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: Imogene Smith Washington
INTERVIEWER: June Kapell
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    February 19, 1985
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (9/1985)

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(I) In Teaneck or in the other towns around?

(N) I don't know about Teaneck. I don't think that, now, today, I think Teaneck is more integrated than it was when we first came to Teaneck because remember, we were all going into the northeast section but today, you have black families throughout Teaneck and I've never felt that there was any type of animosity or real problem of being split or polarized but I would say though that you might find that there is a problem in Teaneck as far as apartments are concerned.

(I) Well, number one, there aren't enough apartments to start with.

(N) And most of them are very small. So I guess that's a hard nut to crack, the apartment situation.

(I) I wasn't aware that it still existed. What other. .

(N) If it didn't exist, we wouldn't need Fair Housing, would we? 

(I) Well, the communities surrounding us certainly. .

(N) Well we always tend to say, hey look at, you don't mean Teaneck. You mean every town around Teaneck. And so sometimes you can lower yourself into thinking that things don't exist in Teaneck. But people are human so there are, I would say that there is a multitude of problems but. .

(I) Well, Fair Housing is a countywide project, no?

(N) Yeah. It is county. It too has come a long way.

(I) What else are you, I know you've been with the N.A.A.C.P.

(N) Yeah, I worked with the N.A.A.C.P. as first vice president when Byron Whitter was president. Of course the N.A.A.C.P. had sort of gone out of existence and we revived it and I worked as first vice president and then I succeeded him and became president for a couple of years. And my husband, Tom Washington, he is president today, so I am still involved in the N.A.A.C.P.

(I) The questions that the N.A.A.C.P. is addressing today as opposed to those that they were addressing some years ago, locally, what were, when Byron reactivated. .

(N) I can tell you most of our problems, phone calls, complaints, still deal with the police and what people consider to be unfair arrests or harassment and unfair treatment in the jails and so on. That still seems to be the number one problem and of course you have people who have been let go from jobs and so on and they feel that there is a racial undertone because of prejudice that they were fired or what have you. So I'd say most of the problems have to deal with the penal situation.

(I) So that actually hasn't changed too much over the years then.

(N) Well it is very difficult too because you see the N.A.A.C.P. bascially deals with class action type situations like for instance when we had complaints about the Foodtown in Englewood, then we could go in and actually go to the corporate office and spell out what the problems were as far as sanitary conditions and upgrading and promoting to assistant manager and then on to manager and so on and we were able to do something about that because there you are involved with the group. What a lot of people don't realize is that there is not too much you can do on an individual basis see. It's, first of all, you get fired from your job, it is very difficult to prove that it was because you were black.

(I) I wasn't aware of a problem with the Foodtown in Englewood. 

(N) You are not aware of a lot of problems that come across our desk on a daily basis but this was just one example of the types of things that you can deal with when there are a lot of people complaining. Then you can move right in and make demands that that situation be changed. And of course the other thing was that the N.A.A.C.P. nationally is involved in is the Fair Share Program and on a local basis, we are asked to sort of be watchdogs where we see a situation where there are no black employees or there we go in and we want to know why and what's the proportion and I guess we are really getting more and more into affirmative action so I guess all of the organizations that I've been involved in have had to deal with civil rights and just human rights and so on but each of them has been different. Different in perspective and. .

(I) Of all of the organizations that you have worked with, which would you say is (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) most rewarding. Perhaps I should say the most exciting, the most stimulating?

(N) They were all rewarding. They were all worthwhile. I wouldn't have been involved if I didn't feel that they were worthwhile. I guess each of them was during a different age span in my life too, don't forget. With N.E.C.O., well there was Myrna Gillespie, Tene Glasco, Conrad Hipkins. It was very social. We just looked forward to planning our dances and our friendships became, have endured through the years.

(I) But it was more than the dances. I'm talking about the social. .

(N) It was more social and suited that part of, that time in my life. Yes we were serious as far as wanting to improve the quality of life for people in the northeast section and we were concerned about the problems that were peculiar to our section but it was, I would qualify N.E.C.O. as being a more social period in my life. A period of developing friendships, of having lots of vim, vitality and everything was upward at that time. We were all young, buying homes, improving our lives, raising families. 

(I) And working for human rights and civil rights at the same time. 

(N) What would you say, upward mobility? We were on a high.

(I) By the way, the mailmen and the service men still walk across the lawns and still ring the front doorbell

(N) All we need to do is get a N.E.C.O. going over here. Then B.E.A.T. was during the time when my children were in school and I became more involved in education and in their future and thinking in terms of college and professions for them and those kinds of things and I guess it was like a leveling out period in my life. My husband and I, as I say, you know we were young, we were buying a house, we were raising kids. Now we come to the point in our life where instead of thinking about ourselves, we are beginning to think in terms of the future of our children. And so therefore B.E.A.T. comes along and becomes a vital part. So they were all worthwhile and they were very necessary to my development at that time. Then, well Fair Housing, I chose to move to a predominantly black section of town of my own free will. We had lived on the lower east side, we were the only black family in our building and so I was really seeking a more balanced type of background for my daughter who was, at that time, thirteen years old.

(I) Now, how did the children do in their social lives. We didn't talk about the children too much.

(N) No, we didn't. They were really our reason for being here.

(I) We got your daughter into junior high school and we just sort of left her there.

(N) Well my daughter went on to, she finished Teaneck High School, and then she went away to college. My son, when he finished at Eugene Field, he went to Benjamin Franklin and then after my husband died, then I put him in the Dwight Englewood, the private school. I was beginning to see peer pressure and I, it became evident to me the problem of marijuana and dope and everything was all of a sudden a new monster on the horizon and when my husband died, when my son was 16, so I felt very vulnerable and so I ran. I can't face putting him in Teaneck High. And I put him into Dwight Englewood and I found that you can't run away from your problems.

(I) I was just about to ask.

(N) You can't run away from your problems. In fact, I think they were of greater magnitude there than they were at Teaneck High because of the fact that so many of the youngsters were wealthy so there was no problem with money to avail themselves of not only marijuana but other kinds of dope. Then he, I guess the polite thing to say is he left Dwight Englewood and he finished his last year at Teaneck High and graduated from Teaneck High and then he went away to college.

(I) Did you find that your kids were reasonably well prepared for whatever they studied?

(N) I found that my daughter was reasonably well prepared.

(I) Well you referred to her before as a bookworm and studious, quiet.

(N) She was a bookworm, studious, quiet and so on. I found that my son was not but in all fairness, I cannot blame the system for that. He is just a different personality and he did exceptionally well with math, a good math student but. .

(I) Did they choose to go to integrated colleges?

(N) They went to the college that both their father and I had gone to. I don't know, now that I look back on it, maybe the choice wasn't so free after all. You sort of grow up hearing all your life that you are going to go to school where mommy and daddy went to, you know.

(I) I was just wondering whether living in Teaneck had equipped them to live any better outside?

(N) There was an instance that I had to fight for something and that I shouldn't have had to fight for. When I had an interview with one of my son's teachers when he was at Eugene Field, and she said, well he is only one grade level below in reading. And I became incensed. I mean, why is he one grade level, why isn't he a grade level above. I got so annoyed at the way she put it, you know. He is only one grade level below, you know, you should be happy about this. So then I took him over to Fairleigh Dickinson testing center, the learning center there, and he was tested and I put him into a program of reading there and they discovered that the problem was that eyes did not travel across the page. He hesitated, read like word by word. And there was a machine that was available at Eugene Field and when I went and I spoke to Mr. Mitchell and we went up to the library and there were the machines gathering dust. And I was just really, the school didn't. .

(I) Had never diagnosed this. .

(N) No way. I was just so annoyed and than she said, he is only one grade level below and there was an instance where I had to spend money to supplement what he, the help that he should have been getting. I had to demand that he get the use of this machine and so on. And I can remember one problem that I had with my daughter when she was a senior at Teaneck High and the gym teacher failed her in gym and I had to go up and say, it is not usual for a gym teacher to fail a college-bound student in gym. And she said, well she didn't, there was some homework or something that she didn't prepare and I said, yes, but why didn't you contact the parents. Why didn't you make some effort to see that she made up that work for so long. There were, all along I got tte feeling that I got what I demanded. I got what I fought for.

(I) But you felt that you had to go out and fight, that it just wouldn't come to you as a matter of course.

(N) It did not come to me as a matter of course. And I think one of the reasons why I was always involved in the P.T.A. and with the P.T.A. council and in every aspect of what was going on, I was at all the meetings and the public meetings and the private meetings and what have you because I thought I had to be there. If I didn't stay on top of things, if I didn't know what was going on, if I was not involved, then it, my children would not benefit. They would just be another. .

(I) How about the central sixth grade? Your daughter of course would have been too old for that. Did you find that a good experience?

(N) Yes, I did. I found the central sixth grade to be a good experience. I had no problems that I can remember with the central sixth grade. 

(I) What did you think of the idea of the concept of the central sixth grade?

(N) I think that certainly helped my son John, he did well in school too with the central sixth.

(I) I was just wondering how you felt the whole concept of the central sixth?

(N) Well I had mixed feelings about central sixth. I would say that the concept was a good one and that it worked out well. I've not heard of anyone who said, you know, I'm sorry this happened or that it was detrimental to us or what have you. If you remember, there were some terrific battles going on. Sometimes we would wonder if it was safe to go outside after those meetings but after it got into action, and came into being, I think that most people would agree that it was a good plan and that it benefited everyone.

(I) Have we covered most of your activities?

(N) Whatever we haven't covered, I am not going to tell you 

(I) Not for publication.

(N) That's right. There are just so many facets in your life and as you get older, a lot of them you don't even remember unless somebody starts talking about you remember when we did so and so and

(I) All right. Do you remember when they were talking about censoring books?

(N) Yes.

(I) And the reactions to that. That certainly wowed the town. That was a vigorous example of democracy in action.

(N) Yeah, I remember that. I wasn't really personally involved with it. I just remember that there was a big uproar about it but

(I) DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS was the book. Every once in a while, someone is still banning books somewhere along the way.

(N) I guess I wasn't that involved because of the fact that there were so many books that do not depict black history, there is no mention of the achievements of blacks in most of our history books, our American history books. There were a lot of first grade readers that depict a white family with daddy's going out to work with his briefcase and mommy's staying home and then there is the cat and the dog and you know. I think I was too involved with my own concerns about the inadequacies as far as the white textbooks were concerned.

(I) Well, you've certainly had a lot of concerns in this town over the years.

(N) I probably would have had the same concerns if I ended up living in Westchester.

(I) True, you might have.

(N) After all, my concerns were basic. I was concerned about where I lived, concerned about conditions under which I lived, and I was concerned that, certainly that there was equality. I was concerned about my children, that they were getting the best out of the school system and so on and yet I had a feeling that if I wanted to get all of this, if I wanted equality, if I wanted a good life, if I wanted a good life for my kids, I had to be active, I couldn't just sit home and complain. I had to get out there and make sure that things were being done. So now in the ebb of my life, I am involved in the N.A.A.C.P. 

(I) I wouldn't exactly say ebb.

(N) Sometimes it seems like it has been an awfully long time. 

(I) Yeah, but you see some progress. 

(N) I do.

(I) Good. And I want to thank you very much.

(N) OK. It has been a pleasure. Oh, I forgot to mention that my daughter is married now and she and her three daughters, they live in Park Ridge, her husband and daughters are in Park Ridge. So who knows. I may start on Park Ridge next.

(I) Is Park Ridge a . .

(N) Park Ridge is predominantly white and my granddaughter attends the high school there and there are only two other black children in the school and my granddaughters are in the elementary school and they are the only blacks in the school so it is predominantly white. However, my daughter seems to have adapted and she has not complained so, she hasn't sent for grandmother yet.

(I) It should be interesting. You'll have to let us know.

(END OF TAPE)

 

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