|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 Elizabeth O. Greene
|NARRATOR:||Elizabeth O. Greene|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 8, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (1/30/1985)|
The date is March 8, 1984. The interview is by Mrs. E1izateth Greene. Interviewer Audrey Henson.
(I) Now Mrs. Greene, we were talking, we started a while ago, we were talking about your experiences as a resident of Teaneck, your experience with the onset of the Urban League Guild of Bergen County. Will you continue. I am going to offer a correction, we are talking about the Urban league for Bergen County.
(N) Well I think it was the year 1930 when we organized, brought the Urban League to Englewood. At that time, it didn't include all of Bergen County. It was just Englewood and I truthfully don't know whether they had another chapter in Hackensack or some of the other town in Bergen County or not but I know of this one in Englewood and at that particular time, we had it divided off into about five different groups and they named each one, I don't recall every name now but I know that according to, they sort of zoned it off and according to the zone is, each zone had its own name and the one that I belonged to which ran from Englewood Avenue, this is in Englewood, Englewood Avenue to Forest Avenue, from Lafayette Avenue to Dean Street was the Twilight Group.
Now this is where the credit union and most of the employment office, various things were set up under this particular time and since then, of course, it has gone on to include all of Bergen County and things ran much differently and so much better. We have really, I within my lifetime, feel very lucky to have seen this league as well as other organizations like the Elks, the Masons and then I think it was odd fellows too and mostly the American Veterans Organization because they have just grown so.
I've seen the time when they could hardly make their own way and now as a senior citizen to be invited to their buildings which they themselves have created after we, of course, older people gave them the foundation, they have gone on and built on and they've gotten to the point now all of them wherein they can invite the seniors to parties and different things the same as any other organization of any other nationality and mostly speaking of the whites do. It really does my heart good that we've care this far and I have all, nothing but congratulations for the present Urban League. So, Miss Henson, since I'm not active as I would like to be in this, I think there is very little more that I can tell you but if you have any questions that you want to ask me about that maybe I can answer them but I doubt it because I don't know all the ways they are functioning today.
(I) Well you started to tell me something about the onset of the credit union. Something that you were familiar with there or if you don't want to continue on that, maybe you would like to talk on your actual experiences living in Teaneck. I believe you say you moved to Teaneck in 1930.
(N) 1930. About half of that year and the way I know that is when we moved here, Lieut. Greene was exactly one and a half year old and I think if you figure it out, that would go back to 1930. Wait a minute, I have to be wrong. I have to be wrong. (what do we have to do now - can you cut it?)
(I) Very well. We are back on to, we are recording again. You're saying that you moved to Teaneck about 1937. Was this at this present address?
(N) At this address.
(I) And we are on Lorraine Avenue. All right, you continue.
(N) And at that time, Lorraine Avenue was a dirt road. We have moved from Genesee Avenue in Englewood which is just around the corner. In fact, Genesee Avenue crosses Lorraine or Lorraine ends at Genesee Avenue and so we just moved a distance of about two blocks I guess. And oh this will have to be edited. We've got to clean this up because
(I) No. I think you are going along quite fine. This is what we want, something just very natural.
(N) So my mother, this was during the Depression. The Depression had occurred in 1929 and things had gotten so badly, my husband and I had only been married about a year or so and things had gotten so badly in Brooklyn that we had moved into a house that my mother had built in Englewood.
My mother being an only woman was able to do this after the First World War. I am taking you back an awful long ways in order to come up to the present but after the First World War, money was sort of flourishing, people could get jobs at that time and then this went along from to my memory from 1918 to 1929 when we had the crash and that was how my mother was able to build the house that when the Depression came and we had to move from Brooklyn, we were lucky enough to be able to come over here.
Then the Depression continued. Things didn't get any better and (I am getting mixed up again) and as I said, we moved from Genesee Avenue in Englewood after my mother, because of the Depression, lost that house. My husband was making very, very little and we just didn't have the money to pay and I had to give that house up which was a much nicer house than the one that we moved to but then by this time I had the four children and we were glad to just have a shelter over our heads so we took this house and on this dirt road and worked very hard. My mother, my husband and I did what I could do to get the place fixed up and cleaned up and cut back the woods that almost came up to the house in order that we'd have a yard and we had this so it was very livable.
Then at this time when we moved to Teaneck, I had one, my oldest child entered the Teaneck schools, Washington Irving #2, at the age of 8 and then I had one that was six, one that was four and then by this time the youngest, which is a lieutenant, was two and the first year that they went to school, that he attended school, they had decided to build the new #2 school up on Teaneck Road and that threw all of the children that went to that school into Hawthorne so Lieut. Greene, my youngest child, had to attend kindergarten in Hawthorne for a whole year and I must say this, Teaneck was so different from what it is now because that whole year that he was in the school, he was the only black child in that school for that whole year which is a thing that is far different from today. It does your heart good to see so many people allover and in all the schools but this is the way it was at that time. In my immediate neighborhood, it was like the League of Nations.
(I) When you say immediate neighborhood, you are talking about Lorraine Avenue, Forest Avenue
(N) Which is the beginning of Teaneck because this is right on the line, you see, and it was really a pleasant place to live although we had moved from a nicer home, it was a very nice neighborhood. Everybody seemed to have looked out one for the other. My children couldn't hardly do anything in Teaneck that was wrong without the cops letting my husband know who at that time had been successful in getting on to the township payroll. He worked as a pumpstation operator for the township of Teaneck and whatever the kids did then, if it was wrong which weren't too many things, he was immediately told.
Then over on Forest Avenue, at that particular time, the black families lived on Lorraine Avenue only. You spoke before about the second black family living on Englewood Avenue in Teaneck. I think you are speaking of the Browns. A family by the name of Brown. And before them, we had another family that lived up on Forest Avenue in Teaneck near Teaneck Road by the name of Campbell and the Campbells had a son that made it very well in football, I think, at Teaneck High School. His name was Unkie Campbell I think it was. The Brown family was quite a large family and at the time, they said that my family and Mrs. Brown had all the children, all the black children, in Teaneck and as I say, it was a nice place to live. We didn't have any trouble with the schools. The schools were good and so forth and so on.
(I) Approximately what years are you talking about, what school years?
(N) I am talking about from 1937 to, I think it would be from 1933, I will say, up until 1947 and during this period of years, for same reason or other, I don't know, during the Depression I did have to go up one time to get permission for my husband to plant a garden on some property next to my house.
At that time, they were encouraging people to have Victory Gardens and I still have the letter now that they gave him permission to plant the garden on the lot next to us and at that time, I can't recall who was mayor but I do remember one of the things that he was explaining to me when I was sitting there in the office was how they were trying to keep these woods in the back of our property from the highway all the way over to Englewood Avenue is quite a large patch of woods and they wanted to keep it for a bird sanctuary and as a bumper, these are his words, that they wanted to keep these woods as a bumper to Englewood. And of course having the mind that I have I knew what that meant - all of the, our people, my people, who were kept on this side of the woods and we had about I guess it was seven or eight families on this street, most all of them were ministers.
The family over on Englewood Avenue that you spoke of that you said was the second family in Teaneck, they tried to keep them out. People did try to keep them out. They were burnt out once but they rebuilt the house and Mrs. Brown lived there until she died. Today the property has been sold and new buildings are on it but this is what happened.
Over a period of years, as a child I can remember myself riding a bicycle over up on Teaneck Road on up by the Armory, all over Teaneck, and I would never see a black person, you see, and it is very hard for me at my age today to even realize or to get used to seeing people up there. How the time has changed see. And in 1947 when my daughter by this time, all the others, the Campbells and the Browns were grown and gone, my daughter was graduating from Teaneck High and she was the only black kid to graduate that year and this lasted I tell you for at least throughout all of my children, even the youngest one, there were so few of our people here. And then I also remember that, how the junior high and the high, now we have this question of closing some of the schools down and this and that and the other, well it started off, it could very well be undone since in the very beginning we didn't have such a large population here and I myself remember when the junior high and the high was all one building. When they built, added on to make the high school larger up in there so I can understand easily, you know, how they don't need as many schools as they have. Now is there anything else that you
(I) Yes, I think we can
(N) So this tells of the school days of all of my children and of course what went on with others, I can't say but I'd just like to tell you just my experience. I've had so many things on my mind and so many hurts in my heart that I am kind of glad to talk about it. I think sometimes you talk about it and it makes you feel better.
Now as I say, when my children were small and my husband worked for the township, we received so many aids. I think we had been in this house about, oh I think it was our first Christmas in the house, when my husband had lost a previous job that he had and I had about $3 in my pocketbook and went to Hackensack to do my Christmas shopping with it and lost my pocketbook, lost my little wallet. Luckily I had a dime in my coat pocket and I was able to get back home with that in tears and I didn't know what to do. Well it seems as though God has always been with me and he seems to guide me pretty quickly because I immediately called the Red Cross and they sent someone up and they really came to our aid. We had the best Christmas that we have ever had. I think it was the first time that I had a little turkey to cook in my life since I'd been married and as I say, this was the way Teaneck was to us. Just a beautiful place to live and a beautiful place where my neighbors, although they were maybe Jewish, French, Italian and whatever that lived over on Forest Avenue and not on Lorraine, but we worked together. We shared things.
And when I did get a job and I was at work, if Ernie would get hurt, one of them would take care of them. This is the way, this is the town that I lived in. We had very little money but it was a happy days. As I sit here now and I think about my great friends and the things that they young people have today and how much happiness that they have, it grieves me because you spend and you spend, they are given and they are given and they are not happy. They have everything material but they don't have what they really need is a person, the parent, the love.
I recall the days when the first day that I was able to buy a fairy tale book for my daughter and it cost $1.00. Written by Simon & Schuster. And oh I was so happy because I needed that $1.00; at that time 25¢ would have fed us for two days but I managed to get the $1.00 and went out and bought this book. And I remember the day I bought Frederick the Long Ranger gun. Well he didn't, you didn't see very many of them in my neighborhood and he didn't keep ours very long. I think that same evening somebody stole it but at least I did buy it and he had it for a few hours. And these little things that I mentioned, if I went in the store and I saw a little truck for 10¢ and I'd always maybe buy a truck or buy something, never 10¢, and of course they weren't allowed to pick a 10¢ toy until they knew very well how to take care of things. All right, the seesaws, we put a stone down and put a board over that in the woods there and they played. Took old rugs that we had and make tents out of them. There was happiness in those days. Real happiness. Where has it gone? I just wonder.
Then when we felt like it and we could, we'd get together and from where I lived, we would walk sometimes all the way up to Englewood Cliffs to the Hudson River and go down there. At that time, this was the year in the 30s, that they were allowed to swim in the river. Take those children, each one of them small, pack their little lunch, and we'd go down there and spend the whole days. This is the way we did, no money. Again I say but lots of happiness. Now we come up until today, oh during that time too, I don't want to overlook this because this is very important.
We, as I say, the white and the blacks were here in this neighborhood, we worked together and we, as I say, helped one another see. But then when they left this neighborhood, Freddie had about seven little boyfriends, one I think was a Jewish boy, and one was Italian, one was French, one was something else. There were seven of them all together. And they decided, they were in their teens and they decided to go over on the Englewood Golf Course and caddy and so they all very joyfully went over there and they got over there and they found out that Freddie couldn't go on with them because he was black. So showing you how in many instances children maybe have more sense than the adults, this little boy that, the little Jewish boy immediately thought and he went up to the owner of the place and he told him, he said, well he's not black. He is Philippino I think he told them. Well of course the man didn't know. He couldn't tell whether he was or whether he wasn't so he let him work. See this is people working together and sometimes this is what we have to do.
Then another time, I am recalling how they went up to the very skating rink that is up there in Teaneck, in Bergenfield now, but it was first built and the kids used to of course naturally it was different management. The kids used to go up there to skate and this one particular day, my youngest daughter Marjorie and Frederick begged to go up there and when they got up there, and were told that they couldn't enter they were really hurt. And how did I deal with this? Well it was nothing I could do. I am only one person. All I could tell them is that when they are called names or when they are treated in such and such a way that every knock is a boost, see, and that this wouldn't last. It would things would change sooner or later.
Now at the Teaneck High School, how they dealt with this case of discrimination, the senior class went over to the, to a pool which I think was out in Hasbrouck Heights, out that way someplace. It was during the times that they were going on picnics and different things almost at the close of the school year and when they got to the pool, they wouldn't allow my oldest daughter in because she was black so the kids, the teacher wouldn't let any of them, none of the kids would go in since Joan couldn't go in see. Now this was one way that Teaneck was fighting back.
And then in the 50s, 40s or 50s, the late 40s or the 50s, we had someone came to our town to study it and they spoke of how liberal and how friendly and how progressive the blacks and the whites were in Teaneck among all towns to live in. Now that I've gotten all of my children grown and I am a great grandmother and I sit back and see some of the obstacles that are put in front of them and for one reason or another there is not a thing that I can do to help. It is a hurting situation. Say for instance my oldest daughter, all the girls, all the children in the business world, three of them are secretaries or bookkeepers or whatever and of course the boy works for the police force.
Now you take him, although mostly on, no I'd rather dwell on the girls, the third girl first, she married a fellow in tile Marine Corps, they went to Jacksonville, North Carolina, the Marine base, Camp Lejeune, and now this is a Hackensack boy serving his country and he was called away with his regiment to Okinawa so since his wife was having a baby, I went down there to be with her and during that time, I had a chance to become a very good Marine because I had to transact all business for her on the base and she went through, she had her baby and after that I told her since they too were having a hard time getting along and it was always a matter of I'm having to help and help and I could hardly help myself but I did, I said now Marjorie, when you get on your feet, you go up to that base or go someplace and apply for a job because when, after leaving Teaneck High School she was quite qualified to do most all clerical work. This is how the school at that time was rated about #2 they said in the country and she was a good worker so she went and she applied and it took two years before they gave her just a little easy job in a cafeteria and she wasn't satisfied so she kept going to the brass and for two years, she held that whole base, a base with 50,000 (END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A) so for two years as I say, she had this base tied up because all of the commissary, the PX and most of the businesses on the base were run by civilians and of course a southern white person would not hire a black person to do office work.
So she just had to do the best she could, work in this cafeteria until she could get back to the colonels or whoever she had to go to and they went back and they told those in charge of the businesses that they had told them to give her an office job because she was qualified for one, that's what they had to do. So then after a short while, they did put her upstairs in the office of the PX and it was really funny the way she called me and she says, "Mama, they are walking up and down the hall and looking in the door like I am some kind of a freak or something. They've never seen such a thing, a black person in an office before." And it was the day that they were having the Christmas party. They came and they invited her in but she told them that she felt that they would be much more comfortable if she didn't go and they were quite relieved and she stayed and they brought her ice cream and cake. But I am proud to announce today, after about twenty three years I think, she told me last week a boss just died that she worked for for twenty three years. She has been supervisor for at least the last ten years. She worked herself right on up. Now when I go down to this particular town and I see blacks everyplace, it is beautiful. Now I am back to my son. If 1 just could see his the same way. Now here is the kid that knew nothing about one person better than the other. I myself use the word
(I) You are speaking now about your son Fred Greene who is policeman on the, a member of the Teaneck police force.
(N) Yes I am speaking about Lieutenant Greene.
(I) We will go back. We are going to speak now about Lieutenant Greene, your son, who is I believe the records show the first black person on the Teaneck police force, a person who went through Teaneck school system from first grade or kindergarten until graduation right through the high school system. Continue please.
(N) And when I think about him, it just grieves me a lot because I know naturally having borned him, I know what kind of a person I did raise and maybe it is that some don't understand but he's been the person that has always been for others. Now after finishing high school, he decided that he didn't exactly know what to do. He wanted to be, he wanted to go to college and I went up to the school to go over his records with Miss Hill and she told me without any doubt that he wasn't college material. That, she went over the records and I have to say the records weren't what they should be because he was always the leader and just did get through the classes but you see how wrong sometimes you can be about people so I came home and I told him that I couldn't see myself sitting down to while he went to a preparatory school to prepare to go to college.
Having raised four children, you know I am getting older and I am getting tired so he thought he could make it on his own. He had had two years of mechanics in high school and he thought he could go out as a helper and work his way up in the trade so he did and the first job he went to, he got, was for a toy factory up in Closter I think and something there happened that he didn't like. It seemed as though the owner of the place wasn't quite as respectful to him as he should have been and Freddie didn't quite like his attitude that way so he quit there and he went up to a store which is on, a place which is now up on Engle Street, up on Grand Avenue in Englewood and he went there as a mechanic's helper and I think the second day that he was there, they had him scrubbing the showroom floor. Well of course he didn't want that either. So then he left there and he decided to go into the service so he took the test for all departments and one of the generals from the Army came here personally and asked me to encourage him to join the Army and go in for Officer's training because this man saw leadership in Freddie and he said that he was the kind of man that they wanted in the service so I told him and I tried to talk to him but this he didn't want either. So he went into the Army security. He had passed all the departments and he decided on the Army security.
(I) What year approximately are you speaking of?
(N) Let's see. He graduated in, oh this is hard. I can't give you
(I) Well continue
(N) So anyway, let's see, Joan graduated in 47. It had to be in the 50s it was because my oldest girl graduated in 47 and he joined, he was accepted, and sent up to Fort Devon in Massachusetts for his basic training and as I think of it now, if I could have, I would have murdered him then because he goes up there in Fort Devons and comes out second in his class that he had the opportunity to chose where he wanted to be stationed since it wasn't war at the time, he could be stationed anyplace he wanted and he wanted to stay in the United states.
And I say this, if he could have done so well in that school, why didn't he do it in Teaneck High? Well the reason why he didn't do it in Teaneck High, I have proof, written proof of this, because he was active in the basketball, he played the football, everything Freddie had to head it up. He had to get the kids to be there. Instead of putting the studying you know on his own self, just helping his fellow man. I have pictures and things, letters and things to prove what I am saying. This is why he didn't, his grades weren't as high as they should have been for the sports activity. In fact, in other words, I will go as far as to say that he was used because I remember one particular day that he came home and had to rush back up to the school, to the game, they were playing Cliffside Park and it had been rumored that Cliffside was going to fight Teaneck High.
Now at this time, I want to stress that the school is predominantly white, very few black in there then. But they were going to fight the Cliffside and their coach had asked Freddie and lots of the other big boys to be sure and come out this particular time. Well it wasn't that much to the fight. So this is why I would say that his grades weren't as good as they should have been and he proved that when he went up to Devons and then made the marks that he made up there.
Now from Teaneck High up to Devons and it was exactly six months, six months before he was accepted into the Army security which is our highest branch of the service because they have all the top secrets of the whole United States see. He served his three years in that and come out, I right now have his medal I think right in there, honor, and come out of there. Then he looked around for something else to do and then he decided maybe he would like to go on the police force and of course his father was happy for him and encouraging him to go on the police force.
At that time, they didn't have the crime rate that they have today and I think that some people might have very well felt that it was too easier a job for a black man to have and they didn't have one of them but he took the test, passed the test and because of his Army record, he came out first on that test for the police force. And he wasn't called. Then he got a job up with Singer Sewing Machine up in Orangeburg and he worked up there for a while. Never was called although he came out first that year, they didn't call him to duty at all. As soon as the two years passed, Matty Feldman was mayor at that time, they hired two white policemen. Well then I think it went that if you weren't called within two years then you were skipped over and then they go to the next see. Well he wasn't called and I just can't help but feeling as many others did that this was something that was deliberately done. And of course the Urban League, the NAACP and I don't know what other organization got behind the thing and they went up to Feldman and I am very sorry that I didn't keep those newspaper clippings.
I have a number of them but he went over the record and he had to write up in the paper that it had not been done intentionally. But they had to put Freddie on. They had to put Freddie on the police force and I think in my estimation this was a disgrace. A man that has worked for his country in the highest capacity, Army security, he's not good enough to be on a local Teaneck police force. This don't make no kind of sense. So they hired him and then Matty Feldman came up with the remark that he didn't care what color he was, yellow, red, blue or white, as long as he was a good cop. See . Well we think what we were born to think.. Then he got on. He hadn't been on hardly a week before they branch around like they figured that, I don't know, it seemed like all hell turned to lose in Teaneck. We better get one on the fire department and then they asked Freddie. (Oh Lord, I am going to pause a minute)