|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:||Elizabeth O. Greene|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 8, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (1/30/1985)|
(I) You may continue
(N) So as I said, Matty Feldman was mayor. So after Freddie was put on the police force, oh we were all so very, very happy that he was on but the township, whoever was in control at that time, felt that they should get a black on the fire department so they had asked Freddie if he had a friend that he could recommend and Freddie took Ralph Nelson up there.
(I) Does the Fire Department also require an examination like the Police Department?
(N) I guess they had the examination but I guess they did have the examination but he didn't go up on his own. They told Freddie about it and Freddie hurried him up there and then I guess he went to whatever was necessary but this was the beginning. About a week or two later, they put the black on and he was the first black fireman see. And then I am still watching my township which I've always been proud of and until this particular thing happened. Well the first year that Freddie was on the Police force, he got along very well.
(I) What year specifically are you talking about, approximately what year?
(N) About 1964. And, I think it was 62. So he got along very well. The fireman would come down and we'd have cookouts outside and we often laughed at one of them, how little white people know about us. One of them asked him the next day after we had a cookout, what did you all have, some pork chops, not realizing that northerners don't talk that way.
Now this was supposed to have been a joke in their sight the same as the remark maybe that Jesse Jackson made the other day. Supposed to be a joke. But it is not funny. You see, you just don't do things like that. So he had many, many difficulties. Any time that it seemed like they could hinder him, they did. Then maybe the events that they had up at the school, troublesome times, after Teaneck began to grow and more blacks came into the town, and they would have their crashes in the school and the very beginning, most of the black kids in Teaneck High didn't like Freddie because they didn't realize really what he was up against. He had to, at times, he had to speak a white language; other times he had to speak a black language in order to help his own. But then sooner or later I think that they understood a little better that this is this year's child and there has been many things down at the schools that they wouldn't let anybody solve or come in on. They had to go get Freddie to settle it see. And that's how he became so wrapped up in this organization, this group that he had that called themselves The Pieces of Africa and it's just too bad he put so much time and so much money and everything into this thing and the kids were really enjoying it.
He was trying to build pride in them and it was really a beautiful thing to see the work that he was doing because having attended a boarding school myself in Washington and having personally met the Wendell Johnson, the author of the Negro National Anthem, and he spoke at the school that I attended and I always admired the way he stood up there and just sort of fumbled his hands while he was talking. It was so refined and so dignified. Beautiful. Now I went to this show up in Town Hall there that the kids gave. It was during Martin Luther King's birthday and to see all these giants because the young people are so tall today standing up there and I think a Rev. LeGuard from Patterson had brought his choir over here and all of them, these young people just standing up there and singing and their arms going like that, hand in hand you know, and I being so afraid of youth and so many people because I never mingled too much with them, I just stood there and I just wished so much that Mr. Johnson could have teen there to see them and to have heard them. They were so much together you know it was beautiful. The idea of the Pieces of Africa and the work that they were doing was so beautiful. But again I saw what was happening. Lots of Freddie's money was going into this and the parents weren't supporting it. See the parents should have teen glad for our children to have something that they could go to other than you know the ordinary discotechs or this or that or the other thing. And of course there was one man that came over to try to help them and he was a man that wrote the music for Your Arms Too Short to
(I) Arms Too Short To Box With God
(N) Came over to our church and gave a concert in order to help to raise money to help the storefront you know and this hurt Freddie an awful lot when he had to close that down but he had no choice. But getting, well I'll tell you that afterwards, I hope I remember, so then that those in back with nothing to do for the youth except you know just ordinary you meet them day by day and he had so many from the police force that worked under him and this was a good work also. Some were working different things like that. And then the next big thing that he thought of was this motor fight thing. Now this is a thing that really would tear your heart out. He had started this, he had been someplace and it seemed the kids that had this dirt track and how successful it was, how many kids had got out of the street. How many kids had got out of the woods behind my house.
They have a bicycle track all behind there that they made before they had that one in Votee Park. And then he gets permission, he has to fight all the way to get permission to have that motor track down there, people complaining so much noise, I would like to bring some of those people from the other side of Benjamin Franklin School to where my house is and let them hear what I hear in the back of my house and why do I tolerate it. Because the kids have got to have some place and I'd rather have them there than on the street, you know. So as I say, they put up everything which history tells you to block bad and then after they finally get it going, I went down there one day and he said that he had to go, he had hired a tractor this came to the time that he had asked for this dirt, asked the contractor on the street for this dirt and because he was in uniform that he shouldn't have done that, he should have gone up to headquarters and bagged him up there, if he could ask somebody to give him some dirt to put over on ground that belonged to the city of Teaneck and was for Teaneck kids and not for him, if he had asked for the dirt to go beside my house where all the roots to the trees are showing and really needed some dirt in there, I could have understood it a little bit better.
But he wanted it for somebody else and then to give him all of that hassle and I went down there this one particular Sunday and it must have been really 100o and it was near, it was a holiday, most of the people were out of town, the streets were cleared and everything and the baby that I born and tried to raise, did raise to be a good citizen of these United States, out there trying to help somebody else's children in that hot sun with no shirt on driving that little old tractor trying to spread that dirt over, I had to cry. When for two hours I am sure the township could have sent some of those big trucks down there and had that thing smoothed over. What I would like to see those, and that is the township manager and also the head of the police force or whoever else comes under the same category to really go down and, have gone down there some of those Sundays and saw how many people were in that park watching their children riding their bikes so proud of their children, they wouldn't have had the heart to take that place away from them and even today they haven't got anything to help them. Instead of getting behind one of your own and fixing up a place that is going to add something to the township, no. I met the mayor last year, I think it was, it was at the 4th of July, 1983. I met him. I had gone with my daughter-in-law who has also given her time heading that (Emlain) School down there, heading her (Emlain) school when lots of times 1 think that she could be doing more worthwhile things right in the house
(I) Could you mention her name. Your daughter-in-law
(N) That's Sandra Greene is my daughter-in-law
(I) And she's the head of Teaneck Ambulance Corps.
(N) She's the head of Teaneck Amblain Corps (Ambulance) and she's devoting her time
(I) Now you are talking about 1983
(N) 83. And I met him, he was going down the Corps because they had a collation after that and the mayor was going down there and I happened to get out of my daughter's car, we went down, and I met him and I tried to tell him a little of how I felt about you know the deal that they were putting down over this park instead of them going on, we are paying taxes. It's nothing out of their pocketbook personally and they could have said, my husband spent twenty five years working for the township, at least don't kill us, you know what I mean. And so he says well why don't you have him to go to Berk or something, I don't know what he said. I said you know they don't get along. But I said you are in there. You see what you can do to help people. Don't just go and just be bought off or just think about yourself.
(I) Who is it you are speaking to?
(N) I am talking about the Mayor Brooks now
(I) You are speaking to Mayor Brooks
(N) To Mayor Brooks so he promised that he would see what he could do but and I hope that he will. You know, not be bought out (I shouldn't say that. You can maybe rub that off, I don't know) But it's a track but it is not a dirt track. It is not the dirt track. I don't know what they've done lately but I would like to say on this tape one other thing. You know you go through life and many things you do, you never get, you don't look for praises but then I think it's good if a person shows their appreciation that they may have done this. That you may have done something that helped them.
Now coming back to my husband, I think that the whole Greene family has paid their dues because I am recalling a time that the gas station which I think correct me if I am wrong, is still on River Road and Cedar Lane, still there, I think it is still there but this gas station, it so happened that the gas company, Greene help me, was it Standard Oil, I think it was Standard Oil that went to put the oil, the gas into the tanks in the ground and at that time, the pumpstation my husband worked at, you go right to the river right down Cedar Lane to the river and then you turn left and you go in maybe about three blocks and you'd be to his pumpstation. Now this pumpstation where the sewage went into was like a great big pool and the sewage ran through pipes and pipes and then out to the end and it was sterilized or something. But this Standard Oil Company, I'II say, had put the gas into the wrong pipe and it had gone all ran down into the disposal plant and all you needed to do was just light one match and this town would have gone up. But it just so happened that him working down there, he discovered it and he was able to get the right people, the Fire Department, and get that stuff pumped out. This was one thing that he did that helped Teaneck itself.
Then over here on Windsor Road as you go across the bridge, the railroad station and down, well those little woods between the railroad track and the street, there was a pumpstation there. Now this was about three stories down in the ground that they had all this machinery and stuff and they had an explosion over there and thank God we are grateful that he was down there at the time when the other man was there and that place blew up (END OF TAPE 1 - SIDE B - BEGIN TAPE 2)
(March 14, 1983 (?) testing equipment, All right Mrs. Greene, we are going to continue from the other tape. You were telling me about your husband's employment in Teaneck, part of the Teaneck Public Works Department, I believe, and his name is . .
(N) John Greene.
(I) And he started working for the town of Teaneck when?
(N) He started about in the 40s and he worked for twenty five years for the township as a disposal operator, that's as near as I can think of the title, and he operated all of the plants in Teaneck. At that time, to my knowledge, I think it was three plants - one on Windsor Road and one on down by the Hackensack River one in Glenwood Point and all of these somehow are operated separately for a number of years until finally a central line came through from Little Ferry and they all were put into one line and of course that, the others just operated on a temporary basis. So at that time, the township of Teaneck made a change and it was the time that Mr. Smith was elected to run as a town manager I think and of course he arranged all of the work by the WPA, was that the WPA, no, DPW
(I) Department of Public Works
(N) That's what I want to say. The Department of Public Works into a different line and these disposal plants, a plant that my husband worked at, he was one of the ones that closed down and he worked another plant down in Glenwood section of Teaneck on a temporary basis and then part of the day he had to run one or the other of the big trucks, the heavy town trucks. Well it was during this time that he found it very hard to do this work and I think that is partially due to why he retired as quickly as he did because as soon as he was 62, he had put in his twenty five years and he left the service. But it was an interesting time and I think many, many times the work was very enjoyable and it seemed as though that the town was running rather smoothly. Of course the cost of living wasn't anything like it is today. We still had the Ackerman house up on Teaneck Road. We still had many of the dairy people both in goat and cows scattered here or there in town which brings to mind
(I) Excuse me a moment. Are you talking about dairy farmers within the town of Teaneck?
(N) Yes I am.
(I) About what time was this. What year was this?
(N) Well now I think this Mr. Ackerman, I don't know just when the first family, I don't know the history of the first family, but I have read literature dating back to 1892 that these people were still living right where the telephone company is today, the big Ackerman House was and they had a goat and they farmed also up there and when the house was being torn down, lots of people went up and all along the yards and different places things were just thrown where they were taking them out and I have a planter that I got from up there. This was an instrument out of wood that you push down on the little lever and the grains of corn came out. This was the way they planted the land.
And I remember these places not only from the time that I lived directly in Teaneck but when I lived across the line just in Englewood and was fourteen years old, how it was nothing to go to a farm and buy the raw milk which I think is the best milk in the wide world and have a nice glass of milk. And during this time too we had no, on the street that I live on today here, I know when the water was put there in those streets so you see I've been in Teaneck for a number of years and then my husband and I came over in the early 30s and we lived right in this house ever since then. And it took him a little while before he got a job on the township but he finally did.
Before that, he had worked for the railroad down in Jersey City and for one reason or other, they cut back on help and he was laid off and then he tried very hard to get on the WPA, that Roosevelt had started, and this was like pulling teeth because there was such a few jobs and very hard to get on this particular thing and there was one man that was in charge and they told us that, they told him that if he went to see him that he would get him on. Well he did and like everything and in those days, you still had the racketeers because in order to get a job at that particular time on the WPA, you had to pay for that job.
Now this is what I'd like to know. You have four children, you have a wife, you have a house and you gotta pay rent and you gotta buy food. Where would you get money to pay for a job? This is what I'd like to know. This is what went on in those days right here while we lived right in Teaneck. We couldn't get any direct help right from Englewood because the thing seemed to have came through the county and whatever warehouses there were that could help you were located at that time in Englewood so then one day came and I went up in Englewood to a lawyer's home to make some curtains for his wife and we were sitting there and while I was working, she was talking to me. And I told her how that we were having such a hard time for him to get work and how he had tried and how he had asked and but nobody could do anything. And I even pointed out the fact that there were plenty of people that I knew, young men, without a family that were working on the WPA and here my husband, four children and a wife, and he couldn't get anything. Well she was surprised to hear this because being a social worker herself, she knew lots about helping people that really needed that dollar so she got on the phone and she made a phone call and the next morning, my husband went to work on the WPA.
Well he worked on the WPA at least about three or four years when another friend of his that worked for the township for a while and then later for the Bergen County Police was able to get him on the township payroll and his name was Mr. Willifred and that's how my husband came to be working for the township. Since he worked for the Police Department as a maintenance man, not on the police force directly, he could speak for him and could tell him when to come and he got on and then I want to mention another name which is, to me, is quite good and quite important to us and that is Mr. McCoy because it was Mr. McCoy who is white that took my husband kind of under his arms and taught him the machinery and after he had learned, he got books and things for him to study, then he took him down to Trenton and he got his license and then he became a full-fledged civil service operator for the disposal plant. And as I say, he worked for twenty five years and at the end of that time, they gave him a beautiful banquet and this was the end of his service and it was a couple of more years, I think in 1962, that after my son had gotten out of the Army that he applied for the police force and I think in my tapes I have mentioned his experience. I told you about his experience in getting on the Teaneck Police Force
(N) And this brings us just (gap in tape)
(I) Yes, Mrs. Greene, you have given us a very thorough, a very picturesque review of Teaneck from about 1933. You spoke about your personal experiences, we spoke about your observations of the town's development, racial relationships, economic relationships, and at this point, I'd like to have your reflections or your hopes, aspirations as to what you would like to see us or the area, the areas in which you'd like to see Teaneck continue to move as a township or many people, a multi-racial town at this particular time.
(N) Well I've often thought about Teaneck in thinking about the whole situation of people today and I think there is a lot of room for changes. It is really sad now at my age that if I wanted to even sit in my backyard at night, I am really afraid see. I would like to see our young people more concerned about not only elderly people, about people in general.
When I think of one young boy going into a place and killing another young boy, I want to know what are we coming to? Something has got to be wrong. What is wrong? And it is, I am sure it is just people. I feel until we find some way to kind of get over this gap and get back to the way maybe we were, in other words, I would say the adults have got to find some way to communicate with the youngsters and get the youngsters back in line where the youngster will be a youngster and the adult will be a parent.
And of course the only way, one of the ways that we can do that is that we've got to take some pressure off of living today. When you have to pay $600 and $700 say a month for a small place to rent and you can't even get that and when you have to pay so much for food and everything, you've got to work and until that parent can find some way that they can work, adjust their work wherein they could run their families, I think it is no hope.
Now I remember, of course this is a different day and this is not my grandmother's day and my grandmother's day, my grandmother stayed home and my grandfather went out and of course he worked for himself but he made the living and he brought the money home and everything went along fine. Of course in that day too I must say they had their own cows, they had their own pigs, they had their own gardens, vegetables to be canned and so forth and so on. This is entirely different.
In my mother's day, it was a little different. She had to get out and work and by separating from her husband when the child was three years old, she had the child to take care of, but I often heard her say, now you take this woman, she made $5 a day, $2.50 of that went for the care of the child and $2.50 was left for her to live on. But don't ask me how she did it but she made it and by the time the child, I mean it is just wonderful. She concentrated on this one particular thing that she had a job that she must do see. Now this is, I am speaking now strictly of my mother now, she worked and when this child got to a certain age, she heard of Lenny Hiltenboro's so she put her in that boarding school and that's where the child got the high school education see.
Now one thing that people have said always that for every knock is a boost and you take, going back to this grandfather that I've spoken of before, he was a slave until he was nine years old and I've heard a friend of his and him too sit down and they talk about during the Civil War how they would be hid in a ditch and they would see the soldiers coming over the hill from the battles and so forth and so on. Well the war was over. They were free. And he began to work and he couldn't have been any more than ten or eleven and from the time that he worked, I think he saved the first nickel and I know was the first $5 that he made. He got a job being pretty big with the railroad at that time and he worked for the railroad for a number of years and by the time I knew him and I was nine years old, he had accumulated enough money in the County of Orange in Virginia, he was the richest black man around there. He had the finest home, he bought hares, built homes where blacks couldn't even live in. He had to rent them to whites. But now what about this giant. When he went to bank his money or whatever, he couldn't even write his name. All he could do was make this X you see. And one thing he definitely was, the point that I am trying to bring out the most is that he figured that he figured that he made it on his own. Now why should he spend money to educate his children.
And not one of his children went to high school and this was one of the things that pushed the woman who I am talking to, talking about, and that is my mother, that since he didn't do and she wanted so badly to be educated and he could have done it, that she was determined to spite him by educating her child and this is what she did which I am very grateful for. Now until we get back to that we are going to make maybe goodness, we are going to make education and everything one of our goals, I don't think that we are going to do very much. We surely aren't going to do it when we are out ourselves having a good time fixing up our homes, fine cars to ride in, nice clothes to wear, the discotechs at night or the friends house and you want to go out someplace or here now, take this $5 or $10, whatever it might be, and go to the movies or go to something. This is not solving it. Until you are willing to give a part of yourself, a part of your very life, your very heart, to this youngster to try to understand them we are not going to control them anymore see. Now that is what I would like to see in Teaneck. I would like very much to see a good dirt track which my son tried to accumulate or start down in Teaneck. I'd like to see that track completed. I can't see why on earth they can't have the track and then in the wintertime when the ice is there, they couldn't be flooded, the lower parts of it and you got an ice rink there. I can't see why they can't be done. I know a lot. What the people that work in the township have got to learn that they don't see the colors and they've got to work together for the betterment of the city and not just for fame and glory for themselves. This is what I would like to see. People just get along and you walk along the streets anytime of the day or night and you have so much love in your heart, a love so strong, that you couldn't hurt your fellow man. This is what I'd like to see in Teaneck.
(I) Thank you very much Mrs. Greene. Your contribution to the Teaneck Oral History Project I feel is quite commendable. You've spoken with us very well and very thoroughly and from your heart. May I ask you one last question. Just for the records, you can give me just a ballpark figure, in documenting and pinpointing certain times and areas, I have to ask you about how old are you today, 1984?
(N) Well I am very grateful to be able to tell you that in December the 9th, 1983, I started my 76th year. I feel that God has been very good to let me be here this long. I can remember maybe about sixty years ago or maybe a little more than that, that I prayed, I was so afraid that I wouldn't be able to rear my children and bring them up to be good citizens and I prayed that I'd be able to see this Lieut. Greene at least sixteen years old because I felt that if he was sixteen and he is the youngest and the others were older than he, that he could make it without me and now this summer I would just like to get away but I feel that I haven't got the right to ask God to spare me until the summer but I hope he does because there is something else I want to see but this is how old I am and I thank God that I've lived this long.
(I) Thank you very much Mrs. Greene.