduated from Teaneck High School. But when it came to the beginning of my childhood and going to school, those were very, very sad times for me. I was sort of like a novelty.
(I) Perhaps you'd better explain for the tape.
(N) I was the only black at Bryant School, which was a neighborhood school. And
(I) But there were other blacks in town?
(N) There were other blacks in town, yes. But at that particular time, some of the black children were, I would say they were at the high school level. There were none really in the elementary school level so I went through really until the ninth grade being the only black child.
(I) Could you tell us a little bit about what this was like?
(N) Well, it was, it tormented me. I really wasn't enthusiastic about going to school although I loved the teachers and I thought that they were very kind. I knew I had to get an education. It was something that was necessary. There are a lot of teachers in my family and it was expected of me to go so my mother would help me get dressed and send me to school with my lunch and on the way to school, children would hide behind bushes and pull my hair and try to disarrange my clothing, anything to upset me on the way to school.
(I) I just want to ask, was this girls, boys, or both?
(N) It was basically both. But more so, I would say, moreso it was the boys. It was just the survival to get to school. Of course it was not tolerated when I got in school. It was like a totally different atmosphere. But when it was time for the bell to ring, I had to think about getting back home again.
(I) Were your parents aware of this?
(N) They were aware of it. They were not concerned about it. Which was a sad thing for me. My mother was basically interested that I get an education. I had no social life in Teaneck at all when it comes to girl/boy relationships or just really downright close friends and I, my mother and father were affiliated with certain organizations in Englewood and of course at that time, Englewood had a higher population of black people yet my mother basically tried to keep me in the Teaneck area and when I wanted, a couple of times I cut classes so that I could go to Dwight Morrow because it was just a different kind of atmosphere, of being with your own kind, and of course got terribly chastised about that.
(I) You had no siblings.
(N) I had a brother and sister but I was twelve years older than my sister and five years older than my brother. My brother did not go through that period. I did. He did not have as much of a hard time. I think around the time that he was going through B.F., things started to break and people were more open but during my period of time, it was just unbelievable.
(I) And your sister ...
(N) Oh, my sister went through fine. She went through with flying colors. No problems. The population had started to increase then and she had a better childhood. My brother had a better childhood but I want no one to pity me. It just ...
(I) Not even the girls in school, in elementary school it would tend to be ...
(N) In elementary school, around the fifth grade, I did develop a couple of good relationships, especially in the Brownies. I had a couple of people, I remember Mrs. Brendle who was a scout leader, she was extremely kind. I would say in the fifth grade, I developed a couple of relationships which really lasted up through high school. A lot of the girls I thought were genuine but their parents were the people who had a problem.
(I) Was there visiting back and forth in the houses?
(N) I visited them but they never visited me. Never.
(I) I am talking still on the elementary level.
(N) No, I visited them but they never were allowed to visit me. No. Or chose to visit me. I remember one time when mother, at that time we didn't have the requirement that we have now and you were able to, I was able to walk two or three blocks at night and there really weren't any problems and I was invited to go to a slumber party and I went on Shepard Avenue, I went to a girl's house for a slumber party. They had sleeping bags at that time and I knocked on the door. Now I had previously talked to this mother on the phone and she said, oh, I am so sorry but Marjorie, we had to cancel the party and it wasn't until the next day when the children, the girl, talked about the party that Marjorie did explain to me that her mother really chose for me not to be there. That was ...
(I) Yeah, it must have been a very difficult time.
(N) Just hard to believe a lot of the prejudices did not come from the children but it came from their parents.
(I) You made some reference to the sixth grade prom.
(N) The sixth grade prom was a highlight for me.
(I) Good or bad?
(N) It was a good highlight for me. It was traditional for everybody to pair off with a boy, get a new dress and shoes and you go to, a boy picks you up and gives you a corsage and takes you to the prom. And I was devastated with knowing how some of the parents thought about, what they thought about black people, who would I possibly be able to get to take me to the prom. I did ask a couple of people and they said no. So I had just made up my mind that I wasn't going to go. And finally a boy by the name of George Crede did ask me. Now the Credes worked in the D.P.W., George's father worked as the manager of the D.P.W. during that period of time. And my Uncle Stan also worked in the D.P.W. so I do not know if, whether that had anything to do with it but George did say, I'll go home and I'll think about it. Now meanwhile I did ask another boy who was very friendly with me. His name was Paul Crede. George came back and said, yes, I will take you to the prom. And a day later, Paul came and told me he would take me to the prom.
(I) Were they brothers or ...
(N) They were cousins. Now I had to go to the principal and tell her that two young gentlemen asked me to the prom and of course at that time, she was in a quandary which was Mrs. Record. She didn't know what to do. She never had anything like this happen before that a girl had two escorts so finally she said, all I can say is, rather than pairing off, we'll make it a general type of a prom to accommodate my situation. So I had two gentlemen pick me up and my mother still has the photograph, had to of course have a private photographer and of course told everybody in the town about my daughter not only having one, and it had nothing to do with black or white, nothing of that at all, it was my daughter has two escorts as opposed to one.
(I) Just out of curiosity, were these black boys or white boys.
(N) They were white boys. And of course the other girls were, my goodness, but I really never, they never said anything to me about your Uncle Stan, as a matter of fact, I did not know that Mr. Crede was in the D.P.W. at all. So that was really, that was the highlight for me. I thought somehow, something wonderful had broken through.
(I) Once you got to the junior high and high school levels, was there more social interaction with ...
(N) I had more social action with Jewish people at the high school.
(I) But you weren't the only non white.
(N) There were three of us. We got two more. The Cooke family, of course you must understand that there were about five or six other black families in Teaneck but then a family moved on Endicott Terrace, the Cookes. They became very, very dear friends of ours and by the time I started getting, twelfth grade there were four blacks who graduated. My ambition, other than teaching, was to become an actress. At that period of time, that was totally taboo and the doors were closed. I did do debating at Teaneck High School for the Forensic League. I was good at it. I mean I did performances in front of everybody and they just said, you really need to be on stage. So my peers were very helpful in supporting me. One of the best teachers that I had at the high school was Mrs., Miss Helen Smith and she was in charge of the Debating and the Forensic. When it came time for the senior play, I wanted to tryout for the leading part and was told not by Miss Smith but was told by the committee of my peers that they were not ready for a black to take over a leading part and the only part that I could take was to be the maid. Now I wanted to act. That's all I was concerned with. So I had to start with the bit, that's all I was interested in. But it humiliated my mother and father terribly.
(I) What year was this?
(N) This was in 1958. They came, reluctantly, not only that but I got the Cooke's son to play the butler which was double humiliating because the Cookes did not look upon me very kindly but for me it was just that I wanted to act and if that's all that I can do, that's what I'll have to do and so we put on a very good performance. I made the part a little bit more than what it was supposed to be.
(I) What was the play?
(N) I can't even remember it but I know that it was so devastating because in my yearbook I crossed out my name in black magic marker. My parents kind of made me feel ashamed. I never, it bothered me that I couldn't get the part but I put that aside me, aside and said let me go on. If this is what I have to do, this is what I'll have to do but it was my family that really made me ashamed of ...you're better than to do this .. or a better part and you really shouldn't have taken that part. So I scratched it out in my yearbook.
(I) As you've probably scratched out a great many other things from your early days. Well let's move on because this is Teaneck history as well as your history. You went off to school, obviously.
(N) I went on to William Patterson College and found that just as bizarre as my other education. I felt that I had to put in, if a white person had to hand in five papers, I had to hand in ten papers for an assignment to be as good as ... I just thought that the standards were just different. At that time, I think there were about 10 of us so now I've gone through a college period where it is supposed to be fun and happiness and also do your studies and I found it to be very, very isolated and my job was to just get what has to be done so that I can ...
(I) Again you were deprived of social interaction, terrible. Now this is interesting because your, all your school time has been pretty much deprived except for the sixth grade prom and yet you came back to Teaneck. What was there?
(N) Well, I always commuted to a school so I really never left. When I graduated, I did teach in Englewood for a year; then I went to Ringwood and I wanted to return to Teaneck because I knew that Teaneck had a lot to offer. I didn't want the same thing to happen to other black children and I just thought it was up to me to come back and do whatever I could do to help.
(I) You had no role models growing up so you were going to be one...
(I) And where did you start to teach in Teaneck?
(N) Well it is interesting. I tried to get, my junior practicum I tried to get back into Bryant School. That's the school that I went to earlier. It is interesting that I wanted to go back there. And I worked with a Miss Petersildge. I must say Miss Petersildge is really the person who I idolized and I really, really wanted to be a teacher because of her. She has since moved to Schenectady, Connecticut. But they would not let me do, for some reason they told me that I could not do my practicum, my senior practicum there. So they gave me Tenafly.
(I) Lily white Tenafly.
(N) Yes. There were no black families at all in Tenafly. I was extremely nervous about it and I didn't want to go. I have an uncle who was a principal of a school in Englewood, principal of Lincoln School, and I went to him and I said to him, I have to, this is an eight credit course, it is extremely important and it has to do with my livelihood. I cannot go to Tenafly knowing what goes on in Tenafly and he said, I have faith in you. Don't be concerned about it. It is going to be all right. I went back to the college, explained it to them and they would not let me out of the commitment. During the summer, I did call the principal, it was Maugham School in Tenafly. I called her. I made arrangements to come to the school to get supplies. I wanted to be prepared. She said, Anita, we'll be glad to receive you and made me feel very welcomed on the phone. I had my piece of paper and my mother said to me, you know, I am extremely proud of you and she gave me a gardenia for me to go for my assignment and I walked in and the secretary came out and she said, Excuse me, who are you here to pick up? You know the scenario of my life. And I said, I beg your pardon. And I was dressed. And I said, I beg your pardon and she said, oh, excuse me. You're not here, and I said, no, I am not here to pick up anybody. I am here as a student teacher. I will be arriving in September. And she said, well just a minute. I am not aware. Now I had spoken to those people maybe two or three weeks ago and she brought me into the principal's office. The principal did not recollect talking to me.
(I) You had spoken to them on the telephone. This was your very first visit in person.
(N) And she did not recall my conversation and started bundling with her papers that maybe there was a mistake. That this probably was not my assignment. And I said, excuse me. Let me pullout my sheet of paper that shows you that I am assigned and that you had received a copy. Well, I went home and I cried. I didn't know what to do. Went back to my uncle again. And he was asking me, who was I assigned to. And I told him that I was assigned to a Mrs. MacKenzie. Mrs. MacKenzie made teaching worthwhile for me. I was nervous. He said, Mrs. MacKenzie and I have worked together. But I never mentioned to anyone that he was my uncle. I wanted to do it all on my own. So I didn't want names or anything like that. And when I went to the school, they had a youngster take me to the Faculty Room and I walked in and Mrs. MacKenzie was sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette and she said, Oh Anita, I am so glad to see you. Come in. Sit down. And she told me that the children in that area had limited experiences with black people. They only knew them as maids and butlers. They were not at fault. But I was there besides getting an education and learning how to teach, it was going to be a wonderful, it was going to be a two way street, because it was going to be a wonderful experience for them. So she put her hands on me and squeezed them and she said, we are going to do this together. You have no one to fear. And I went into the classroom. The children were very apprehensive. They kind of gawked at me. I would say about the third week, they started inviting me to their houses for me to meet their parents. I had lunches every day. It was very interesting for the black help, they didn't know what to make of it. But we became friends and at the end of my visit, Mrs. MacKenzie said to me, Miss Davis, before you leave for William Patterson College, I would like for you to clean out your desk. And I said, Mrs. MacKenzie, the children have all of their papers and I have nothing in my desk. And she said, excuse me. I beg to differ with you. But I think that you need to clean out your desk. And I was wondering why she was having this confrontation with me. And I said, well, if you insist. And I went and I pulled out all of these gifts and the kids cried. I cried. It was such a beautiful relationship. Now she said, well what are you going to do. And I said, I feel so comfortable that I am ready to teach here in Tenafly. And she said, I would go before the Board. She said, you are an excellent teacher. And the response from Mrs. MacKenzie was that they had employed a Chinese minority but they were not ready for blacks yet. And that was the end of that.
(I) From Tenafly, where did you go from there?
(N) Well from Tenafly, I went for one year to Englewood and I taught at the Liberty School. I got married. Then I had a family. Started having children. And I had an opportunity to work in Ringwood. Now in Ringwood, that was very, very different. There were only two black teachers in Ringwood, Dorothy Benson and myself, and we went to William Patterson together so we kind of got, she got the job first and then she recommended me. It was sort of like a culture shock there. On one side there were the Jackson whites who had a lot of deprivation and were discriminated against and on the other side was the totally white community.
(I) You stayed there for how long?
(N) Seven years. Stayed there seven years, became pregnant again and with the second one, I still wanted to continue my career but going back and forth from Ringwood to Teaneck was just too difficult and I decided that even though I loved Ringwood, now was the time that I am settled now, I have two children that I would like to have, now is the time for me to start getting about my business which was to help black children. To help all children, but especially to serve as a role model for black children. (END OF SIDE 1)
(BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) After you left Ringwood, you came to Teaneck.
(N) I came to Teaneck and I came to Lowell School.
(I) Was there any problem getting a job in Teaneck?
(N) None. The assistant superintendent was Aubrey Sher
(I) What year did you Come back?
(N) That was 1970 was when I returned to teach in Teaneck.
(I) By then Teaneck had gone through the whole integration and so forth.
(N) Exactly. My children, I went, I was a teacher at Lowell and my children went to Lowell. I was determined that I was going to make sure that everything was going to be OK for them.
(I) You had no problem finding a place to live in town?
(N) I did have problems finding a place to live. We found a . . .
(I) You never left Teaneck. You lived here with your parents when you went to school.
(N) Yes, I commuted.
(I) And then when you got married ...
(N) We still stayed in Teaneck. My husband wanted us to go to another area, away from family. His family is from Englewood. My family was from Teaneck. But we, I was determined to stay in Teaneck. He wanted to live in Haworth, Demarest, Closter. He wanted to live in those areas. And for some reason, it had to be Teaneck for me.
(I) What kind of problems did you find in finding a house originally?
(N) Well, I was really interested in, because of all my past problems, I didn't want to be isolated. I wanted my kids to not only be, not only for them to be concerned about a good education, but socially, feeling good about yourself and having people to relate to is extremely important. You just can't have one without the other. So I was determined that I was going to try to move into the northeast section. I couldn't move into a black section. On Tryon Avenue, all of the houses except three were black and this one house on the corner, we went in to see the house. It was a nice starter house. And we knew our credit was excellent. We knew we had the money. And we said, we will buy the house. There were a lot of things that I knew my father could do as far as handy work and there was no problem. And during the period of time when they do the checking, I redecorated the house in my dreams and it was one of the happiest moments of my life because all of my, everything seemed to be just great. I am back in Teaneck as a teacher, although I never left as far as residence. I have a family. My kids are here and I knew I was only going to have two children and I can really start on my career and here is the place that I am going to live. But a couple of weeks later, the real estate broker informed us that we couldn't have the house. We offered, not knowing why we couldn't have the house, we offered more money. They said that she had changed her mind so we said, OK, we will offer her more money and the real estate broker said if we wanted to take the problem to Fair Housing, he would support us, but the reason was because her husband had built the house and she would not sell to blacks. So we had to give up that idea. We didn't have to give up the idea. I chose to give up the idea. My mother and father in the 40s had to go through that same kind of business. They had to get white people to buy their house and then change it over, the deeds, back over to them and I could not believe that either I had to go to Fair Housing which was going to take a long period of time or go through the same procedure so I chose the second procedure which was to find a white family who would buy the house and then turn the house over to me. And Mr. Handschuh who was a co-worker of mine at Lowell School said that he would get bonded and he would do it, it wasn't necessary for him to be bonded but that he would do the procedure and it was only through a misfortune in the family in looking at classified ads that we came upon the house that we are looking in now. And when we went into the second house, I fell in love with it and said, the hell with the other house.
(I) Let me revert back to when your grandparents first came. Did they have any trouble buying the farm?
(N) I really don't know whether they had trouble buying the farm but I do know that when Teaneck started integrating or pretending that they were integrating, they would bring busloads of white people from the city and they would bring them out into the area to show them the town. My grandparents owned quite a bit of property in Teaneck. Their farm was quite large. But every time they did do that, they did speak to my grandfather to please keep his children, everybody should be hidden and on one particular, when they had a lot of buses coming out, my grandfather went to a farm and bought watermelon and split it and had the kids all out eating the watermelon. There were twelve children. He just did it because he was just angry and he thought that that's all they expected him to do which was to be lazy and to eat watermelon so he said, I'll do it. And that's what he did.
(I) What happened to that farm eventually?
(N) My grandfather passed away about five years later. My grandmother had to rear all of those children. I don't know what system they chose but the children knew who had to work so that only a few of the children could finish high school and there was one who completed college. As a matter of fact, he became dean of men at Morgan State University. So everything was pretty much planned out with them.
(I) But they kept the farm?
(N) They kept the farm. It was my grandmother has been dead 15 years because that's how long we have lived in our house. And that property has been split and there are two houses, two split level houses built there.
(I) Well, let's get back to you and your position as role model. How do you feel that you have helped the children of Teaneck?
(N) I'll tell you an example that happened in at Lowell. We had duty and you had duty every other week. At that particular time, I was the only black teacher at Lowell. No, there were two of us. Mr. Lavelle and myself. The kids who got off the bus were basically from the northeast and sometimes they were, the ride was long, there was this period of time, black versus honky business going on, blacks trying to assert themselves and having an identity to be strong, not to take anything anymore, and I noticed that when the white teachers gave commands, you told the black kids that they weren't supposed to be doing certain things, and the black kids came back at them that they were and maybe even did name calling. The white teachers retreated. They weren't assertive. And it bothered me because I watched this for a long period of time. When it got time for me to have duty, especially in inclement weather, the kids, the black kids would get off the bus and they would go and they would sit on the stage and I called them over and I said to them, get off the stage. What makes you different from the children who are standing on line? Do you know why you are not allowed to sit on the stage? We just don't make rules to make rules. There is equipment that can fall and kill you. You can't get on the stage. So I had a talk with Mr. Lavalle and we said, he said, you know it has been bothering me for a long period of time. So I said, well, let's have an open forum at one of the faculty meetings to find out why it is different. Why are the rules for white children different from the rules for black children. So we did. And during one of the meetings, one of the teachers did say that she was afraid of them.
(I) Now these are elementary...
(N) Elementary school children.
(I) So we are talking about the maximum age can be
(N) 10, 11. And of course Mr. Bookstaver came, he was so enraged, I remember the day he was in his office and he said you have embarrassed me terribly. How could you say that? And she said, it is the truth. She said I was big enough to say it. It's the truth. With tensions being what they were, there are things that a black teacher can say and do and emphasize which a white teacher cannot do. Which is the truth of the matter. I spent days sometimes leaving the school and going into the northeast and having conferences with parents. I knew they were workers and I would have conferences, it didn't matter whether it was on a Saturday or Sunday. Many of the teachers would not have ventured into the northeast. So it is just, it was just a different thing. It is still, in 1986, a different thing. A lot of things haven't changed.
(I) How about your children? How old are they now?
(N) Nicole is, will be 17, she will be a senior this year. And Terry is 22 and she is getting ready to go into Med school.
(I) How nice. Well if she is 22 and going to Med school, then she has been out of high school for some years. What, and it would have been a different period then for your younger one, what was their reactions going through the school?
(N) When she started the high school, she was always afraid of the black door and the white door. That was one of the things that really terrorized her. She knew she was not "part of the group" and she felt that I had done the same thing to her that my parents had done to me which is, we lived on Dewey Place and there was only one other black family on that block. When we moved in there, there was a period of time where blacks had not started to really move in that area so Terry especially was extremely angry.
(I) But there were blacks scattered all through this area and walking from this side of town to
(N) As far as their peer relationships, it was different and matter of fact, she really wasn't interested in anybody knowing where she lived. And she would even walk out of her way blocks so that it was like she was walking with a group. I mean she didn't do this all of the time but it was sometimes it was important for her rather than just to be walking up Dewey Place which was just three minutes, a hop, skip and a jump from the high school. She wanted to be, it is important to be part of a cultural group. An ethnic group.
(I) Where did your older daughter go to college?
(N) She went to Howard University by my insistence that she go. I didn't feel that she had enough about her own heritage. She needed a better start than what I gave her because I had a poor beginning and I just wanted her to feel self-confident. You know it is interesting, when she, she is an excellent student, when Terry came home from school and she had a test, I wanted to know how she did on the test. She never equated with the class. She equated with how she did among blacks. And I thought she had a better, she had a different kind of concept that out of the blacks, she was the tops. That's how she perceived herself. And I told her I wasn't interested in that. I wanted to know out of all of the children in the class, how did you do with all of them, Jews, whites, all of them, where did you place in the test which might have been 10 or 20 notches lower but she wasn't interested in that. She was interested in how she did among blacks. When she worked in Miller's Drug Store, and what I am talking about is perceptions, a couple of people would ask her about her, the texture of her hair. Why it wasn't bushy and frizzy; why is it that most blacks have big behinds and wide lips; why was she different. And of course she always came back with an answer, you know who are these people that you are seeing all the time. When she went on her senior service, she was it is interesting, a lot of the blacks were given certain kind of jobs on the senior service at Holy Name Hospital. She was given a different kind of job and someone, a white person even made a connotation to her that she was a better kind of black. So here she is receiving these different vibrations and I wanted to make sure that she had the right perception. When we went to Howard University, she saw black professors and black kids who were far more superior than she was so she had to relate differently. And it was an excellent experience for her. She said, Mommy, you made my day. I didn't want to go, she said, but it was the best thing for me.
(I) Academically, do you feel they got a good background here in the Teaneck schools?
(I) Obviously,. if she has done so well. She never wanted me to interfere at all. My little one is very, very, is from a different mold. She doesn't want me to interfere at all. Mommy, she says, you are getting your ruffles up. And there have been a couple of instances which have happened up at the high school that I thought was racist and I felt that I needed to speak my turn but she was always afraid of retaliation and so with Nicole and myself, we've had a couple of problems. One problem which came out that was very, very blatant - she couldn't deal with it - and it almost destroyed her but that problem I took care of. I took care of that problem with Mr. Delaney. It was a remark that was made and was meant for people who live in a ghetto and it was just derogatory and the way she received the remark is how the teacher meant the remark to be received and she just came to me and she said, Mommy, aren't teachers supposed to be objective? Aren't they supposed to have certain morals? That's how the conversation started. And I said yes we are supposed to be objective. No matter how biased or prejudiced we might be, you are not supposed to really let that be known when it comes to kids. They have a right to make their own decisions. And when she came out with the remark, I just flew off the ceiling and she was just devastated but we, it is not like it was when I was in school so that was just a minor incident.
(I) Have you been active in any of the civic organizations?
(N) I did a lot of sorority work from Jersey City and I also had been requested to join one of the sororities in Teaneck but with what I, I cannot leave my work at 3:30. I take it home with me, I take it to Miller Pharmacy with me, I am on the phone with parents, especially black parents, because there is so much that they have to watch out for and so much that they have to do.
(I) Have we pretty much covered your history as it relates to Teaneck's history now?
(N) I must say that in all honesty I have gotten involved politically and have worked with the teachers on negotiations this year. This interview has been very good for me in that it has opened up a door for me. I have kept it closed, kept anger for family for all these years, it was I can't remember a gentleman's name who did the filming, he was the one who worked on me first last year and I must say I cancelled ten times to talk to him because it was very difficult. I must apologize because there were a lot of times when I could have talked to you. I wasn't ready.
(I) I am glad you were ready today. I am delighted. On behalf of the Teaneck Oral History Project and of myself, I want to say thank you.
(N) Thank you. Thanks a lot.
(END OF TAPE)
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