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Audio recording of the interview with Charles Cox

Charles Cox 

(Interviewed by Hilde Weisert on 4/1/1985. Transcription: 46 pages)

Mr. Cox moved to Teaneck with his mother in 1955 from Manhattan; he was seven years old. He entered the second grade at Bryant School. Mr. Cox remembers there being at least twenty white families in his neighborhood when they first moved to Teaneck; however, within a year or two, the number of white families dwindled down to three or five. He says at that age he did not understand the significance; but his mother was quite aware, because reporters and other news people are calling and coming by inquiring as to whether she realized what was happening in the neighborhood. Mr. Cox's earliest memories are those of playing basketball, baseball and Ivy League football in junior high. He also recalls being voted principal for the day in eighth grade and being given the opportunity to walk around the school with the principal and sit in on classes; reporters are there taking pictures. Mr. Cox attributes his complete oblivion to the tensions of the time to his athletic abilities, which from his personal experiences, apparently shielded him from the discrimination felt by others around Teaneck. He believes being sports minded opened doors to the other side of the tracks; he recalls as a common event, 'White kids came to my house, I went to their house. We didn't know there was a problem." Mr. Cox notes that he was told as a teenager that he possessed natural talent as an athlete and added that his class was the first to break the color line on the high school baseball team. However, he attributes a lost opportunity to his basketball coach and remembers the Guidance Department steering every black family to vocational courses and specifically attempting to keep him from just basketball. Ironically, he received a basketball scholarship to a school on trimesters. So Mr. Cox, who had always attended schools that had a 90% white student population and whose high school graduating class consisted of 30 black students, was now headed for an all-black university. Mr. Cox readily admits that he did not have all his requirements completed and was passed by his teachers even though academically he performed poorly in senior year. "Sports did it", he says, paving his way out of high school and into college. Concerning this time of his life, Mr. Cox says, "Up until my senior year, I couldn't complain about anything, because nothing really was wrong (p. 1 - 15).

The narrator attended a college in Ohio from 1966 to 1970 and majored in education; there were only six men in the Education Department (p. 15 - 18).

Charles Cox became interested in politics three months before he decided to run for the Board of Education. However, he declined going into his reasons for running on tape (p. 19). The narrator came on the Board in the first election after the strike. He felt there should be a teacher represented on the Board of Education and was determined to win or lose on his own (p. 20 - 22). Responding to what he felt were the biggest challenges he faced while on the Board, Mr. Cox said shutting down schools and being part of a group of people that spends $25 million (p. 23 and p. 44 - 45).

Mr. Cox describes his rather unconventional style at meetings as well as his unique approach to handling annoying situations. He sees himself as a "refreshing" change and reiterates his campaign platform, "It's time for a change, and let's start talking to each other instead of at each other." Mr. Cox offers some interesting comments about his experience with long-time Teaneck resident Bob Morrill, and discusses what it is like to be the first black male on the Board of Education since LaMar Jones, some twenty years ago (p. 23 - 28). He confirms that there were attempts to keep him off the Board, using the controversy of his residing else where than his Teaneck mailing address. He says the bitterness was not racial but rather political; he was not part of the establishment, and he was running against somebody who was black and establishment (p. 30 - 34). He recalls the uproar that occurred in town when the Board announced it was conducting the public meeting in a member's home in VERMONT. Mr. Cox describes it as, " a controversy that wasn't, because there was nothing anybody could do. All you could do was pack up your car and come on up...We didn't do anything illegal. We publicized it (the meeting), we made it known...(the meeting) just happened to not be here." (p. 35 - 36)

Charles Cox claims he has discovered what the common thread is in Teaneck; he claims discovering this has given him an understanding as to why there is opposition to widening Route 4; and why there is animosity between the Town Council and the Board of Education; that thread is TO KEEP TEANECK, TEANECK. He feels there is a group that does not care about black and white. They care only about "keeping Teaneck the way Teaneck is." An increasing black student population in the high school, Mr. Cox points out, has given way to concerns that there may be an influx of poor from Harlem into Teaneck. The narrator believes this to be unfounded, because it takes money to live in Teaneck, which is basically middle class and housing prices reflect that fact (p. 37 - 40). However, from his experiences on the Board, he has learned that racism is not confined to color; in fact, he states, "Racism has nothing to do with color. It has to do with mentality." Mr. Cox relates examples of disputes that arose within the settled Jewish community reacting to the influx of Orthodox Jews (p. 40 - 41).

Mr. Cox is personally optimistic regarding Teaneck's direction, concluding "I could have been a staunch racist living in the Northeast, growing up in the Northeast. I could have hated white people going to an all-black university. But Teaneck gave me insight into there is more than that. That's what Teaneck is about (p. 46).


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