|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:||December, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (6/1985)|
(I) So did that lead you into any other political activities?
(N) Well it was really working for Helstoski in which I was in charge of all of Teaneck, I think I ran a fantastic campaign because I had learned how to do it, and I did it without a lot of meetings, just with good people in charge of every election district and a terrific card file in which we had talked to everybody in town and got out the vote. I think he got the biggest vote he had ever gotten from that campaign.
(I) But they kept changing his district all the time, didn't they?
(N) Yes, they did. But he stayed in Teaneck, he did well here. I know my husband and I, caring about the same issues in many ways felt that McGovern was a carry-on of the same concerns and we sent money, nineteen different checks, to McGovern. Every time we'd think he was failing, my husband would send another check to try to help.
(I) You didn't go to the rally over in Hackensack at the Court House did you? When McGovern was there and Ted Kennedy spoke?
(N) I did. Do you remember Art Leseman, does that come to you? What happened when all the lights went out.
(I) Gee, I don't remember that but you know, I was maybe unhappy because it didn't seem to me there were very many people there and that there were very many politicians there and that made me sort of unhappy.
(N) Was that the one where Matty Feldman introduced Ted Kennedy and Ted Kennedy called him Marty Feldman? Art Leseman, not knowing the microphones were on though lights went out, spoke words he would have wished weren't magnified. I knew, Art Leseman, actually I forgot that old part of my history in Teaneck. Probably the first activity I was involved in before anything else was the activity in Fair Housing, to try and get the towns all opened up in Bergen County so that all kinds of people could live anywhere they wanted to and I spent a lot of time working for Fair Housing at that time.
(I) What did you do? I mean what were your plans with that? How did you manage that?
(N) Well actually it was very interesting because Teaneck, Englewood and Hackensack run like a belt through Bergen County and they were the three towns where Blacks were moving in and were free to move in. They were obviously being steered away from all of the other communities. And my concern, I remember at one point, was to try to do what some of the other towns I had read about in Philadelphia and Quaker areas had done such as buying houses and controlling the real estate by buying and selling to the kind of people to get a real mix. I was really defeated by some of my own fellow liberals who thought that my suggestion was terrible. What I saw happening was because one of my son Richard's friends who he went to nursery school with lived on Alicia Avenue in Teaneck and we used to go there a lot. The parents then were going to sell there house and I saw with my own eyes over a period of time that all of those houses that changed hands were being bought by Blacks. (END OF SIDE 1 - BEGIN SIDE 2) Since Fair Housing supported integration, my suggestion was that we talk to people, that we try to talk to the Blacks and the whites and attempt to get an integration of an area that we would do as a pilot project to keep it in some kind of balance. So that all the whites wouldn't move out, we would try to work to keep the whites there, and try to talk to black people not to all move into the houses as they became vacant so that we could develop a true integration. I remember a few people telling me that that's no way, that black people have to buy what they want to buy and where they want to buy and I said, okay but you will see what is going to happen. Because as I read and read and read and studied more areas, what happens is that there is no true integration. There is a transitional period during which whites are moving out and Blacks are moving in and it may look like it was integrated but it isn't really. And it was obvious to me that where only Blacks lived in certain areas, that the street lights weren't as good, garbage pickup not as reliable...
(I) Even in Teaneck?
(N) Even in Teaneck. And people would kind of embarrassingly admit that but
(I) Is that still true do you think in Teaneck?
(N) I don't really know. I can't speak for that personally any more. I haven't been in touch with that. But I still believe it is true that there are some groups still working like Teaneck Housing Center, trying to work to integrate and keep this a good town. Well it is a very funny thing with what's happening in Teaneck. We have now religious Jews moving in and Blacks moving in plus I mentioned to you about twenty three different native languages of children in the high school. That is wonderful and if you walk down the street next to me down there on East Lawn, there's a number of people who look either Indian or Oriental or Philippine or . . it's, I think it is exciting to have that kind of mix.
(I) Well I think it is more truly a more cosmopolitan. .
(N) The thing that bothers me about it becoming all of anyone thing is that you lose a sense of the total population that exists in this world and then it runs down hill in many ways and it bothers me since I believe in public education, that when we have too many people who only send their kids to sectarian schools, either Catholic or Jewish or whatever, that that kills our education, because we had here in Teaneck a wonderful educational system I believe. My two kids graduated from high school, one '79 and one in '82, and they both had superb educations here. We had fifteen merit scholars when Richie graduated. He was one of them. And it was really a very high quality of education.
(I) He was part of the honors course then. Was he?
(N) Well, in what sense, honors?
(I) Well there is supposed to be an honors course in Teaneck High School and what I had heard was that there used to be an honors course and then there is the rest of the school. At least that is what someone said.
(N) Well, I think my son were out before there was that breakdown. I think we had a bimodal system here in that we had all of these merit scholars and then we had the best basketball team in Bergen County, I don't like to see the numbers get out of hand because so many kids are going to parochial schools that they are just not enriching our public schools which is too bad. But I know we got the best out of the town really. Good neighbors and wonderful school system and interesting people and no matter what your interests here, you can find a group that exists. A whole variety in every field. There is the Garden Club, off beat religious groups, or ethical culture or dance groups or whatever.
(I) Were you ever involved with the Parent Teacher Association, any activities?
(N) Oh, of course.
(I) Can you talk about that a minute?
(N) I think I did a lot of interesting things that I found exciting when I was involved in the PTA. My major involvement was probably in Eugene Field School where my both children went through that entire school and I was able to help set up a student council which had children elected by their classmates to represent them in this student council. And it was wonderful for me.
(I) How did you get the school to accept that? I mean did you just go and sort of suggest it?
(N) Well at the time, Albert Mitchell was the principal and he was in some ways really open to some of these things and allowed them to go on. He had some terrific amount of involvement from parents in the school. Maybe for better or worse but I think better where parents really cared, really were involved. I was often a class mother and did a lot in dealing with the teacher. We focused so that all kinds of complaints would come through me and I would be the liaison between the parents and the teacher and I really, again because I was a social worker and had done some of this kind of thing, I think I really helped to carry a couple of new teachers through a tremendous number of crises in their classes in how to cope, how to handle things, how not to handle things, how not to over-stimulate kids, it was a lot. I was very, very active with that. Or, I just used to go in a day a week and be an aide in the classroom, I remember with Ellen Adams. She was Billy's second grade teacher who was a wonderful teacher and really utilized us in helping the children. Out of those involvements, we were able to set up something like a student council but we called it a communications council. Marie Bertolini and I played a large part in that. She had two wonderful sons, the same ages as my sons. They later moved out to California; but at the time she was involved with me but I think I carried it when she became ill. These kids were delightful. You wouldn't believe that, even second graders could articulate what their needs were. We had about ten different committees working. I am an action person, I can't stand to just listen and hear that something terrible is happening and say, oh my, isn't that too bad. I say, well, what are we going to do about it? So we had kids involved. With complaints about the food, and what could we do about it, we met with the director of foods in Teaneck and we made many changes. They were open to hear the children's suggestions. Would you like hot soup, yeah, that's what we'd like. And how about Sloppy Joes instead of something else. There was real communication and on many issues. The kids were delightful and helpful and outstanding kids who participated in this group. But that kind of stuff interested me in the PTA much more than just being the president of the PTA and organizational stuff. I really liked working on a committee or a project.
(I) The busing of children had already gone into effect when you moved here. Am I right now? Or were you here through that?
(N) Well I guess, I'm trying to remember the dates. I remember the big issue dividing the schools was the racial imbalance.
(I) Oh, you were here for that.
(N) Yeah. It was a question of sending the little kids over to Washington Irving School for kindergarten and it was so funny because all of the ridiculous things that people brought up about the children will have to go to the toilet and they won't be able to . . the kids did perfectly. There were no problems where the kids were concerned in doing that. And whereas my oldest child went to kindergarten right in Eugene Field, the younger one did go to the kindergarten and first grade program over at Washington Irving and it worked out fine.
(I) No problems on the buses.
(N) No. They were good times really and I think about how many kids of different kinds my children were friends with. I remember one mother bringing her daughter over to play because Richie wanted to play with her and she walked in and she looked and said, where is your daughter? And I said no, Richard wanted to play with Stacey. Oh my God, she said, my kid never played with a boy. Gee, I said, what are you worried about? She said, I don't know, I guess it is silly. What's wrong with it? Nothing. Okay. You watch him. And she left her here. Many black kids were here and slept over, at parties and back and forth and those were really good, important. . and you know what was wonderful about it: My kids learned to individualize people really. They never said, oh I am scared of all blacks or I don't like all blacks or they are all good dancers or they are all anything. They judged each person as an individual. And my kids said, growing up that way made them comfortable with all kinds of people wherever they were. Richard went to a Quaker school and did a lot of activity in Philadelphia, with poor people in different neighborhoods. My younger kid's roommate at college the first year was a Black boy and they have remained good friends. Teaneck taught them that there were no hard and sharp lines that are drawn and the possibility of comfort with anyone. Some kids they dislike, some kids they like, of any color, of any religion, of any kind, based on the individual, not on what group they belong to.
(I) And that lasted through high school?
(N) I'd say it's lasted through to their lives right now.
(I) I was wondering how things have changed today because there was a time when, in the late 60s, when there was some hostility with blacks and whites in Teaneck. You must have been here during the famous Sabbath Ban.
(N) My son Richard was the person who sued the Board of Education in 1978. If that is what you mean by the Sabbath Ban, nothing to do with a racial issue.
(I) I didn't know that. I meant to ask you about that because, and I want you to go into some detail because I interviewed someone Saturday who had her point of view about it which was not the way I remembered it so I would like to hear about it from you. What first happened, do you remember?
(N) Sure. When Richard was a senior in high school, in the fall of 1978, he was president of the Playcrafters which was the dramatic group and they wanted to put on their plays three nights, after they worked so hard and did wonderful jobs on the plays. Mrs. Cohen who was their faculty advisor, they had originally been told they would put plays on Thursday night and Saturday night and Sunday night and the kids all said Thursday night is a crummy night for getting kids out. They all have school the next day. They have homework. It's really not good for us or anybody. Why can't we have it at the end of the week, Friday night, which is the best night of the week of all to have kids come back to school to watch the plays. And what became apparent was that there had been a policy set by the board of education about no Friday night activities. But there were exceptions made.
It seemed to my son and another young man, Jeremy Feigelson, that this was a violation of the First Amendment. They asked if they could perform Friday night and permission was granted, then later revoked. I had been interested in the A.C.L.V. and suggested to the boys that they consult them. Jeremy's mother was an attorney and took on a lot of the legal aspects with the A.C.L.V. lawyer who was assigned, who lived in Teaneck. Because the boys were under legal age, I had to be the plaintiff. Principal Delaney, Supt. Sher and the Board of Education were named in the suit, though their personal opinions were not known. I thought Mr. Delaney was a superb principal and that the high school had been running well under him. He got just the right respect from the students and a reasonable amount of understanding and support from them and yet he is not a pal to them so that there is appropriate leadership on his part. It is really a good situation. He is a great guy, I think. In the suit they went through some very interesting things such as finding kids who said my Sabbath is on Thursday. I don't think you should show the thing. . it was amazing to me the kids who came forward, who said various days were their Sabbath. We said, great, so we can't have anything any day. In reality, under Mrs. Cohen's leadership, they were very fair to children. Laurie Cohen is the faculty advisor, I think she probably still is, she had kids tryout for parts.
There was no regard to anything about religious, other background. If a kid turned out to get the part and he was an Orthodox Jew, they would double cast it so that on the Friday night that he couldn't do it, another kid would do it. It was really as fair as you could imagine as far as they were concerned. When it went to court, Sherman Lester, the judge, really waffled in many ways because he said, "I want you kids to see that taking issues to the law through proper channels does work. I would really want to see you, Richard and Jeromy, be able to put the plays on on Friday night and see that you went through channels and that it worked." And he decided to give them permission to go ahead and put on the plays on Friday night saying that the principal could make that ruling. He never dealt with the basic constitutional issue at all. Our side won in the sense that the plays went on. There were statements that the policy as applied was unconstitutional. Both sides actually appealed the decision. The Superior Court upheld the constitutionality of the policy. When Rich came in during his junior year in college to oral arguments in Trenton, the court affirmed without comment. But I think the policy was seen as divisive and not enforced, and Friday night performances continued.
(I) So this was really an upsetting time, as a matter of fact.
(N) It was an important issue to be dealing with and it was again exciting. You feel like you believe in something and you are standing up for it and not just passively saying, oh who cares or whatever. I think you feel better about yourself and about your contribution as a person.
(I) Tell me, have you been mixed up in any other political situations in town?
(N) Well the swimming pool business. I was involved in that. That was one of my other things for a while.
(I) The one that was defeated at the polls you mean?
(N) Well, right. When we wanted to have a townwide swimming pool and where again the integral underlying issue was a black/white problem and then I said, hey, the black color doesn't wash off in the pool, you know. If we put it there, it will be all blacks. And if we put it here, it will be all whites. It's an issue that does lie probably beneath a good many towns. I'm not sure of the facts about the current "town pool."
(I) Well there's the Teaneck Swim Club and it is on town land and now apparently the original agreement was that after eight years the town could buy it, or after thirty years it would revert to the town and I think there is some discussion because that actually is a private club in public land, it is not really a town pool at all.
(N) No, it was really an unfortunate resolution of the problem because again it was a white pool pretty much, not a mixed pool as I understand it from people who joined.
(I) I have neighbors who moved into Teaneck and thought they could join the swim club but it is full. You have to be on a three year waiting list. I shouldn't be talking like this. What other situations have you been involved in?
(N) I think that's probably the major factors in the community activities that I was involved in and I haven't really been involved nearly so much in the last years. In fact, the son of one of the other woman activists made me a big poster saying "never again." And this other gal and I, the mother of this son, we agreed that we should really layoff. Let other people do some of the things that need doing. What happened really is that our kids grew up, most of the people I knew became involved in their own professions again and working and not just raising their children and the young people have to really take over and save the world. 1 tried to save the world. You see how great it is.
(I) Tell me, how do you feel about Teaneck today? Living here and being a member of this community.
(N) Well I like it in many ways. I feel free to participate or not, I like my neighbors, I like the town mixture. I have no problem with Teaneck except that I think the cancer rate here is probably excessively high and that the pollution is a serious problem.
(I) Here in Teaneck?
(N) I don't know if it is more in Teaneck than in Ridgefield Park or whatever but I think that the people, a lot of people within a stone's throw of here have died of cancer. I don't know if it is because we are close to Route 4.
(I) Well have you looked up any statistics of Teaneck compared to other parts of . .
(N) I don't really know. I remember seeing some of it. New Jersey...
(I) New Jersey is high.
(N) As New Jersey, yeah. I don't know if Teaneck is higher or what but I know that when the Meadowlands was built and they said every time 20,000 cars turn on their ignition, all of that drifts right through here so that
(I) I thought that drifted over New York.
(N) And then here. I don't know. But those are, to me, those are serious issues and it is funny, every time some group calls for some politician and says, do you believe that the unemployment or the economic situation or the military thing is of most importance, I say, too bad some of the issues that are killing us aren't on your list. If you are going to get mugged, you are concerned about crime, but if you are dying of cancer, what's the difference if you are mugged, I said, none of you ever puts that on your agenda of real concern. So you can see, a lot of my interests have moved toward conservation and the environment and what's happening in our world if we want it to survive.
(END OF TAPE)