|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.|
Audio recording of the interview with Orra Davage
(Interviewed by June Kapell on 4/18/1984. Transcription: 25 pages)
The narrator is by profession a pathologist and teaches pathology to medical students in teaching hospitals (p.21). Ms. Davage and her family moved to Teaneck in 1959, and purchased a home on Summit Avenue, which, she subsequently learned, was the furthest removed from the northeast quadrant of town any blacks had come at that time in Teaneck. They chose the location, because it was ideally located for commuting to New York (p. 1 - 2).
Some of Ms. Davage's earliest involvements in Teaneck were the League of Women Voters, the school libraries, and the PTA. Primarily her work with the PTA focused on the libraries for all the elementary schools and progressed on to the Jr. high and high school level. Starting as a recording secretary, Ms. Davage worked her way into a vice presidency and organized book fairs and other kinds of fundraisers for the purpose of establishing libraries. She eventually managed, with the cooperation of the Board of Education, to get libraries throughout the whole school system as well as securing more books (p. 3 - 5).
Not surprisingly, her passion for libraries led her to the town's public library. After a conversation with Alice Norton and Olive Tamborelle, during which the narrator explained how she had come from Penn State and had through the League of Women Voters managed to open the first public library in town, Ms. Davage was encouraged, in light of her experience and interest, to pursue an appointment on the Board of Trustees. Ms. Davage learned that the trustees are appointed by the mayor, who was then Matty Feldman, and it was not until Frank Burr was mayor that she finally got on the Board of Trustees. The narrator explains the Board is comprised of seven trustees. Five are appointed by the mayor; the mayor and the superintendent of schools are also trustees. Ms. Davage states that the mayor used to appoint people exclusively to the Board; but after the building fund controversy, the town council decided they will also determine who is on the Board of Trustees and want prospective candidates considered by them also. According to Ms. Davage, this change in policy has made a difference in the last few people suggested. Before the council review policy change, a list of candidates for appointment would be generated by the librarians at the mayor's request. At the time of the interview, Ms. Davage stated that they were "always...in need of having a lawyer on the board." She adds "We need people with business acumen, and you need a broad base to help run the library, because the library is a real business..." (p. 6 - 7).
From pages seven to thirteen, Ms. Davage relates the background against which a bicentennial privately-funded library building project was undertaken. After a sufficient amount of contributions and pledges were secured, the narrator states, the Board, believing they had raised over $100,000, hired architects, and finally were ready to groundbreak. Ms. Davage continues explaining what happened when the pledges they believed they had were discovered not to be pledged at all, and she describes the subsequent unraveling that occurred, stating "...when everything broke...we had to recover, recoup as much as we could, and we finally, after a lot of abuse, name calling...did get the council to undertake a renovation of an old building..." Ms. Davage makes the point that the council later tired to distance themselves from the project, claiming they were unaware of any building project, but insists that "They were in it from the ground floor..."and that "...the council didn't care... The building was going to belong to them, because the building was township property." (p. 8 - 9) Ms. Davage describes some of the pitfalls of the renovation project, the unsatisfactory work performed and the flooding problems. She concludes expressing her opinion that though the renovation is nice, there still isn't enough room and "We are out of space already."
Ms. Davage recounts her involvement with the group, Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools (TCPS) stating the upshot of their efforts showed Teaneck was a good town to live in if you wanted your child get a good education; their group also promoted the advantages of investing in public schools (p. 13- 14).
The narrator also relates her experiences on the Fair Housing Council; and specifically, the difference of opinion that occurred with the Community Relations Advisory Board when they decided to go public with their evidence of documented cases of blockbusting in the Northeast section of Teaneck (p. 15 - 18).
On pages twenty through twenty-five, Ms. Davage concludes her interview with a brief discussion of her involvement with the Operation Community Talent program, which was a Board-sponsored, after school tutorial program, as well as her work with the Affirmative Action group and in particular Affirmative Action Legislature Title XIII. She also talks about her hobby, tennis, and her participation in the Bergen County Women's Tennis League.