|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 Lamar Jones
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||April 9, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (12/1985)|
This is Gloria Howard interviewing LaMar Jones on April 9, 1984 at the home of Mrs. Howard.
(I) Mr. Jones, when did you move to Teaneck?
(N) October of 1955.
(I) How did you happen to pick Teaneck as a place to move to?
(N) Well, we had a friend who lived in Englewood and we came to see those friends and they said, that house is in Teaneck and we came to this general area here. This area was just beginning to turn from white to black and we saw a nice house here and we bought it.
(I) Did you have any particular expectations when you moved here?
(N) Yes, you know New York Times had an article saying "Teaneck Welcomes Blacks".
(I) When you moved here, did you have any school aged children?
(I) Did you find, what did you find about the race relations when you moved here initially? Were you welcomed in your community?
(N) That's kind of hard to say. They had what they called the Teaneck Civic Conference, that was going on here, and that was to fight the real estate agents from showing blacks only to homes in this area and not other areas of Teaneck or Bergen County. Other than Hackensack or Englewood.
(I) Is that what they had termed blockbusting
(N) That's correct.
(I) Can you tell me any more about that, about this. Someone had made reference to this
(N) Well when I first came here, you'd walk on Beveridge Street and. you'd notice that the white people would look at you funny and they would also look at one another very funny, like who was going to jump first or move first and when one moved, then Beveridge Street went like a house on fire except for two families who remained there, almost three families have remained there. It went very fast.
(I) What would you say then, do you know anything about the ratio of the population at that time then?
(N) Oh the blacks were here, were in
(I) Were you one of the first or what?
(N) I was the first black, the first black came in around June or July and then after that, they began to come in singly most of the time. In fact this area north of Tryon didn't have a single black in it when I first moved to town.
(I) Well then how did you find it socially?
(N) I think there were some deep friendships made between the white and black, when I say white and black, I mean both Jews and Christians. St. Anastasia's didn't have any black students in it though.
(I) I see. Were there any organizations starting about that time?
(N) The Teaneck Civic Conference started I think in 1954 to try to stabilize the neighborhood. The stabilize the neighborhood, they meant to keep the whites here and to spread the blacks throughout the town.
(I) Were you one of these members?
(N) I became not a charter member but I became a member.
(I) And your meetings, were they
(N) They were in people's homes.
(I) Oh, I see. How were those meetings conducted, in an orderly fashion, were they
(N) Yes, they were conducted in a very orderly fashion.
(I) What organizations would you say you joined at that time other than that since then?
(N) Well that was the one that I did join but that was almost in its last phase too if you understand what I am saying to you because one of, the president of the T.C.C.. was Christian. He moved away to south Jersey and then other people began to move out of this neighborhood, some to different areas of Teaneck which were all white at that time and some to other towns.
(I) What time frame would you place that in? Would you say that was
(I) Around 57 and 58. I see. Can you think of any problems that you noticed when you came here, any type of problems. Was it any school problems, any, how were the merchants when you were buying things. Any type of problems did you notice?
(N) I had no problems whatsoever.
(I) You didn't notice any problems at all. Let's see, when did you go on the board of education?
(N) I first ran in 1961. I lost. I ran in 1962. I lost. I ran in 1963 and I won.
(I) And is it my understanding you were the first black on the board of education?
(N) I was the first black elected to anything here in Teaneck.
(I) Elected to anything, huh? Did you find it difficult to speak out at any of these meetings or
(N) Well no, I didn't find it difficult to speak out. I knew I had to remember to take it kind of slowly but what I did resent and I fought back about it when they thought I was privileged to be on the council. That they were doing me a favor to have me sit on the board of education and I resented that.
(I) Did it manifest itself in any particular way that you could put your fingers on, that you could tell us?
(N) Yeah, I was ignored. .
(I) Oh? Well, did you try to form a coalition for strength to get another black on the board?
(N) No I didn't. I told them that if I didn't get a hearing here, I would get one in the press.
(I) Did you notice anything different after the Supreme Court decision in 1964 about the integration of the schools and whatnot?
(I) Were you ever exposed to the school situation here, any relatives of yours. Did you have any relatives
(N) No, not any relatives in the school here but I went to the one school and I heard later on, they said, who's that nigger?
(I) Was that in town here?
(N) Right here in Teaneck.
(I) What school was it, do you remember?
(N) I remember but I won't mention the school. I know the school very well.
(I) Well don't be hesitant about mentioning. the school. We are not even talking about names. It would be interesting. Was it an elementary school or a junior high?
(N) That school down on North Street and Larch Avenue. Is that Emerson?
(I) I can't recall but it was at Larch Avenue and North Street. Interesting.
(N) They didn't say it to me but I heard about it.
(I) What about the policy making committees in town, the council. Did you go to the council meetings or
(N) Yes I did. And I got to know Mr. Votee very well. It wasn't any fast friendship but yes, we'd speak you know and pass the time of day and I got to know the township manager, Mr. Welsh. Do you know Mr. Welsh? And one or two of the other council people.
(I) I understand that Mrs. Jones now teaches or taught in Teaneck. Did she start to teach after she moved here?
(I) Can you tell me anything about what prompted her or how her adjustment to the situation here was and when she started?
(N) She left the Bronx and went to a school in upper Manhattan which was a very good school system but her adjustment in coming here wasn't a very great adjustment. She did apply for the job. And she was accepted here. As to why she came here, she lived here for one reason and the second thing, the commuting to New York over the bridge was getting difficult.
(I) And she adjusted
(N) Very well.
(I) There was no pressure placed on her?
(N) No pressure placed on her. And I used no influence on her either.
(I) Mr. Jones, you made reference to the fact that there was a change in the population noticeable in 1957 or 58 when some of the whites were moving out and more blacks were coming in. Do you know of anything that prompted this, did anything trigger this?
(N) Well I think the trigger that caused the blacks to move in south of, just north of Route 4 up to Avenue was when Robinson Street received its first black family. I always remember the church, we lived up on Beveridge with, was quite excited and brought her priest in and she eventually moved into Englewood Cliffs.
(I) I see. Did the priest make any particular recommendation or how did he involve himself? .
(N) I don't know what transpired between them but I know that she moved. It is near the church and the church was in an all white neighborhood. It is now practically an all black neighborhood.
(I) You made reference to the fact that there were no black students at St. Anastasia when you moved here. Do you know just about when they may have started attending or was there any publicity in the newspapers or any difficulties that, ensuing from that? .
(N) No, I can't recall. Not being a Catholic, I really didn't follow that too closely but I do have some Catholic friends who couldn't get their children in that school.
(I) You are talking about black friends?
(N) Black friends who couldn't get their children in St. Anastasia. At that time.
(I) Mr. Jones, what would you say about the population as it stands today. Do you still feel an influx of blacks or what? What do you think about our population and the ratio here in Teaneck?
(N) I don't know what the ratio is but I do notice one thing. I see a great deal of white Christians moving into town. I see very few Jews of the Conservative faith or Reformed faith moving into town. What Jews do move to town are the Orthodox Jews. I see a number of Asians moving into the town. I see more Hispanics moving into town and blacks are coming in too. But one thing I have noticed, the blacks that are coming into town in recent years seem to be in a different category than the blacks who first came to Teaneck.
(I) Would you care to expand that statement at all? What do you mean by, is it a lower economic group or what?
(N) Not having access to their background or to their finances, I would say from my general feeling, from what I see how they act from the street and in the schools that they are a lower socio-economic group than what first came to Teaneck.
(I) Mr. Jones, do you think that Teaneck itself is changing in its appearance, say Teaneck Road and Cedar Lane, etc.?
(N) Yes, I think Teaneck Road has gone downhill. This is due to the council because in Teaneck, it is very difficult for people in the northeast to elect a council person. We have what I consider to be the at large system of voting people in office and this means that certain black people have no say in who is elected to office. I would also like to say that there are people who run for office today seem not to have the same dedication as people who were in office in the 50s and early 60s.
(I) Mr. Jones, were there any other committees during this time that you can think of that you may have belonged to or heard of?
(N) Yes, Senator Feldman appointed an Advisory Board of Human Relations for Teaneck and I and a lady, another black lady, were the two first black people that were ever appointed to any advisory board in the history of Teaneck.
(I) Can you remember any of the matters that it dealt with and how it actually functioned?
(N) We worked with housing trying to get the real estate agents, real estate companies to show houses to black people in all areas of Teaneck and in all towns in Bergen County with the exception of Hackensack and Englewood. We tried to devise a plan where we put up a sign on a house for sale that would say FOR SALE without a lot of other talk and we also had a council I think that passed a rule that said (GAP IN TAPE)
(I) Was this designed to aid any, to accomplish any particular purpose, putting a sign up saying FOR SALE or SOLD?
(N) Yes, this was designed to stall off panic, panic selling. Itwas a sign that would keep the neighborhood vital and alive because it would look pretty terrible to ride down any street and to see on a small block, ten or fifteen signs that said, HOUSE FOR SALE.
(I) So this would more or less eliminate some of that
(N) This was trying to prevent the real estate people from coming into any neighborhood and to use scare tactics to put up signs that would say HOUSE FOR SALE and if you find five on the street, that may be an all white block then you are going to find ten on that block. And that's why this was designed as I recall to prevent panic selling and to try to control what is really the action of the real estate agents.
(I) Can you tell me something about the issues that came before the board of education in your reign there?
(N) I was on the board the first time and they had a plan to pass volunteer busing for children but parents would have to go to the superintendent of the school and ask him if they could have their child bused to another school. I voted no and I did so because I could not see a black parent going to the superintendent of schools and saying in effect, I don't want my child to go to Bryant School because there are too many blacks there. I want him to go to school where there are more whites. This to me demeans a black parent and a black child and it also demeans a black family. I voted no along with another board member - for a different reason he voted no - and the people in the town, the black people in the town thought I was a terrible fellow because I voted no. I wanted the board to mandate a plan so that no one would have to go to anybody and to ask, may I send my child to another school? This was the law and everyone would have to abide by that law.
(I) Well did they get this plan through?
(N) The plan passed by a vote of seven to two but the plan didn't work. From my experience, they didn't research it enough; they didn't know exactly how many people were going to ask for a transfer and I think it turned out that 19 people asked for a transfer, seventeen blacks and two whites.
(I) Only nineteen?
(N) Nineteen. And the following year, they put in another plan.
(I) Do you remember what that plan was?
(N) That was a plan where one school would be a central sixth grade school and for the first five years, children in the northeast would be bused to other schools in the township and for the sixth year, all children would be going to the sixth grade children would be going to the Bryant School. I didn't like this plan but this was the best plan you could get and so I voted for it, this plan.
(I) This was the one in 1964?
(N) 1964, yes.
(END OF TAPE)