|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.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||November 15, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (8/1985)|
I am speaking with Mr. Francis Hall who is a councilman and a former mayor of Teaneck.
(I) Mayor Hall, would you tell me first when you first came to Teaneck and why you came?
(N) I came on February 26, 1949. That's the day I married my wife who was living in Teaneck in her house. Her parents were dead and she and her two sisters were living in a house on Grove Street. So that's how I got to Teaneck.
(I) So then your children were born and brought up in Teaneck.
(N) All of them. Except they were born in Hackensack Hospital. But their legal birthplace is Hackensack. But yes, they were born and raised in Teaneck.
(I) And what was Teaneck like when you first came here?
(N) Not much different than it is now to tell you the truth. Not much different. Although I notice that there were more active people on a volunteer level. Many, many people. Community Chest was very successful. All kinds of volunteer things. And since I didn't really get involved in the social fabric of the town for about twelve years, I couldn't tell you too much about the sociological. I do know that there were no blacks living in Teaneck outside of one or two families. I think there was one black teacher in Thomas Jefferson Junior High School. I'll think of his name in a moment. Later he had some problems with discrimination and he went to Hawaii. Campbell his name was. Unkie Campbell. I do remember though that on another street when a Jewish family moved in, one or two of the people moved out and were very upset because the town was going to be "Jewish".
(I) When was this about?
(N) This was about 1950, 51. Now there were many Jewish families in town at the time but during the early 50s was when there was a great expansion in housing and a lot of the newcomers were Jewish and the schools were excellent and there were a lot of people involved in referenda to build the two junior high schools and the Eugene Field School and so forth so there was a lot of activity and a lot of intellectual stimulation so that much I did notice. But I was working in New York, going to school two nights a week to Fairleigh Dickinson and bowling one night a week for about eight years so as I say I didn't get involved in town affairs. Except I think in 75, a couple of people including Ann Robison collared me and I became a Community Chest regional chairman. They were organized a little differently in those days and I was for the southeast, south of Cedar Lane and east of the railroad tracks and we had quite a successful campaign as I remember. Raised somewhere around $65,000. They don't do that well today. And that's when the town was smaller and certainly $65,000 in those days was about 1/3, I am not talking about 1975, excuse me, I am talking about 1955, so it was about 1/3 of what it is now. That would be $200,000 today.
(I) Well it was in the 50s that some blacks started moving into town, wasn't it, so I've heard. And what was the situation at that time, do you remember?
(N) Well I remember just a couple of incidents. One is there were newspaper stories about blockbusting and I remember the mayor whom I didn't know at the time, Matty Feldman, this is now about 1959 talked somewhere and was quoted in the paper that the blacks had a right to move in and that the ideal situation would be for one family or more to be on every block in town rather than concentrated in an area like the northeast where there was a lot of blockbusting going on and he set up the Advisory Board on Community Relations for the first time and as I remember, he didn't have the votes for it and of course Sam Bartoletta was on the council and Brad Menkes and I don't remember the other people, this was now 58, 59, I don't remember but he had a terrible time getting that approved. Finally Brad changed his vote and we went for it. So that started the public awareness but there were black people moving into town. And I remember speaking to my wife at the time, Rita, and saying well, because we had seen the Elmhurst, Long Island and a few towns go in just two short years all the white people fled the town and it became a black community and I said well now is the time to make up your mind. If this bothers you, living in a town with let's assume that it would go primarily black, if that would bother you, we should move now and then it doesn't effect us and there would be no economic repercussions if any and we both decided no, that wasn't for us. So once we made that decision, and I am only mentioning that as a thought that occurred to us, and we made that decision and then from there on in, it was not a problem. I didn't get involved in the town through that. I joined, since my wife was a member of the Catholic Church, there was a social conscience group called Catholic Family Action which would study the tenets of the church and discuss how that could apply to living as lay Catholics in society without the intention of forcing anybody to believe in your morals but how should a Catholic act in society employing the principles that they gave lip service to on Sunday into activity during the week so we discussed a lot of social issues including the integration issue and including the seminars that Frank Burr as the Advisory Board Chairman of the Advisory Board on Community Relations had some seminars, one at Temple Emeth and that's the first I met with the people at Temple Emeth. I am talking now about 62/61 and we invited the group that was speaking there, we had both blacks and whites and people from N.Y.U. conducting the seminar on the impact of blacks on real estate values and we invited them down to St. Joseph's and we had a number of sessions down there too.
(I) St. Joseph's? Not St. Anastasia's?
(N) Not St. Anastasia, no. We were in the southern part of Teaneck and St. Joseph's was the church, the Bogota church. But anyway, all I am trying to point out is there was a little activity. .
(I) There was some activity on the part of the church actually?
(N) Yes. Through the lay people primarily but it was. And the, how I got involved in the town though was John Rodriguez who was a Cuban and had been here for a number of years, he was in this Catholic Family Action Group and pointed out to us that Cubans were coming in to New York City, to Kennedy Airport, Idle wild at the time, on planes from Cuba directly fleeing from Castro with nothing but the clothes on their back. It was now November. So we organized the Teaneck Committee for the Relief of Cuban Refugees. And he and a few other people knew Matty Feldman and they got him involved as the honorary chairman so I got to meet a number of the people in town and we were very successful and we raised about 500 tons of clothing for the people coming in. Now they didn't settle in Teaneck necessarily but throughout the state of New Jersey and New York. And we got involved with Bernie Confer who was the executive director of Lutheran World Relief at the time and also became president of the Board of Education shortly thereafter.
(I) In Teaneck?
(N) In Teaneck. So that's how I started meeting all these people.
(I) Were you ever involved in the school situation?
(N) Yes. We had a little political group that we formed not certainly sponsored by this Catholic Family Action but the inspiration for getting involved came from that and we called that the Teaneck Citizens for Improved Government and the first campaign, the school budget we thought had gone too high, too fast. It went something up to $3,000,000 I think and we all worked very hard to defeat the budget and that was the first time that Teaneck's budget had ever been defeated in anybody's memory anyway.
(I) It hasn't been defeated since then either.
(N) Well, a few times. Oh yeah. I will tell you about those because I was on the council then and how to figure out what to do with it. But anyway we soon found out that one of the members of our, and I am not going to mention his name, one of the members of our group was very, very anti-Semitic and a number of phone calls had gone out saying, asking people to vote against the budget because you know those New York Jews were running the school system and this cast a big cloud over our organization but we didn't know that was happening until after the election so we had a terrible time but we threw him out of the organization. He was the president and we threw him out of the organization and then a couple of things happened: one is I ran for the Board of Education with a black by the name of Betty Legarde the same year that Milton Bell and Lamar Jones ran and Seymour Herr was the other candidate so there were five of us running and a week before the election, I came down with a gall bladder attack and had an operation which was extensive so that knocked me out of the race. I could have lost anyway. Nobody would forgive me for being against the budget in those days see.
(I) They wouldn't today either.
(N) Probably not. But you know I haven't had the same feelings about it since then. But anyway, then there was the big opposition to the integration of schools, the busing issue, and our group ran an ad in the paper about supporting the integration of the schools, the first attempt at integration.
(I) That group was the. .
(N) Teaneck Citizens for Improved Government. We had a big ad signed by me, you know, what have they got against busing and so forth and so on. And we made a lot of contacts in town and the people who had the organization for the public schools, the Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools, who were well organized and had just lost, well there was a Board of Education race where Bernie Confer ran and the two people that did get on the board, what were their names, who were against busing, Margolis and Harry Warner, they won on a Neighborhood School platform but we backed Bernie Confer and their third candidate didn't make it and Bernie Confer made it by 21 votes. So that taught us a little bit about politics too.
(I) I guess it did.
(N) And then we joined with the. .
(I) How many were on the board at that time, do you remember?
(I) Still nine? So what happened. .
(N) In those days, the members of the Board of Education were people of stature. Mrs. Ruth Hendriksen was a member of the board and Joe Coffee and Bernie Confer and Seymour Herr and Ted Ley and George Larson. They were really head and shoulders above much of what I've seen since in their capacity as leaders and responsible people and so forth and knowledge of the town. That's probably the best. They were really, I mean after all Joe Coffee became president of Eisenhower College; he was vice president of Columbia; and Bernie Confer, you know, I already told you his title; and Ted Ley was the president of his own company; and Seymour Herr was the president of his company. They were substantial people. But anyway we got involved then with the Teaneck Citizens for Public Schools; formed the Teaneck Political Assembly and then spent about nine months campaigning for the School Board and that's when we ran Coffee, Greenstone and Sather. So that was quite an extensive battle and as I remember, 12,080 people came out to vote. There has never been that many, not a higher percentage in the state of New Jersey or in Teaneck before or since. I think it was 12,800. It was 7,000 some odd that voted for our three candidates and there was 5,000 some odd against it and I don't know the exact numbers but that's pretty close and I was the campaign chairman and I had a committee that helped me with policy and we met four or five times a week and that was George Heftler, Bernie Confer who was president of the Board at the time, Matty Feldman who was mayor and Paul Eisenman and Frank Burr. Paul Eisenman was the town public relations man and Frank Burr, of course, was vice president of Chase Manhattan and had been school board president and had just get off the school board prior to this.
(I) Do you remember the exact date this was?
(N) This was the election of February, 1964. Because this was the 20th anniversary this past year. We had all kinds of problems because we had a lot of people united that never really got along together politically and we had to use a lot of judgment and hold people down that were too excited and wanted to point fingers and so forth. Anyway, we had Leo Gamel who ran the Election Day Committee who did really the most of the work because he organized 600 volunteers to canvas door to door to find out where our votes were and then on Election Day, they got the votes out. They interviewed everybody in town, they marked a +.or - on the issue and on Election Day, they all went back and got those people to vote so that was a fantastic organizing job. We had our disagreements about policy, Leo and I, but nobody can fault his ability to organize and it was a very successful thing. And what people don't realize is the following year, we had the same threat only it wasn't in the public eye but they still had, Margolis and Warner were still on, and they ran three other people, one fellow by the name of Mario Foah who was an Italian Jew who all the Jewish people that I knew were pretty sore at him for selling out so to speak and I don't know who else. Kaplan ran the year before, the big battle was Kaplan, Brad Menkes brother in law. And he and I don't remember who else ran with him at the moment anyway we had to go through this a second time but without all the publicity and everybody said, well it is allover, so we never got that amount of vote out and the other side could have taken over the board and could have done exactly what they wanted to do the year before and they didn't make it but that was close.
(I) And that resulted in busing, integration?
(N) Well what happened was in the, as soon as Bernie Confer got elected which was the election of 63, they voted him president of the board because this was his reelection. He became president of the board. Archie Lacy, Tom Boyd, Isaac McNatt and a number of the people from the northeast who were leaders of the Northeast Community Organization called NECO got together with Harvey Scribner and the board and they came up with this integration plan which was the, it was kind of like a voluntary one which really wasn't working which they had tried for a year, and so by September they instituted the central sixth grade with Bryant School. And that's what then the neighborhood school people wanted to reverse if they could and I remember in their campaign they had, Harvey Scribner had had a conference at Newark Airport with educators from allover the country that flew in and they discussed for a day or two and they taped it all, you know, the educational benefits and so forth and so on and somebody in the schools got a hold of the tape and then edited it and they put out a record that came out in the Teaneck Shopper to every house in town, a little vinyl record, and everybody was scared to death what it said and it was narrated by someone and then it had, and here's what your superintendent of schools thinks about the people of Teaneck and they just had a little excerpt and here, listen to him laughing - he had told a joke or something and they were all laughing - and here's the superintendent of schools and so it was really nothing but it was an extreme move.
(I) But it must have been upsetting to people. .
(N) Harvey Scribner came to my house and when we first got the record and we all sat here and listened to it and we kind of breathed a sigh of relief that there was really nothing of any import. After that campaign in 64, Sam Bartoletta had been appointed to the County Tax Board and the state law said that he had to get off the council and Sol Elman, Judy Elman's husband, kept going to each council meeting asking when he was going to resign and offered to bring a bottle of wine, you know, champagne the night he resigned and finally Sam had to get off and when he quit in September, I ran in the November, 1965 election and won. I was also Matty Feldman's campaign chairman for his first try at the senate which was county-wide and of course I stepped down as soon as I filed but I organized his whole campaign throughout the county so we had quite an interesting year. We both won.
(I) So you've been a council member since 1965. That's a long time. Nineteen years.
(N) It will be twenty next year.
(I) Twenty next year, OK. And what were the problem's on the council when you got on the council the first time?
(N) When I got on the council the first time, well as I remember there was a big problem with Pathmark. Does that sound familiar?
(I) Yes it does. I remember. Yeah.
(N) Pathmark was building the building down there on Cedar Lane and for six months, the council was back and forth, back and forth, with parking, how to establish the parking and I think it worked out well but neighbors were up in arms on Beverly Road and they didn't want any exits onto Beverly Road for the traffic and so on.
(I) And I think the lights still bother them.
(N) Probably. And of course in the middle of the night, there's wise guys fooling around down there sometimes. Not every night but there are. And so there is always the possibility but in general I think it worked out.
(I) Except that they want to leave there now.
(N) I know. That's what I am saying. Pathmark then and Pathmark now, nineteen years later. The second big controversy at the same time was the fire house up on Windsor Road. There was a lot of local opposition to that. Chief Lindsay of the fire department convinced us all that we needed a fire department in that area of town and why, because most of the homes were, or a lot of. the homes were balloon construction which meant that if there was a fire, there would be rapid fire the way they are built. I don't know exactly all that but
(I) There are a lot of split levels over there. Is that why?
(N) No, not split levels. The older houses. Between Windsor and the first block up or the second block up. Sussex. The old wooden houses. So he convinced us we should have a fire house there for quick response. Well, the neighbors were up in arms and they had a petition with 5,000 names on it including Joe Coffee, president of the Board of Education at this time. And we were horrified to see all this but after a big, big hearing, we voted for it and everybody now is glad.
(I) Except that it is not always manned.
(N) I know. That's another problem. That's a recent problem and I'm trying to do something about that but it is not easy but it is there.
(I) That was before we came. That was in 19 something before we came.
(I) Now the next big problem, was that Glenwood?
(N) No, no, not yet. The next one came, let's see, I'm not too clear about individual problems except the riots at Columbia and the blacks in Englewood had a riot and there was a lot of discontent.
(I) That effected Teaneck?
(N) Well it effected Teaneck but we didn't have any riots. We had a police officer by the name of Freddie Greene who helped very much.
(I) He is still on the force, isn't he?
(N) Yes he is still on the force. So we were confronted not only with that and so we reached out and we had an Advisory Board on Youth and we had a conference up in New York State, Sterling Gardens, a conference center, and we for the first time in Teaneck's history organized a Community Relations Advisory Board with me pushing and Frank Burr as chairman which organized a weekend seminar for the leaders of the town and what we had was the police chief, the fire chief, some of the council members.
(I) Was Fitzpatrick the police chief then?
(N) Yes. Board members, the judge, old Judge Draney and he had to bunk in with a black policeman and he found that a strange experience but exhilarating. But you see many of them had never been, none of the old timers in charge had never had any contact with the race differences and so forth on a one to one basis. So it was a very, very helpful seminar and it was run by a man who became mayor of Trenton, Arthur Holland. He was representing Rutgers at the time and then shortly thereafter he became mayor of Trenton. Good man. And then we ran one in the next couple of years, we ran one in Stokes Forest and we brought all the kids because the kids were having a lot to say in those days and that's when we had 8,300 people in the schools, 8,300 kids. Now there is 4,000. So the schools were overcrowded, there was a lot of discontent and of course they were watching on television all the other things happening and so we went to Stokes Forest and they couldn't escape because that is way up by the Delaware Water Gap and discussed youth problems for the weekend. And we had some kids that were even in serious trouble and we sat around and we had it run by professionals and it was a very good experience. Out of that came the Recreation Center up here.
(I) On Teaneck Road, right.
(N) That was supposed to be one of three or four neighborhood centers because we couldn't get a big one so we went to neighborhood centers and then after that, we didn't have enough money to build any more but we got the first one started. That's one of the effects. There were several others. Changes in the schools and so forth. We had a big long list of things.
(I) What did they do in the schools that helped?
(N) Well, I don't know, I don't remember the details but they went into programs to reach out for black kids for instance and for the dropouts and so forth, I am not associating them together now. There are plenty of white dropouts. But they had never really, the schools up until that time had been geared for the academic kids and they had great advantages but the kids that were dropping out or were turned off from school, there was no help. Eventually the alternative high school came into being partly as the start of that although I don't know if it was a specific recommendation of that conference. But that report exists around if somebody is interested in finding it.
(I) You know I have heard that the, in the honors program, all you have to do is volunteer for it. You don't have to have marks to begin with and they find, someone told me, that it was very successful for that reason. Kids who have a desire to work hard enough, no matter what they've been like before, can volunteer and get along all right.
(N) I am not aware of that although my daughter would be because she was in it last year but I don't know.
(I) That's what someone told me. A mother told me that. Tell me, there was something about antagonism to blacks when the idea of a town pool was brought up.
(N) Yeah, Oh boy. But that came a little later.
(I) Yeah, I was just bringing it up to date, the black situation. No, or was there something before that?
(N) Well there was one other issue and that was the Viet Nam War issue. And that was like in 68, 69. And they wanted to, the people who were protesting the Memorial Day, the Viet Nam War, wanted to march in the Memorial Day Parade and some towns denied them and they pointed out that the bands were hired with town money so they had a right to march so there was a big clash of philosophy and the council voted to permit them to march and then the veterans wouldn't march in their own parade and so on and so forth. So I can understand how the veterans felt but I believed that they had a constitutional right to march so I voted for it although they only marched one or two years and then that died out. But it was not a good time. Too many people against each other. The veterans felt that it was a memorial for people who were killed in the war and they were very upset that we wanted to use it as a protest, as a political speech so to speak. But that happened.
(I) That didn't happen only here. That was in Leonia too as I recall hearing about it there.
(N) Yeah. And different towns took different approaches. I don't know what they did in Leonia but we said that they had a right to march. But that didn't make us too popular with the veterans. And since I was a veteran, that made it a little tough.