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: John A. Williams
INTERVIEWER: Robbie Wedeen
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    March 7, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney (3/24/1985)

Previous Page

(I) Well what do you think of Main Street?

(N) Not too much. But I would rather it be pretty much that way than something gaudy and tacky. It is just right for the town.

(I) Main Street being Cedar Lane? 

(N) Cedar Lane.

(I) Well how would you characterize it?

(N) Neither fish nor fowl. You got supermarkets, a theater that's closed more often than it is opened, businesses trading places on the corner of Cedar Lane and Garrison. I guess the fruit stand that (END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) Cedar Lane has got some pretension but it also has a lot of duplication, flower shops, bakery shops, two shoe stores now and whatever. And it seems to me that it was a little nicer when we first moved here when you didn't have that kind of competition that you sense in the air now.  Everybody striving very hard for the same buck.  But I do like Cedar lane when the theater is opening and you go to the movie and you see people on line, all kinds, colors, sizes and shapes.  That's kind of hopeful still.  But there seems to me to have been a big change in the spirit of the town from when it was first created, after World War II, when it became a suburb instead of a farming town, and now.  I think the original intentions to incorporate all kinds of ethnic groups and the people who did that and did it successfully are to be commended.  They are older now.  I am not sure that spirit has been passed on to a younger generation.

(I) Well what time frame would you be talking about at this point when you say they're older or that their intention was to

(N) Well , I think their intention was about twenty five, thirty years ago. When you add that twenty five or thirty five years onto the ages that they were then, they are sort of older people. And that's a long time to fight and, but I understand that wherever there are problems, people must do that to the extent that they can.

(I) You are talking about the early 60s, what you have heard that people were involved in.

(N) Right.

(I) Do you know what kind of issues for example?

(N) Well, open housing, integrated schools, curricula that touched everybody, dealt with everybody. Something like a community spirit. Now I don't know how to define that. Those are easy words to say but it is sort of like looking out for each other. Oh, you are from Teaneck, Yeah, well OK. That sort of thing. That may still be there. I am not sure. I detect some differences and I don't know the reasons why. One of those differences may be that younger people think that all of those problems were solved and settled and they no longer have to be concerned with them. Well, problems like that are the very ones that you always have to be aware of, if not confront. I am not saying that confrontation with those problems or even that they exist in the same form as they did, are still there. My concern has been with the news of real estate people trying to flood the town with black people who want to find housing. In other words, to upset the imbalance. I don't care if they show one hundred black couples Teaneck, great. But I think there is something amiss when they don't show one hundred white couples Teaneck. In other words, they are trying to upset something that the town has been trying to do and that is not particularly good.

(I) Are you aware of any organizations in town trying to combat steering?

(N) Yeah. I've read, I can't think of the names but I think there is at least one real estate agency that is involved in this kind of combat. And the town manager and the mayor have made some strong statements about it. As a matter of fact, one case is up, has been taken to the state, the state courts.

(I) So you're saying that you sense that the town is concerned to keep Teaneck to be open to all?

(N) Yeah. Well you got to keep the, you got to be vigilant so that people don't destroy whatever it is that we think we have. I am convinced that there is still something there that we just have to sort of maintain.

(I) You also seem to be implying that sometimes out of confrontation that good things do emerge in terms of spirit and what you are saying, you are implying, is a kind of complacency now about issues?

(N) Yeah, I would say that. I would say that there is complacency. And I think a lot of this stems from the relationship of the Teaneck parents to the school system. I don't believe the kind of relationship that should exist between parents and teachers if it ever did is there any longer. And I think it used to be there. Some kind of respect that parents and teachers held for each other. Maybe the parents have and undue amount of power, vis-a-vis what happens with the schools and the teachers. I am not sure.

(I) Can you give any examples of

(N) Well the one that I gave earlier about the parent questioning the study of comparative literature, Oedipus and Things Fall Apart and while she lost her argument, I understand she went back to the teacher and then she went to the principal, while she lost her complaint, I mean nobody dealt with it seriously, she did take up time. She did provide the impression that there was unhappiness among the parents, specifically centering on her, for dealing with literature this way. And it's sort of like the chilling factor that we have in journalism when too many people start suing papers and magazines, you are very careful about the kinds of stories that you run. Therefore, you don't cover the news as effectively as you once did. Maybe teachers are saying, oh boy, you know, I've got this lady coming in here and she's got some friends who have sent letters and maybe I shouldn't teach this course the way I am doing. So you get that kind of pressure.

(I) Of course the converse of that is that people not have the ability to effect changes.

(N) Yeah, well, you are saying that people should have the ability to effect changes? Well I agree. I agree. What I am afraid of is that some people want to delay changes that are good for all of us. I think. But I am sure they feel just as strongly about their opposition to those changes, feeling that they might be bad for all of us.

(I) If you were going to suggest any changes in Teaneck, what might they be?

(N) I really don't know Robbie. Well the first thing I would do is to consider something about the tax base. That would be for sure. After that, I would just have to sit down and think about what to do. I think the place is managed well. I think the cops have to be reigned in every once in a while. But cops being cops, you know, they're not bad for the average run of cops. I don't really have any argument with them. We donate to the ball and whatever. I like the town pretty much the way it is as far as I can see it.

(I) You have touched upon a couple of times a sense of transition in the physical appearance of the town. A transition that's not clear what direction it is going in. I mean at least as I understood you. Is there anything more you would like to add to that or any other direct experiences or visual impressions?

(N) I don't know that I can add any more to that but I think, I just want to say this, I think that while there are people who are opposed to the transition, I am not sure that transitions are always bad. They look bad if they effect me in the pocketbook. When it was not anything I expected. So there are people who are opposed to transitions and people who feel that they're good for us. And the reason why I can't say which is which is because I am not sure. All I can do is measure the past and say well it wasn't this way before. I would like to think that taxes would come down. I would like to think that everything would come down and that we could get better town service although again compared with other places, it really isn't that bad. We just notice it in the crunch when we do have a snowstorm or when the trucks are broken down and the garbage doesn't get picked up on schedule but all in all, it's not bad. The transition, the major concern of transition for me, is what happens with the community spirit. And there again, I am not sure. There are always nice signs. The other night we went to the theater which may be a symbol of what's bad with transition. They take a little house and make three movies out of it. So we went and we were told while we were waiting to see the Mel Brooks movie that they only had two rows in the front left. So with some other people, we started walking away. And there was a couple in front of us and the lady was saying, well you know, I don't want to come to a theater and have to be on line a half hour beforehand and then wait on line and then somebody says there are only two rows left. This is a small town. I expect to get to the movie. Maybe the movie is going to run like Jewish time, it will be fifteen minutes late and whatever. And so as we were passing by, I said to her, lady, that's not Jewish, that's black, so we both started laughing. So I mean we have that kind of thing which I think is special to Teaneck. And I am sure there is more of that there. Maybe I am just not out enough to witness it. On the other hand, I've been fairly well paid for most of my life for being a good observer and I think there is not enough of that.

(I) You again have remarked on the theater because it is a kind of central community facility. Would you like to see more of such or can you name or discuss any other kinds of community-wide activities that you have participated in or would like to if they existed or

(N) I don't know. We would be involved in things that Adam is involved in at school. Sports or music. He is playing your instrument. He's been with a little group, they can't sing worth a damn, but basically they just want to play the guitars and the drums. We would be involved to the extent that he was in those things. Not too many other things. We go to the parents things, talk to the principals and talk to the teachers, see how he is doing. But our involvement is pretty. . .

(I) What about the library in town?

(N) I go to the library all the time. I mean any time they look up, they can see this raggedy guy walking in there and going into the reference room or going through the card file and going to look at all the newspapers. A project I am just finishing up has me going through Variety. And they have Variety. I don't have to spend a dollar and a half every week. I can go to the library. So it is very helpful to me. We've not been involved in the library programs. I've lectured over there but. .

(I) That's involved.

(N) Well that's involved I guess. We try to donate our last station wagon to the library but they felt it might turn out to be a liability. We would have taken a tax credit for it of course but I guess their attorneys felt that somehow it just wouldn't have worked out. I mean it was in good condition. We sold it to a friend in Manhattan. But the library is really kind of neat.

(I) What would they have used the car for?

(N) Well to carry books back and forth, to move elderly people, you know, like they do with that little station wagon that they have. Take old people to the library and bring them back.

(I) They have a service for transporting senior citizens? 

(N) Right.

(I) Generally then you feel the library is a resource and functions well?

(N) That's my resource and it functions very well. I can call it from my office up there and ask reference if they've got such and such and they'll go look it up and come back and let me know. Yeah. It's a fantastic resource for the town. I just hope they're doing very well in terms of getting what they need and the books that they need and whatever and able to sponsor the programs that they want.

(I) How did you feel about the building renovation?

(N) I like the renovations. There is just one problem. Downstairs in the old section still gets flooded when it rains. They still have to run in pumps there. So I think there is a little more work to be done in order to safeguard those books and also just to protect the structure of the building.

(I) What about neighborhoods?

(N) Well, we like the neighborhood. We don't get along so well with the neighbors on one side but we get along well with the neighbors on the other side but we all know each other. We exchange comments and help when necessary. For example, with the heavy snows, Adam usually goes and shovels the lady's walk because she had a heart attack and the man across the street has had one so Adam shovels out or if it is a real emergency, we'll do it together. And one or two guys on the block have snow blowers and if they're working, they'll do everybody's walk or let us borrow the snow blowers. We have, nearly everybody has some kind of a burglar alarm on the block but they're not tied into the police. Sam's is tied into the police station. But if they hear them go off, they will call the cops so that the cops are here fairly shortly and when Sam's goes off, and it seems to take the cops a long time to get here, I will call the cops but I don't go in although I have key because I don't trust cops, you know. And if they see me at the door, what do they know. So I just usually wait until they come and then I go in with the key and try to work out the thing and shut it off for them. Adam cuts grass on the block. He hopes to earn some money again this summer doing that. We get along okay.

(I) In your walks across town, do you sense any differences in neighborhoods?

(N) No. I've gone through neighborhoods and complete strangers have said good morning or nice day or whatever. You know, I think that's a part of Teaneck.

(I) Do you feel that it is a safe community for your son. Do you think he has a feeling of security and freedom?

(N) Yes, he has that. And he has wisdom enough to steer clear of some of the kids that he knows are into drugs, kids who will take a bus into Manhattan and go down to Washington Square Park and buy. And we've talked about it and he knows where we stand on it and he knows what it can do to him as a youngster, as a tennis player, as a musician. So as far as we know now, the only thing he's ever tried has been grass and I question him pretty closely without being obnoxious, I hope, and he becomes a little impatient with me because when I do question him, he gets the implication that he doesn't know what's going on whereas he is trying to let me know that he does know what's going on and that I need not worry about it.

(I) Do you think a suburban Teaneck young person develops street smarts or needs street smarts?

(N) Suitable for Teaneck, yes, but for Manhattan, I am not sure cause I've driven Adam into Manhattan which he no longer likes. I keep saying to him, you ought to take a Saturday or a Sunday and just drive in and park the car and walk around, let me show you the town again. He doesn't want to do that. But he doesn't mind going in for a rock concert. I'll drive him in any maybe pick him up. Maybe I'll be outside of Madison Square Garden and the kids with him, I can watch them, maybe I'll pick them up coming out and I can watch them, you know they are like a bundle of nerves walking out to the appointed place where we are supposed to meet. I don't think they have street smarts. They have street fears. And I think that's bad.

(I) Do you think it is warranted?

(N) Street fears? Well I think you got to have those in combination with street smarts. The fear I suppose will make you a little more cunning in terms of how you handle yourself and things.

(I) Would you like to see opportunities within the school system for the Teaneck students to have more experiences in New York?

(N) Yes I would.  One of the things I've learned as a college teacher when I was working in Manhattan and here in Newark is that a sizable number of the college population, say I was working in Queens, those students had not been into Manhattan. They didn't dare cross the East River any more than students who live in New Jersey and have to cross the Hudson to get into Manhattan. I think that is terrible. I mean the city has so many things to offer. It would be great if the system could come up with a series of tours, not only to the museums but places like the Met, Lincoln Center, the Wall Street district, the village, Harlem, the lower east side, so they could get some concept of what is really so alive and vibrant that close to them. And how these things came to be.

(I) I think that is a terrific idea. How could one go about implementing such a

(N) Well there is a teacher at Fairleigh named, he's a friend of ours, Al Aversa, he's a social science, sociologist, and Al every semester manages to take his students into a part of Manhattan for lunch so that they can see what the neighborhood is like, eat the food and talk to the people. There is a man in my department who does a tour of Greenwich Village where the famous writers used to live. He likes to do it in the spring on a Saturday. He will do it for a couple of hundred bucks, hundred and fifty bucks. It would be great to get a busload of kids and have Heywood take them around, places where Melville lived and Hemingway and Richard Wright and all of these people during the jazz age and after. But it is quite a remarkable tour and you can do it all by walking. You meet at the White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street and you start out from there working your way into the center of the village, a little bit south, not quite down to Canal Street and around and around. It takes up a whole afternoon and then it would be nice just to have dinner or whatever in one of the Village restaurants.

(I) Do you think you would be in a position for example to suggest to such a thing along with curriculum revision here, kind of curriculum expansion in terms of utilizing the resources of the city?

(N) That could be because I've remained very close friends with Ed Reynolds and Floyd Perini. They themselves are very good buddies. And every two or three months, we go out to lunch together and see what's going on with the school, see what I am doing, and I could suggest something like that to them. Those would be the ideal people to handle it.

(I) Sounds good. You know, you've touched upon the relationship of Fairleigh Dickinson University to the town primarily in terms of the availability of their recreational facilities. What about the relationship of the University to the town in other regards. Your wife works at Fairleigh?

(N) Well she used to. She's left because of a few problems with sexism. I know the town, when the school has speakers or lecturers, they usually place a note in the paper and we've been over a few times particularly in the evening. The audience has been 90% from the town rather than the college. In the afternoon, it is a little different. Then it is mainly college. But I think that kind of participation is already in place. And also for some of the shows that they put in, you get a lot of people from the town as well as the college.

(I) So you think it is a fairly free interchange or a substantial interchange.

(N) Oh yes. Substantial. The Levy's take courses over there. The last time they were studying I think it was Italian. You know, it gives them something to do. It puts them in touch with the learning experience. I took a course over there too under tuition remission when Lori was still there in video tape filming and editing which was kind of interesting. The teacher was a jerk but it wasn't a bad course.

(I) Would you consider Teaneck an academic town considering the fact that it has a university in it?

(N) I would say without, even without the university, the academic background, that is the educational level of the citizens, was quite high and I think that helps to keep the teachers on their toes. I think in some instances that it is a cause of some minor fear on the part of teachers. It must be tough to work in a community where a number of the parents are not only graduates but have advanced degrees and we assume that they know what the hell they are talking about when they go in to make a complaint. But again, I think that makes a better teacher.

(N) Well we really have covered a number of areas. I guess I would ask if you had to choose again, do you think you would like to live in Teaneck?

(N) Yeah. We looked all over. We looked up in Westchester, we didn't look in Queens, we didn't look in Brooklyn. Looked in other parts of Manhattan and we looked in towns around here. Tenafly, Hackensack, Englewood, but this was the place. And I think a great deal of it had to do with, we decided on the place because of the educational system and the ambiance and then we found the house that we wanted and this was it so I guess we will be here.

(I) Thank you very much. I think you have certainly given a good picture of your experience here in town.

(N) I hope I didn't sound too pessimistic because basically I am not. I think as long as we have friends who are involved in the schools and some of the social activities, we have the papers, I forgot to say, that's another good thing about the town is that you have two competing papers and ultimately that helps make them both better papers. Or that's the way it is supposed to work. The Record is a good paper and of course we get the other paper as well.

(I) You are talking of the Teaneck News and the Suburbanite.

(N) Yes. Very often they have the same news but there is something else going on too in terms of presentation and how you present it. The conclusions that are reached, the editorials, things of that sort. I think it is very healthy for the town.

(I) Do you notice any clear difference in policy between the two papers?

(N) No. I think that is something they both avoid. They would both like to be as bland as possible but I know that when the Suburbanite started, that immediately caused a change in the format of the Teaneck News and

(I) Do you remember when the Suburbanite did start?

(N) The year before last I believe, about two and a half years ago. I think 1981. But that caused the Teaneck News to do more coverage on what was happening at the police station. The Suburbanite had more feature pieces instead of little items on club news. And I don't, for a while the News was doing that too. I don't think it was doing as much of it. But I think it is good to have a couple of papers in a town this size. What is it - 40,000 ?

(I) Do you find papers helpful in terms of alerting interested (END OF SIDE 2 AND END OF TAPE)

 

Back to Teaneck Oral History (2)

Back to Township History Main Page