|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 Fay and Martin Geier
|NARRATOR:||(F) Fay Geier & (M) Martin Geier|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||May 11, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (2/3/1985)|
This is an interview with Fay Geier at her home on May 11, 1984 for the Teaneck Oral History Project by June Kapell.
(I) Fay, you've been in town for close to thirty years now. What brought you to Teaneck?
(F) Teaneck had a fine reputation for good community living, excellent schools and it certainly seemed the kind of town we'd like to raise our children in.
(I) And how did you first see the town?
(F) Well, our first experience was on vacation riding along Route 4 going up to the Catskills. We had heard that Jews were not permitted in Teaneck, it was a restricted area and we thought what a beautiful town. What a pity. And then one day this friend of ours said that they had bought a home in Teaneck. And we decided that we would like to see the town and what it was like. We heard it had an excellent school system. At the time, our children were five and three and about ready for school so we came to Teaneck and looked around at a new development in the northeast area which is where we are now and we bought in Teaneck.
(I) Where had you been living
(F) We had been living in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn.
(I) And once you came here, then your children did start in which school?
(F) They started school at Bryant School and that was about the time that I became active and involved within the school system and my first job was as chairman for the Special Ed at Bryant School.
(I) How did you care to Special Ed?
(F) Well that was the only position open. Apparently you know they pick the chairmanship at the end of the year like in June. We moved here in May and the following year, I went into school and inquired were there any positions open. Richard was starting school and I would like to become involved. And the only chairmanship they had open was Special Ed and they asked would I take that. Which I did. And it was kind of interesting because I really didn't know too much about the PTAs or Special Ed and Mrs. Record who was the principal of Bryant School at that time inquired whether I had a child in the Special Ed and I said no and she said well how do you know that you could handle it and I said well, I felt that if I was interested in the schools, it wouldn't make any difference whether I did or I didn't and that was the beginning of it and it worked out just fine.
(I) Did you stay with the Special Ed Committee for any length of time?
(F) Only for one year. And after that, I think I became an officer since they needed somebody. And that's how it worked let's face it. You know, you say yes and you've got it. And then I went on to be president of Bryant School and into the junior high and high school as well as President of PTA Council which represents all of the PTAs in town.
(I) You were president in all of the schools?
(F) No, just president at Bryant and the PTA Council and on the executive boards of all the others and, of course, because you are involved with that, I ended up going to every Board of Ed meeting for oh I don't know, seven years at least. Never missing a meeting.
(I) What were the vital issues at the time?
(F) Well at about that time was the integration primarily and what to do with the northeast area which is where I live and the need at Bryant School which they were afraid would go completely black at one point.
(I) And what did you contribute?
(F) You mean what did we do about it? Well there were several things. First we started a
(I) Who was the we?
(F) Well when I say we, primarily not through the school now, this would be Tom Boyd and Archie Lacey, we began the Northeast Community Organization getting people white and black that had moved into the area. Ike McNatt and so on to become involved in seeing that the area would be open to all people because what was happening was the real estate people primarily were bringing blacks only into the area and even if a white person wanted to move in, they just shifted them away and they started the blockbusting at that point. We would have people ring our door bells and say, you know your neighbor next door is selling their house to Mr. Brown. Using a name like that for us to become a little nervous and figure, gee, they didn't tell us they were selling the house. Actually they were not selling the house. But these were the types of tactics that they used within the area or they'd send you a postcard saying, we have just sold a house in your neighborhood to Mr. Washington and if you are interested, please phone us. And a lot of people did react to that.
Now in conjunction with that, was the effort at about I guess it was 1962 when Harvey Scribner came in and the concerns of Bryant School which at that particular time I was president of Bryant School, would it be all black and would it be best to do something about integrating the schools and the first step that I recall was to, he started a program called Open Enrollment and voluntarily some people from other areas were willing to bus their children into Bryant School and black families were requested at Bryant School if they would consider having their children bused out of the area to other schools to see how it worked, would work, and Bryant School as far as was concerned, the education they got, the teachers, the staff were as good as any other school in town. It is like over the years there seemed to be a little rivalry between the two junior highs. That had nothing to do with black or white or anything else but the normal rivalry of schools. But the reputation was becoming one that said Bryant School isn't as good, making you feel that because the blacks were moving in, the education in the schools would go down and of course that was not true at all.
(I) Well how long did this Open Enrollment Policy last?
(F) I think it lasted a year or two years and then as a matter of fact this month in May of 84, it is twenty years that the program went in where they, the Board passed the ruling that Bryant School would be a sixth grade school and that's how that worked out you know, as far as the integration was concerned.
(1) After the integration of the schools with the central sixth grade, then what was the reaction in town. What were School Board elections like?
(F) Well after that 1 think all the people who really were involved and cared about Teaneck, about it being a model community which was the reputation it had, and a good school system, kind of rallied round and the following year, the election was of Coffee, Greenstone and Sather, Orville Satl1er had been a board member and had retired as had Joe Coffee and brought the two of them back to run again because they people felt the necessity. I mean this is how I recall it June. I may be a little bit off but my recollection was that they asked these people to serve, that it was important to have them win. People knew their reputation, knew that they are caring people about Teaneck and its educational system and Greenstone was a young man just coming up who had been involved and also seemed to care a lot and knew a lot of people in town and the three of them were encouraged to run and it was, I guess, the wildest election we had. Brought out the largest vote in town. It really become crucial to our point of view for integration in the community to have these three men win which they did.
(I) I remember they are the "good guys".
(I) But I don't recall who they ran against.
(F) I don't remember either. I think Kippy Dornfeld for some reason or other comes to my mind. He is one.
(I) I think he came later.
(F) He came later? I don't even recall at this moment. I just remember they were the "good guys" and those were the ones we worked for and twenty years later, it really didn't matter because the "good guys" won.
(I) Then the next year, you stayed in active all this time.
(F) Oh I stayed active.
(I) Still going every night to Board meetings?
(F) Oh, I went to the Board meetings, yes, for a long period of time. Following that, at one of the meetings because I had been involved, Dr. A. Milton Bell approached and asked whether I would consider helping him. He was going to run for the Board of Ed. And he had been so involved with so many things that the only thing I asked him was, how could he run for the Board and still be chairman of this and chairman of that and so on and he said, no, he expected to give it all up if he were elected that was what he would do. And I said I'd re glad to help him which I did and helping him meant going with him to almost every cottage party he was invited to along with his wife Marilyn and many of them and after the meetings, he would sit down and discuss what people thought and their questions and their reactions and how he sounded and was he knowledgeable on every facet of what the people were talking about and so on. And he did get elected and he did give up all the other activities to spend the time on the Board and that was my first involvement helping in campaigns other than the big one with the three guys.
(I) Who had assisted you in your campaign?
(F) Martin Zork and Bill Bloom who is now deceased. And actually as far as being knowledgeable on certain areas of the educational system, Bernie Shore who was director of Special Services was very helpful and very anxious to see that I hopefully would get elected because I represented the same views that he did. Since he is no longer in the system, it is easy to talk about it.
(I) And after Milton, now were you still in PTA at the time when you were doing all this?
(F) Yes. 1 was still at the high school because I still had one, my daughter was graduating in 69 and my son graduated in 68 so up until the time that they graduated, I was still very much involved within the school. And also at that time, about 67 or 66, I began to work at Thomas Jefferson Junior High as secretary to Howard Dimmit who was principal at the time.
(1) There was no conflict working in the school and helping.
(F) Oh no, no. None whatsoever. Because one was strictly evenings and you know a volunteer. Didn't have any effect whatsoever on being involved within the school.
(1) Who else did you
(F) Someone that you know very well. Your husband, David Kapell. David ran for the Board and I was very happy to help him in the same capacity as I did with Milt Bell, attending all the cottage parties with him, going over things with a critique of how they were. He was capable and he certainly had the same views I did. I was delighted that he was elected to the Board of Ed and served capably.
(I) How many years did you work at Thomas Jefferson?
(F) Only about three years and then I got this job offer in New York City at which I remained for thirteen and a half, a1lrost fourteen years and retired last April
(I) While you were at TJ, I remember an occasion at which you were surprised. It was a PTA meeting.
(F) Oh yes. I was presented with a life membership through PTA from Thomas Jefferson which was rather interesting because it was the one school that I did not serve in any capacity in their particular PTA. So it was even more flattering that the people at that school felt that I had contributed something in same way to that school and the PTA. It was very, very flattering and I am very pleased with it.
(I) We've been joined by Martin Geier and between Marty and Fay, I'd like to get away from PTA now and get to the community itself. Now you live here in the northeast. Could you talk about what it was like in those crucial years?
(M) In the crucial years, I think the greatest word that comes out frankly is distrust not of unknown but of the people that had lived here with us. We had the blockbusting of the real estate agents and the feeling that you couldn't trust your neighbor. In other words, we went through an experience of a neighbor on our block holding a meeting. A fact that you couldn't, we didn't sell a house nobody could blockbust the area. And we found out a couple of weeks later that his house was up for sale and he had already sold it. This was just a device so that he could get, be the first one to go and to get his price. We learned also at that time because of the sessions that were held in Teaneck by I believe it was NYU Arts Extension, they had a hundred people from all over the community that were involved in these I believe they were weekly sessions, Jean Noble and a couple of others that were well versed in this field were part of it, they conducted these various sessions, where we got together we discussed not necessarily Teaneck although that was a great part of it but living with people that were different and I think the greatest thing that came out of it was the fact that we weren't upset so much by people that were different I think that what our greatest problem was it that we were up against people who we knew very little about. That we were up against people that because of our daily lives we had never met on a one-to-one basis as part of the Jewish community in this town, it had been my feeling that the big religious differences were between the Jews and the Christian groups and I was very surprised to find as a result of these sessions that there was as much or maybe even more conflict between the Protestants and the Catholic groups. That this was a great portion of the differences.
As a result of it, we got to meet people that we normally would not have met in town. We got to understand people that were a lot different than us. We got to meet people on a social level that we never would have met and by meeting them on a social level, by being in their homes, by them being in our homes, we found that people are people period. I think that is the only way I can describe it. I found over a period of time that there were, we ran into people who wouldn't hesitate to use their difference almost as a, almost a threat that you wouldn't dare speak against me because you'd be considered prejudiced. We ran into this and we found that we didn't hesitate. That if you spoke openly and honestly and straightforwardly, you were respected for it.
As a result of this, I believe it was a result of these sessions, the people here in the northeast to combat what was going on formed the North East Community Organization or NECO as it was called. It was a group as much black as it was white and the purpose of the group was to get together to see what we could do about the blockbusting of the realtors, to see what we could do here in town. Now earlier I understand there'd been talk about the busing of children out of this area when the Bryant School become a sixth grade school and the result was the kids from this, from Bryant School went into other schools in town and we had heard the remarks, oh, you came from that school. Well frankly our family, our children went to Bryant School and I feel my children got as good if not better education in their elementary years as the children from some of the other schools here in town and the fact that they came from the northeast school had nothing to do with the quality of education. I wouldn't trade some of the teachers and the education they got with some of the teachers and the education received in other areas of this town.
So that these are all things that we were part of during that period. The animosity that came up, not here, but on the outside and I think frankly it was based on fear by most of the people in other areas. Their lack of knowledge and I think the proof of it is today if you drive through Teaneck, you will find people of all nationalities, all races, living in all parts of this town and we have no problems. There are no fights. It took a little while for the kids to learn how to get along, for them to learn that you don't necessarily only have to associate with your, if you are a Jew that you only associate with the Jewish kids in school. If you are black, you only associate with the blacks kids. Everybody in Teaneck knows the stories of the black door at the high school. These things. And I think that today we can proudly look back and say that in spite of all this, in spite of everything that went on, Teaneck today is a quiet community, one that has survived all of this and has come out and I feel that with its head high. So we can stand and compare ourselves to any town around and be damned proud of it. People talk of the influx of people from New York and we talk of the people, I think in the northeast as an example, and I speak for the northeast because that's where I live, I think you will find that the college degrees per family are as high or higher than in a lot of other areas in this town so that there is nothing to be ashamed of for living in this area.
(I) You've covered a lot of territory. I'd like to go back and pick up on some of them. For instance, the Human Relations seminars that you attended. You both attended them. (Yes) After this initial community-wide, then what was done with human relations?
(F) Well we each brought back to primarily people who were active in organizations whether it was school interests or community interests or whatever they may be, church affiliations, these were the people that primarily attended and hopefully they then in turn went back to their groups and continued on. As a matter of fact, I think it was almost as a result of this that the township itself has a board on community relations and there too it is representative of people which I served on for I think four years.
(I) Do you recall who was the chairman of this?
(F) Bernie Confer. At the time that I served.
(I) And this board still exists now?
(F) Oh yes.
(I) There were also programs in the schools, weren't there?
(F) Yes. NYU and Jean Noble in particular were with the students primarily at high school level and they too brought back through assemblies and through programs on community relations and whether it is still on going or not at this time, I don't know. I just wanted to add something to what Marty had said about fear and knowing people and understanding and recognizing black and white as just decent human beings and that's a personal experience that I had with my neighbor in back and I was doing market research at the time and had spent some time with this gentlemen who was black and I had indicated to him I was his neighbor in the back but I had not had an opportunity to greet him and say hello as yet and after about a half an hour's conversation, when we were through with the market research, the man turned to me and said, and what are you involved in in this community? And I bristled and I said that I was involved with Bryant School and the integration and it was the tone and manner that he said it that I resented and said to him, you know I've been sitting here for a half hour talking to you, looking you directly in the eye and not once have you looked me in the eye and frankly I thought it was time that we worked together in this town, not just I and picked myself up and walked to the door. He followed and stopped me and said, you know, I think I owe you an apology. You have to recognize that all of my years, white people have been condescending to me and talk to me in such a way that I guess I don't recognize when somebody is sincere in their manner of speaking to me and I apologize and I think this is the kind of thing that Marty and I both learned from both directions. It was a learning experience for blacks as well as for us as whites to learn to live together with other people.
(M) I think that in relation to what Fay is saying about the area, at the time of the blockbusting, etc., banks lending institutions, were a lot different than they are today. For a black individual to go into a bank to get a mortgage he had to have a lot more on the ball. He had to have a lot more qualifications, he had to have a lot better income than I or as a white would have for the bank to give him the same mortgage that they would give me so that if he could come into this area and he could get a mortgage and buy the same house for example that I have, he had to have more than I had in order to get in here and for me to look down on him would be ludicrous frankly.
(I) You also talked about some of your other neighbors here working in the community. You mentioned Tom Boyd and Archie Lacey. Could you describe some of the work that you did. I know they've been community leaders too.
(F) You mean how did we meet them or how, what were they involved in within the area?
(I) How were you involved together. For instance, on the integration of the schools?
(F) Well in that regard, I think Dr. Scribner who was superintendent of schools at the time, were introduced to various people in the community and since the problem at the time was the northeast, meeting some of these people he very often called people together. Tom Boyd lived right up the block from us and Archie Lacey right around the corner. In trying to pass the word amongst black people of what Dr. Scribner was trying to do with the integration of busing black children out, it was important for him to meet people like Tom and Archie to see that they get around to some of their neighbors and be involved. It was also important for people like Marty and I to get to know Tom and Archie as blacks so that we can work like, you know, just blacks and whites together as another aspect of it.
(M) I think that in relation to the busing of the children out while the other parts of town looked at it as being an advantage to the "black children" coming into their schools, the parents in this area, the black parents in this area didn't see it that way. They saw it as their children losing their neighborhood school and being sent into other parts of town and there had to be as much missionary work on, amongst these people as there were amongst the other parts of town and also to get this program sold and get the cooperation of everybody in to make this program an effective program and one that would succeed.
(I) You just used the word neighborhood school and that became a code word. Well,
(F) Well that became the main issue of at the time that Dr. Warner and Paul Margolis were elected. That was the time that I ran for the Board and the issue became whether we have a sixth grade school and integrate our schools peacefully within the community or retain the neighborhood schools and, of course, the people that were opposed to integrating schools used as their cry that they moved to that area for their children. They didn't want their children on a bus, they wanted their child here for a hot lunch and of course truth came out at many meetings that these same people, wives and mothers worked and their children had a sandwich for lunch, many of them made lunch right in school because they worked so that it was silly. And they thought nothing of their children traveling an hour every summer, every morning and every afternoon to day camp. That bus was OK. So that that was part of the issue of the neighborhood schools.
(M) There were code words for everything and the neighborhoods schools during that period was the code word that was used and they didn't say obviously wouldn't say the real reason why they didn't want this. They didn't want their little children contaminated. Let's be frank about it and they used the fact that they wanted their neighborhood school. They moved in because they wanted their children to go to a particular school. Even though the results of that school may have been much lower than what they were achieving at Bryant School as I mentioned earlier. But it was their neighborhood school and that was the code word.
(F) As a matter of fact, you know, something just occurred to me. At this particular time, in Teaneck, where the plan is to close three elementary schools because
(END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
It is rather interesting that at this particular time in the history of Teaneck, the plan is to close three elementary schools because of the decrease in school population and because it doesn't involved a racial issue, there are concerns of parents but I don't hear that cry of my neighborhood school and how terrible it will be.
(I) You also referred before to the black door at the high school. Could you elaborate a little bit on that?
(M) Well I don't know too much about it, strictly what I had heard, read in the paper and so forth. There was one door at the high school as I understood it and I would stand corrected on anything I am saying on this subject, that was called "the black door". This was the door that was to be used exclusively by the black students to the high school and I understand that if a white student at the high school were to attempt to use it, they would wind up in an altercation. I think it was frankly from what I gathered a matter of pride of something that was their door. This belonged to them. This was their turf. This was their property. I think this is since gone the way of all flesh that this is something that is in the past. But in the attempt to assert themselves, I think this would be a way of putting it, some of the black students, the more militant black students at the high school decided that we are going to have a door that no white is going to use and of course they knew it as would be natural amongst young children. You would have some of the whites who say, nobody is going to keep me out of using any door at the high school and there were some battles back and forth.
(I) Wouldn't you say it started because of the housing patterns though? I think that door is the one that is closest to
(F) It is the door closest to Elizabeth Avenue so that the students from the northeast walking to the high school would be walking. I don't know, I am not familiar enough with it. Our children were out of it. However, I do think that part of it stemmed from a period of time that evolved into Teaneck that at a time when people were using the "black is beautiful" and a militancy that arose along with pride in the black student population that helped cause this kind of feeling among the students. And I know that, for example, my next door neighbor told me the story of their son who was in high school at the time and he had grown up in an integrated area always. Whether it was out west or wherever and the feeling his parents had where you chose your friends by the kind of person you were and wanted to be friends with. Not by race. However, at that particular time at the high school, he was made to chose by the black students I didn't mention that they are a black family, and the boy came home upset because one of his friends who was white, a couple of black students got a hold of him and said, no, you are going to make up your mind. Either you are black and you are with us or you are his friend and you can use the other door, etc. straight down the line. The kid came home upset and his father was upset as well because he felt that he didn't spend all his years breaking down integration, learning to live together, with white people, for his son now to be put on a spot of ostracizing a white boy who he liked and was his friend and he kind of felt that his son would have to grow up and recognize and make a choice and that he could still be a friend and black and be proud to be a black but that doesn't mean that you have to hurt a white boy whose been your friend. That this is going to accomplish nothing in race relations.
(I) There is one other area that we haven't touched on yet. The Teaneck Political Association (TPA). You were part of a founding parents, were you?
(M) Yeah. There were roughly a dozen of us that were called to a meeting one Sunday morning at the home of Dr. Harold Glick. Most of them, some of them were people who'd been involved in another group before them called I think the Good Government Group. The purpose of TPA and this goes back to the problem with the school system and the people and I don't know if I am saying the right or the wrong thing, came out of the woodwork.
(I) Which people came out of the woodwork?
(M) Opposed to the integration of our schools. Their children will get their hot lunch and you won't take my child out of my neighborhood school and so forth and so on who were looking to take over control of the Board of Education with this one issue involved. Not the education of all the children. But the fact that you shall not integrate our schools. Leave what goes on in the northeast there but don't integrate our schools. And the feeling was that from the Board of Ed that they would also make the same attempt at the council level and the purpose of the original meeting was to form an organization to counter this threat. Not that anybody was saying I am better than you and I feel my thoughts are better than yours but the feeling was that there is an organized group who's thinking was very much opposed to what we felt was the democratic processes within the township, the way the town should be run, etc. and that there should be, if the other group was organized, that we should be organized and so therefore we had this meeting and I think there was about 12 people there that morning. Fay and I were fortunate enough to be invited and we formed the Teaneck Political Assembly. The purpose of it was just that. To be political to be involved in council, to be involved in other things that went on in town, to be aware and to work for the things that we thought of and that we believed in. I don't know what your thoughts are on it.
(F) The only thing I was going to add to it was that was the nucleus of it. However, it expanded to the degree that it covered every section of town and it was a real well organized political group and of course our first campaign was the "good guys" and as I mentioned at the onset of this interview, it was the largest turnout ever had within Teaneck and of course that was just the beginning because thereafter they tried to seek candidates that felt would represent all of the people within our community, race, religion and so forth. Not to make it be a one issue candidate at any time and that was the involvement of the TPA.
(I) There have been a number of other so-called "good guys" on the Board over the years who. . the ones on the Board who originally integrated the schools, Mrs. Hendrickson
(F) The ones elected were Sather, Greenstone and Coffee. Hendrickson, I am trying to remember who else, Seymour Herr, Teddy Lee
(I) This is the 20th anniversary.
(M) Milton Bell.
(F) No, I don't think Milt was on the board
(M) I think Milt was on the Board. I am getting older. Twenty years ago you forget.
(I) And the campaigns in those early days involved a lot of walking the street and
(M) Walking the streets. I know that it reached the stage where for example Dr. Scribner had to have police protection at his home, walking on the street near the Town House to his office one day a bottle was thrown at him. This was the degree that these campaigns sunk to and I think this was part of why we all felt so strongly that we needed something like a Teaneck Political Assembly. In our minds we were the good guys but I am sure in the minds of others who thought differently, we were the bad guys. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder I guess. But this is what went on. The people stopped talking to people. Either you relieved the way your neighbor believed or he lived next door to you but you had nothing to do with him, let's put it that way. And that's what went on.
(F) I just want to say from a personal point of view, the friends we had made in Teaneck and remained very close within the last twenty years are the people that we became involved with at the time of the election, the time of TPA and so forth and we feel very fortunate in having had the opportunity to meet these people from other parts of the town rather than be insulated to your own little area or your own church group and so forth so it was really a very worthwhile experience for us.
(M) There is no way that I would regret one minute. Anything that we did. When I think back to the close and dear friends that we made, you know we make a lot of acquaintances in life but we don't make too many friends and I think that through these various endeavors that we have in town, we made a lot of and I use the word in its true sense - friends - and for that I am every grateful to Teaneck and to everything that we were involved in. It was time well spent, money well spent, whatever way you want to put it.
(I) I want to thank you both very much for this interview. It's teen a pleasure.
(F) Thank you.
(M) Ours too.