|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:||Alice Offord Hecht|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||March 24, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1986)|
(I) Now, as you know Alice, you were involved in the early 60s with the early attempts to integrate the schools. Is there some special way you remember that you got involved?
(N) Not really a special way I got involved Betty. At that time, it seems that all kinds of things were happening with the attempts of people to integrate and we did have I've forgotten the percentage now but say it was 30 or 40% of the youngsters in Bryant School were black and this just wasn't right. At that time, it seemed that the very attitudes, this is in retrospection now and I am not sure that I am being absolutely honest but we'd been through so much of what a black teacher teaches a black youngster and what the youngster sees and what a white teacher teaches a black youngster and what a black teacher teaches a white youngster that maybe my vision is not completely clear but I did believe that we should mix everybody up. I thought that the only way anything was going to work, if somebody if in truth the blacks were being shortchanged and they were, maybe not in Teaneck but certainly in the rest of the country and had been shortchanged for a long, long time, that the only way to do it in the educational system was mix the kids up and I truly believed this and I still, although we've had some lumps along the way, I still believe it. We couldn't at that time wait for housing to change because the people don't move that often and I think that thing is atrocious but it was the only way at that time that we were going to mix the kids up. And as best I can recall, they were my thoughts.
(I) In what way did you specifically become involved?
(N) Well, Harvey Scribner at that time had set up this program they called it the OPEN SCHOOL. I gather the idea of being in his mind at that time that the black families who so desired would send their kids to the other schools and it seemed to me that this wasn't going to work at all unless some white families sent their kids to the Bryant School. However, when Marcia Simpson and I talked about it and we decided to do it, and we contacted him, he was kind of surprised. But it just seemed very, very logical to me that this had to be. That I didn't think it was an inconvenience for the kids and really if I hadn't had personal problems at the time, it wouldn't have been an inconvenience for me. I thought some white families had to send their youngsters to Bryant School as a testament to the black families who were doing the same thing. Why should, if there were an inconvenience involved, why should only blacks be inconvenienced? Some whites had to be inconvenienced. This is in a larger sense, a larger concept of community.
(I) You mentioned Marcia Simpson.
(N) David and Marcia Simpson, he was a research, medical doctor who did research and they had awful cute kids. There were three that eventually, two of hers and one of mine, who went over to Bryant School. It certainly didn't hurt him and I think it did him a lot of good.
(I) What grades were they in then?
(N) Marcia's daughter was in the first grade with Andrew (her son) and the little boy was in kindergarten so there were two grades for them.
(I) And your son?
(N) Was in first grade. He went to kindergarten in Lowell School and went to first grade over in Bryant School.
(I) You said you went in to see Harvey Scribner and that he was surprised.
(I) Was there anything going on in the town that requested the white parents to be a part of this?
(N) Not a thing. It was open enrollment. But the, nobody, and it's not that I am that bright or not that I anything, but Marcia and I seemed to be two of the few people who saw that in order for this to work, white people had to transfer their kids to that school.
(I) Then what you are saying is that there was an announcement of some sort made in town
(N) Oh yeah. Open enrollment. It went on for two years and then there was the election in 63. No, that was Harvey Scribner's solution to the problem. Now I am not saying there is anything the matter with Harvey Scribner's thinking because we were all groping for a solution and we are still. Things are better than they were. We were groping for a solution to this because, as I say, the ultimate solution is for blacks and whites to live everywhere and then it wouldn't matter.
(I) Then what you are saying is that it was known in the community that there would be open enrollment but in no way were either black or white families addressed as such.
(N) As I remember it, Betty, I think the black families, I think the black families were addressed. Certainly the white ones were not.
(I) Do you have any recollection about how many black families took part in this?
(N) I went to a couple of parties. I had a couple of folks at the house. Was it - two numbers come to mind and I really wish there was some way to check them. I am sure there is somewhere. Somebody must have records of this. I think it was about 25 kids. Do you know?
(I) No .
(N) I wonder if anybody knows.
(I) I suspect that somebody does.
(N) I think that would be something we should find out for the oral history, how many black families.
(I) It is possible that some of the black families who were involved would know.
(N) More specifically than I. I remember some of the individuals involved and I think maybe that is high but let's check it and see. Somewhere, we can both do that.
(I) Now you've spoken about your son going. This was your oldest?
(I) You had no other children in school at that time?
(N) No. Neal was still in nursery school and I became pregnant with Peter that spring, that year.
(I) Andy's the one that went to that school.
(N) Yeah. Andrew went to the school, right. And I have thought about it quite often since. I had called an awful lot of people and asked them if they would join in this thing and I said, let's make it an adventure. Let's make it a challenge. And I got some pretty foolish answers. One woman was afraid her kid would get hurt on the bus and that same woman sent her youngster up Route 17 to a Day Camp way up and it is a lot easier to get killed on Route 17 than it is across in Teaneck. Another woman said that her child needed a hot lunch which was nonsense. This is the kind of thing and it was the beginning of my disillusionment with, oh gosh, words become so hackneyed, but with the liberal mentality. Those that were word is in quotes because I am not sure what it means but it will have to do because I can't think of a better one. With the, because oh my these people were liberal and they were, when it came down to the nitty gritty of doing this little thing with your child, they were unable to do it and I don't know whether they need to be pitied. It didn't make me cross. I was just amazed that these people that I thought thought the way I did were so alien to me.
(I) Were you calling up people who were your neighbors or people that you knew throughout the town?
(I) And was it calling on the phone or did you also call on some of them directly?
(N) Directly. Face to face. I, even though they've moved out of town, I don't want to mention any names. Several people told me I was crazy.
(I) In other words they told you this to your face.
(N) To my face. I mean in their living room. Alice, you are crazy. I remember one specifically and the family has since moved out of town, nice people, and then they invited my husband and me over one evening so that both of them could tell both of us we were crazy. They cared enough to make sure that we understood.
(I) Well now they didn't call you just to tell you you were crazy. What was their real reason for ...
(N) Well just because our youngsters were very good friends in kindergarten and they were nice people and we switched back and forth and they took their little boy and Andrew places and I took etc. and this really was not the purpose but we were told again in unison that we were crazy. And a very good, dear friend of mine who does not live in Teaneck, one of my oldest friends, when I told her what I was going to do, she said, you are sending Andrew on a picket line and you won't go out on a picket line. I still don't think it hurt. I think it did him good in a broad educational sense because he was part of the history of this country.
(I) What did she mean by you won't go on a picket line, do you know?
(N) Well, she just thought that I should be the one that was disturbing my self rather than disturbing my child. She's a nice lady; she's still my friend.
(I) How was the family reacting at this time, your family? Any members of the family, the children, your husband, other relatives?
(N) Well, the morning that I decided, no I've got this backwards, I was seeing Harvey Scribner over something for the League of Women Voters and he had an appointment with Mrs. Hecht at we will say 8:15 and then he had an appointment with Mr. Hecht at 8:30 because Mr. Hecht wanted to check and Mr. Hecht hadn't told me that he was going to talk about this thing to make sure that, I guess, to satisfy himself that it would be OK and when he decided it was OK, it was OK. Neal and Peter were too young to understand. My mother and father were in Canada and it didn't, I didn't get any reaction one way or the other. I guess specifically with my mother, she's always known I was going to do what I wanted to do anyway and she didn't say anything. My mother-in-law never understood. My mother-in-law, German born, came here as a mature woman and she never understood any of it anyway. We told her but it didn't register. That's the only family. A cousin who said, well, Alice is causing trouble again and still I am very fond of him and my immediate reaction was, well, that's all right. I mean my immediate family's reaction.
(I) You mentioned Peter.
(N) Well Peter wasn't born; Peter was born that year. It was a bad year for me. How did the dates work now. We, I was pregnant, we transferred Andrew to Bryant School in September, my mother found out that she had cancer in November, I took Andrew out of Bryant School for I am not sure anymore, maybe it was a month, the month of January, maybe it was longer, I took him out and put him in school in Canada because I went to high school with the older brother of the principal so that was not a problem and then he came back. It was a bad year all the way around. The fact that Andrew went to Bryant School had nothing to do with it. These things would have happened anyway. I would have become, you know...
(I) You were in Canada for a while and that's when you took Andrew...
(N) About a month, it was January. Maybe it was a little longer than a month. I don't recall any more and I took him out of school, yeah. And took him up there and put him in school in Canada, in Port Colborne but for the rest of that school year, he went on the bus.
(I) You mentioned something a little while ago about the things that might happen on the bus.
(N) I never found out what they were Betty. The terror of the busing had to be in the minds of these mothers. I don't know what could happen on the bus. You can get killed on Route 4 in a car. I don't know. There was the terror of busing. It was unbelievable. And I remember Harvey Scribner telling me that he came over, I guess the law was they had to be two miles from school or whatever it was, and he came over in his own car and drove in the front of my house to Bryant School to measure and make sure that it was within the mileage range. He told me he did that himself. And, of course, when I spoke to him that morning and told him what I wanted to do, and I am awful glad I did, I said, I never want my name mentioned. Ever. And one of the black parents, I wasn't at the meeting but Marcia was, one of the black parents was making a speech somewhere and started to use our names and describe our backgrounds or whatever he intended to do and Dr. Scribner stopped him immediately and said, absolutely not. He said he'd have to reveal statistics, so many black parents, so many white parents. You know where that statistic might be. In TRIUMPH IN A WHITE SUBURB. How many black parents were transferred. Because I know the number of white parents that transferred was in it because I am one of them.
(I) Well, at that time, you wanted it anonymous.
(I) How could it be anonymous with your son going to school every day?
(N) I meant I didn't want to read in the NEW YORK TIMES that Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Hecht of Teaneck, NJ transferred ... that's what I meant. Or in any books that anybody published or anything. Now it doesn't matter. Because Andrew is going to be married in June and he is about as cooked as he is going to be.
(I) So Andrew is how old now?
(N) Well, 27. I don't believe it. He was born in 57. Yes, he is 27. Can't be, Betty. That's not possible that he is 27 years old but he has to be. Anyway, yes.
(I) Does he have a...
(N) Oh, he has great, well, it is hard to say. He talks about it, not a great deal, but if it comes up, he talks about it. He, one warm and wonderful example I have, did I tell you about the Michelle with glasses and the Michelle without glasses? When he and the Simpson child came home from school they had two people named Michelle in their class. One with glasses and one without glasses. When I saw them, that's not the way I would have described it. One child was black and one child was white but to these kids, it was the one with glasses and the one without glasses. And I loved it. And there was a lot of that kind of thing. Which is great. Which was great.
(I) Yes, I've heard that described in a Pearl Buck story.
(N) Michelle with glasses and Michelle without glasses.
(I) No. What it was was that a child went to answer the door and came back and reported that someone was at the door and when asked was it Chinese or not Chinese, the child said, I don't know. I'll have to go back and look.
(N) Yeah. So he remembers and he's interested in what's going on in Teaneck and I guess not as much as he used to be.
(I) I recall your mentioning something about his, was it at college where he was a person who had taken part in something, that came up? His experience?
(N) The only thing I remember was that we were out in a restaurant in Green Bay and his, one of his professors came by and sat down and had coffee and dessert with us and Andrew had told him this and he was interested in meeting us and talking about it. Probably somebody who wanted to do some kind of social research but you know, it was kind of interesting that Andrew remembered it and had mentioned it, that, to this professor. He takes it very much in stride. He doesn't, you know, I'd love for you to talk with Andrew.
(I) Well, when will Andrew be here?
(N) Well, we've got to get him married first on June 9th.
(I) He won't be back before that.
(I) He went then just for that year, for these circumstances.
(N) Yes, because the next year, we had the election, or was it that year, but anyway there was the election where busing would be, we had the candidates who were for busing and the candidates who were weren't for busing. Let's see the candidates who were for busing were Dr. Margolis, who else, do you remember?
(I) One was Harry Warner
(N) Dr. Warner, Mr. Margolis.
(I) Paul Margolis who was an accountant in town.
(N) And there was a third. I don't recall. And then there were three candidates who were for this busing and as I thought often, it is one of the pictures I shall have in my mind for the rest of my life, I couldn't wait to find out what the election results were so I went over to Eugene Field School and as I was coming up that funny, crooked walk, I was quite a distance from the door and there were two ladies and one jumped up and said, We Won, threw her arms around the other one, and I went into that room and there was electricity in that room. Everybody was running around kissing one another. And they were screaming, and yelling. It was New Years Eve and the Fourth of July wrapped up all together. To a degree, perhaps, we failed from that high point but we've made tremendous stride. We, as a community, as a state, and as a country, it's been painful, it's been ugly, but we have progressed. We've got an awful long way to go Betty. And when we get finished this one, the world will give us another craziness to handle. But we have made strides.
(I) Is there anything about this experience that you feel had an effect on you?
(N) Oh yes. Oh yes. I alluded to it before. The beginning of my disillusionment, the card carrying liberal mentality. Now I may be wrong and maybe with my experiences, they are just one small, small piece of the mosaic because certainly the word liberal is now pejorative and it didn't used to be and this whole thing of the integration and the economics and the politics, we are in some sort of a revolutionary time and we can't see it because we are part of it and I don't know what it is and interview me in twenty years, if I'm still alive, I'll tell you.
(I) You are more likely to be than I am. You know, when you spoke about this somewhat earlier, I remember your using the word pride in reference to Andrew, that he had pride in being a part of this.
(N) Yeah, I think so. I don't want to talk for the man but I think he may not remember anything of what happened. I don't know. But I think he ... he's my son I guess. He's part of ... his actions were somehow part of the history of this country and I think that's pretty nice.
(I) Do you have any comments yourself on why it was that you your family and the Simpsons at that time were the only ones ...
(N) I have no idea. Absolutely none and it is a mystery to me and it will always be. If I could see it so clearly, why couldn't they? I have none at all. None at all. But Marcia and David Simpson felt the same way as we did.
(I) How did you and they discover this? Did you call them ...
(N) Well they lived on Cumberland Avenue and they went to kindergarten together and they were buddies anyway.
(I) The youngsters.
(N) Yeah. And that's how we met, you know what you do with little kids. We met when they were in kindergarten and whatever activity it was, I don't know, I don't remember, but I don't know, I can't answer that.
(I) Did you have any reaction within the next couple of years in terms of the busing as a change because you had done this voluntarily? Selecting yourself or your son ...
(N) Yeah. Now did I have any...
(I) Do you have any reaction to the change in the busing because people had reactions to busing. At least that's what they talked about ...
(N) It was talked about incessantly and then when they bused everybody there, I thought it was a necessary evil.
(I) Do you recall which year this was?
(N) When they bused everybody.
(I) No, in the beginning when you and the Simpsons ...
(N) It had to be 63.
(I) Do you have any association ... was it the year that Kennedy was assassinated?
(N) Lord, yes. Kennedy was assassinated that, yes, when was Kennedy assassinated, November 7th, and then after that, we discovered my mother had cancer, immediately after that. In fact, within a matter of days or a week or so. Oh yeah. And, you know, maybe, I have heard people say that when Kennedy was assassinated, everything went crazy. I am not sure that is correct. Maybe this was just one little glitch on the way somewhere but that was quite a year. Yes. And I am saddened in a sense that somehow we couldn't have integrated the whole county. To a greater degree than we have. Because then (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2)
(I) You were talking about the ...
(N) I was pontificating about, yeah, the whole county. And I really don't know now for instance how many black families are in Bogota, Dumont, Park Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, you know, Alpine, I don't know. I hope there are some. But I am saddened every time I see a map in the Bergen Record that shows whatever percentages of blacks and they are always in Teaneck and Hackensack and that's too bad because we have to integrate more than just Teaneck. And there is all kinds of answers and reasons why this is as this is I suppose but I'd like to have seen a broader sweep for the county. For the state, or for the country or the world.
(I) Getting back to the early 60s, it seems to me that I recall you had a part in the Fair Housing work at that time.
(N) Oh yeah. I did a lot of things. I did the Fair Housing, I volunteered at the Lincoln School in Englewood when that school was held in somebody's basement. Yeah. But I am interested in, what, I guess the unfairness or so on of the situation. You just can't take a group of people and say, you got to live here or you can't do this or you can't do that because it is nonsense. There is more differences within groups than there ever will be between groups of people. And I believe this.
(I) I recall your talking to me about taking part in a sandwich
(N) Oh sure.
(I) Talk about that a little, would you?
(N) An apartment house was for sale and somebody had to tell me what it meant, I remember, because I didn't know what it meant. And a black individual goes and the apartment is rented, a white individual goes and, of course, everything is fine and take the apartment next week and can I have your deposit and then the black individual goes again and the apartment is rented.
(I) When you say it is rented, you mean it is not available.
(N) It is not available for the black person; it is only available for the white person. And this is how you break down some of these things because really I guess people who are renting the apartments, or people who are selling their houses are scared, ignorant, who knows? But at least when they are faced with something like this, they have to think about it and that's how we make progress. And I think it is progress. I really believe that. And we've come a long way. You didn't go to a Saturday night social in Teaneck twenty years ago, twenty five years ago, and see the mixes that you see now and I think it is marvelous. And the fact that we don't notice it anymore and the fact that we don't see it is really where we want to go. Where we don't notice any more the pigmentation or whatever. I think it is good. And I am certainly not sorry I had part of this experience, met some nice people, and as I say, once you conquer one thing, something else comes along that has to be conquered but that's what living is all about. Do you have any more questions?
(I) No, I don't have any more questions. Do you have any more comments at the moment?
(N) Not right now.
(I) Well then, thank you very much.
(N) Well thank you.
(END OF TAPE)