|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 Blanche Neal
|INTERVIEWER:||Ethele H. Browne|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||September 13, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (8/1985)|
(I) Blanche, do we have your permission to use this tape for the Teaneck Oral History project?
(I) Blanche, how long have you lived in Teaneck?
(N) Approximately eighteen years.
(I) Blanche, how many children do you have?
(I) Daughters, sons?
(N) Two daughters and one son.
(I) How old are your daughters? Give me their names.
(N) Cynthia, Elizabeth, John.
(I) How old is Cynthia?
(N) Twenty five.
(I) And Elizabeth?
(I) And John?
(N) Twenty four.
(I) Did they go through the Teaneck school system?
(I) Cynthia and John, did they graduate from Teaneck High School?
(I) And Elizabeth, she is still in Teaneck High School?
(I) When you came here, did you have any problems with housing or . . eighteen years ago, did you have any problems with getting this house?
(N) Not this particular house, no.
(I) But did the real estate person show you any other houses besides this or can you tell me something about it.
(N) Yes, initially we were steered to the other side of Teaneck Road in the northeast section. We noticed that many houses were for sale in that area and those houses which were for sale were owned by whites and were being bought by blacks. In the case of one realtor, we were shown a house in one block and driven around in a semi-circular manner and shown a house on the next block on the same street and we felt that this was a maneuver to throw us off the track. However, when we confronted the realtor with the fact that perhaps he was steering us, we were being maneuvered into a neighborhood that was being "donated" to blacks, he denied these charges and subsequently that realtor began to show us houses in other areas. After this experience, we contacted Mrs. Porter from the Fair Housing Bergen County Commission. She sent us all of the data pertaining to housing available in her commission's office and other factual information. From this information, we determined that realtors were indeed establishing a housing pattern in those sections of Englewood and Teaneck which formerly had been predominantly white and we felt, after subsequent visits, that we too were being steered by some realtors. We were asked by a realtor to accept housing in Paramus on the strength that my husband worked for a large corporation located in Paramus and we would be "a token", perhaps a breakthrough, to the bank's hesitancy about granting a loan to blacks for the Paramus area. In other words, we were asked to submit ourselves as a test case.
(I) Were there any other blacks on this street or black families on the street when you moved here?
(N) Yes, but we did not know they were black at the time.
(I) What do you think of Teaneck, of the public schools in Teaneck. We are going back now say eighteen years and then we will go to the present. Eighteen years ago, what did you think of the public schools in Teaneck?
(N) Having taken my kids from one of the most excellent schools in the Queens district of New York City, and enrolled them in Teaneck, I felt at the time that the Teaneck school system was comparable. There were many legends which we had heard prior to moving to Teaneck, New Jersey, and one of them being that invariably black kids were demoted or placed in a lower grade. We did not encounter this problem. It was never mentioned. The transcripts were accepted as they came from P.S. 35 in Queens and our children were enrolled in the same grade and at the same grade level.
(I) Did they have any problems at all when they were in a lower grade?
(N) My son did encounter a problem in the fourth grade. A new teacher who had been hired and was a native of California. It became our candid opinion that she had difficulty in dealing with minorities predominantly white upper middle class area. However, we felt that perhaps with the type of support the teachers got in the Teaneck school system, and the educational programs which were offered for teachers, given the fact that she was young, she, there was a chance for her in that she could change her ideas and allay her fears. It was not John's best year. However he, with reinforcement from the house, was able to cope with the teacher.
(I) So you only had a problem with just your son? With your daughters, everything was all right.
(N) With my oldest daughter, everything was okay. We are talking now a period of sixteen to eighteen years ago when the older two were in elementary school and starting in the Teaneck school system. When you speak of my youngest daughter, we are talking about a time when integration had progressed much further along and we are talking post-civil rights as opposed to the other two we were talking a period immediately after civil rights came to the forefront.
(I) Blanche, at one time you worked in the Teaneck school system. You taught at what school was it?
(N) Thomas Jefferson Junior High School.
(I) Can you tell me something about that? How did you start teaching there and your reasons for leaving.
(N) Prior to (inaudible) , there had been many rumors. Rumors to the effect blacks could be hired in subjects that didn't really matter or to teach minor subjects but important subjects like science and math, someone and I never was able to determine from some conversations that I had just who this someone was, had determined that blacks were not qualified or should not be hired to teach subjects like English, Math, Science or college. . subjects for kids who were college bound or who were in the honors category. However, when I applied for the Teaneck school system, I did so because number one, it met what I determined at that time was an immediate need. I had small children and teaching seemed to be a profession that would meet my requirement for being at home in the evening. When it became known that I was, had sought or was interested in teaching, I was approached by some black citizens, two that I did not know and one that was casually known to me and they felt that I would be a likely candidate to apply for a position in Teaneck. However, I will admit that this was not my final motivation to apply for the job. I applied for the job because I had saw an ad in the New York Times and the Bergen Record. Some of the problems which I had been told had been encountered by others who had applied in the system were not obviously revealed to me at the time of my application. Mainly that the receptionists or the secretary or the coordinator in the area in which you apply would not allow you past her desk to get to an interview with the coordinator. Quite the contrary was true when I applied. I was given a time frame like the other applicants and within a short time, my name was called and I was interviewed by the coordinator for secondary education at that time.
(I) And how long did you stay at Thomas Jefferson?
(N) Approximately a year. It was a few months short of a year.
(I) Did anything happen or . . in that year that you were teaching at Thomas Jefferson?
(N) One thing that was significant in, bear in mind the time frame, when the black students presented their program for negro history week or black history week, there was a large disturbance at the assembly and the atmosphere and the mode of operation at the school became hostile.
(I) Was that one of the reasons why you left there or .. .
(N) This was one contributing factor to my making that decision. The other factor which I refused to accept for a given period of time was the fact that teachers who had seniority were weeding out disciplinary problems and sending them to my classroom. I still don't know to this day whether I was purposely given small classes so that I could not legally refuse these students in order to enable tenured teachers to weed out their students, whether this was happenstance or it was by design. It is my candid opinion that it was part of a design. Not necessarily because I was black but because it was the thing to do for mastered or tenured teachers so that their image would not be tarnished. In the first week or first two weeks of school, with their experience, to weed out potential disciplinary problems or to use a phrase from that time period "kids who could not cut it".
(I) Did you have a mixed group in your class or did you have mostly black students?
(N) Initially it was approximately a 50% balance in most of the math classes. Bear in mind the position offered to me was for a two subject teacher, math and science. The math classes which were assigned to me were for, they were not the lower math classes; they were Algebra II which was designed for students who were not doing well in Algebra I or the full year course. Some of the reasons why students were not progressing well in Algebra I were number one that they had not been prepared at a lower level and number two, that they did not have the self-discipline. In a few days I decided that one of the problems facing me would be the disciplinary problems. When I began to reach the kids who were potentially problems, I would find that I was I won't say forced but due to the size of my class, I had no choice but to accept other kids who became disciplinary problems. Being candid, many of the discipline problems arose from the black pupils in class. There were white pupils in the class also who had either psychological, health or disciplinary problems.
(I) Anything else that involved your teaching at Thomas Jefferson that you would like to tell me or . .
(N) Well it was an enlightening experience. I gained many insights into Teaneck, my neighbors, what other children who did not live in my immediate neighborhood were like. As a mother, I gained experience in the type of pupils, the type of community, families, my children would be associating with as a part of the Teaneck community. Perhaps it was a time that caused me to decide that I as a first entry level teacher could serve Teaneck's interests best and my interests best if I went back to industry in which I had worked for many years. I did think that there was a large degree of politics in the. . I cannot speak for the entire system but I did find a large degree of politics in the particular school to which I was assigned. And this politics was not necessarily applicable to the few black teachers, less than a handful, who were assigned to that school at the time but more to the politics of an affluent society.
(I) Blanche, I know you belong to quite a few or did belong to quite a few organizations in Teaneck. Could you tell me some of them and also describe.
(N) It will take me a few moments to try to remember. That was a very active period in my life. One organization was and still is the Teaneck Presbyterian Church. There I was the superintendent of the church school. Following that, president of the Women's Association.
(I) Can you tell me something about being the superintendent of the Sunday School? How long were you the superintendent of the Sunday School?
(N) Well I was superintendent of Sunday School for the period prescribed in the by-laws, three years.
(I) And then you were president of the Women's Association for how many years?
(N) I was one year before the. . I substituted for a prior president and that was three years also.
(I) Is there anything you can tell me about the Teaneck Presbyterian Church?
(N) Well there are so many things I could tell you about the Teaneck Presbyterian Church. My entering into the church community there opened up a whole new world of experiences because it was a very exciting time. It was a time when ministers, lay people and others were answering the call of their consciences and joining in the civil rights movement. It was a time when people who had been oblivious or unaware or perhaps not affected by minority groups were swept up in the current or the tide of the time and the Teaneck Presbyterian Church was an enlightened church. Many members of the congregation were proponents and leaders in the civil rights movement. So through the church I was able to see another view of how people, how Christian people, responded to the outcry and the outrage of the period during the 60s. There were many, I witnessed many people who, through their religious beliefs or their religious training, had the patience and the fortitude to battle with their conscience and problems and through seminars and dialogues, retreats, come, change their opinions or else begin to see things from a different point of view. I suppose the most memorial of these is the retreat which grew out of the church school teachers' group. There seemed to be some hesitancy or difficulty among some of the teachers with having for the first time perhaps blacks in their lives a black person as their director. I am sure in my own mind that even though our personal relationships on the surface seemed to be wholesome, there was question in their mind about the capability. There were times when I felt I was being tested. However, to get back to perhaps the most memorable time during my three years as superintendent of the retreat which we engaged in through a series of seminars, some sponsored in the church and others in a private retreat to try to remember specific details is difficult but through spiritual guidance, soul searching, seminars conducted by trained leaders, hearing both sides of the story, I felt that those of us who were there had a unique experience which we could not have gained in the outer structures of our society.
(I) Teaneck Presbyterian Church, I think when you were there eighteen years ago, I mean it was just beginning to integrate. Right? There were just a few black families in the church. How did you feel when you first went there or how did. .
(N) I did not feel foreign to this atmosphere because I transferred my membership from a Presbyterian Church in Queens and that church too was integrated. However, as time wore on, I saw a similarity in patterns. That is that as more black families came into the congregation and more black kids began to enter into religious training and adult blacks began to enter into the life of the church, the white community in the church began to diminish. It was most noticeable in the church school. Somehow the children just seemed to disappear. One Sunday they would be there, eager and willing to learn and willing to participate and the next Sunday, those children and that family, even though their parents were still full active participating members in the congregation, seemed to have vanished. However, if you went to the public school, you realized that these children had not been (END OF SIDE I - BEGIN SIDE 2) They had been removed from a Sunday atmosphere of associating with minorities. Let's call it one day of insulation from the black community.
(I) That means that the white families would still go, attend church but had taken their children out of Sunday School and the majority of black kids were in Sunday School?
(N) This was the final result. In my three years of superintendent, the trend did take place. The first year the church school was predominantly white; by the end of my tenure, the pendulum was beginning to swing in the other direction. At the end of my term, we took a survey and the percentage was 60% minority and 40% white.
(I) Blanche, okay, we have you down for the Teaneck Presbyterian Church, is there any other organization that you belonged to or . .
(N) Yes, I belonged to the A&T Bergen County A&T Alumni Association. Served as their secretary for two years and as president for two years.
(I) And that covered all of Bergen County, is that it?
(N) Bergen County? No. I was a member of the organizing or the planning committee for the Afro American Educational Center.
(I) Are you one of the starters of that group, one of the, how can I say it, . .
(N) One of the initial contributors. Time and money and talent, yes. My name is on their charter as a contributing member.
(I) Can you tell me something about the Afro American Educational Center?
(N) The Afro American Educational Center was an idea that really sprang up or originated through, oh I forgot to mention also a member of a black studies group.
(I) Black studies group? What does that have to do with it?
(N) The black studies group met in homes. It was an ad hoc type group. We met in homes and we studied black history and our roots. Africa, East Africa, West Africa, with the idea that we would be informed as to what African was really like. The true Africa as opposed to Africa as is presented in the academic history books and the records at that particular time. The Afro American Educational Center was an outgrowth or to put it this way, those of us who met in the Friday morning black studies session were inspired to support an idea that was presented which eventually became the Afro American Educational Center.
(I) Blanche, what other organizations did you belong to?
(N) The Parent Teachers Association. I was vice president and eventually president of the PTA and vice president of the Teaneck High School PTA. Also while at the high school, I served as a delegate to the state PTA Convention. In addition, I was a member of B.E.A.T., the Black Educational Alliance of Teaneck.
(I) Blanche, is there any other things that you would like to tell me about or anything else you would like to say about this?
(N) Are you speaking about my experience in living in Teaneck?
(I) In Teaneck, yes.
(N) Ethele, not at this time. There have been so many pleasant experiences living in Teaneck, I would have to condense that in order to go on tape. I would be glad to cooperate with you in the future with any additional information that you might need in the survey.
(I) Blanche, thanks very much for sharing this with the Oral History Program of Teaneck. Thank you again.