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This is Side 2 of an interview with Joan Waite of Teaneck. Interviewer is Robbie Wedeen.
(I) A little while ago, you spoke of feeling the need for new challenges in your own development and activities. Did you find interesting new challenges?
(N) Yes I did. The first one was a consulting job for the Ford Foundation in New York in which I made evaluations of educational organizations through observing and analyzing their activities in relationship to the goals that they had set when they accepted funding from the Ford Foundation. And then after my observation any analysis, I would write a report really giving my perception of the degree to which the organization had reached the goals or was in the process of reaching the goals that they had set up to accomplish. So I found that very interesting because it was a new type of work for me, an analytic type of work rather than a work with people, rather than working with people that I was mainly used to or teaching and I guess as a woman I found that as a woman who'd really only worked in the Teaneck community by and large, outside of teaching at Sarah Lawrence, it was a challenge to take trips to Chicago and Washington and some of the other places that I had to go to in order to do this analysis and observation so I found it a challenge. It was exciting. I was interested enough that I made efforts to see whether or not I could expand this consulting to other foundations but I found in talking to other people that this was a period when foundations were beginning to cut back on using supplementary consultants such as myself and so after some fairly lengthy investigating, I decided that I would have to look elsewhere for further career fulfillments.
(I) And it just so happened at that time that an interesting project developed in Teaneck.
(N) Right, right. Which was the planning grant for the Oral History which you and I are now involved in working on through this interview I mean. I am trying to think exactly how I was made known of that opening.
(I) Well, what was the nature of the position?
(N) Well, the Teaneck had been given a grant by the National Humanities Foundation to plan for the conducting of an Oral History in the town and it was very unique, I think, in the sense that Teaneck had already done an initial kind of oral history in which some of the oldest residents in the town from the beginning of the town, the creation of the town, had been interviewed and this took place in 1970 while the community was planning a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the town's founding and it was at that time that librarian staff members began doing interviews on these older residents, accumulating tapes of their recollections of the community's earliest days. Similar interviews were conducted also by the Women's Club, the Jewish Community Council and the local chapter of Hadassah so that with this second set of interviewing, the Jewish community was fairly well covered. However, other ethnic groups and especially blacks in the town had not been interviewed in either of those cases so when I spoke of the uniqueness of this project, what I was referring to now what that Teaneck was going, was taking the challenge in a sense of correcting the omission that had existed in the other interviewing situations by insuring that blacks in town and other ethnic groups would be included in this new proposed oral history.
(I) Now what was your exact position in relation to this project, the oral history project?
(N) Well I was asked to take on a job of really getting the planning off the ground. Contacting and recruiting an advisory board that would be representative of all the ethnic and religious and racial groups in town, helping them think through what they would want to see reflected, what kinds of subject matter, what kinds of aspects of the history of the town, they would want to see reflected in an oral history that would be conducted of persons from each of the groups basically. I would like to interject at this point as a community member my recollection of attending a meeting that was held where all of these groups had been contacted, sent representatives in which you were demonstrating what the oral history project would be, like and what the sample interview might be like.
(N) That was really the culmination of the planning, all right? In other words, I worked with a representative board of about 20 different representatives and after we had actually worked out a plan and developed a handbook or a prospectus that really outlined the historical stages and the types of information that one would try to elicit in interviewing, when this had been completed, then we asked those representatives to bring other members of their groups and then on top of that, we sent a much broader mailing to all the types of community groups, fraternities and sororities and health groups and any organization that was listed anywhere in Teaneck so that the whole community would know that we were undertaking this project and so they came then really at the end of our planning stage so that we could let them know what had been done and the plan that was set at the point then when we had to request funding to implement it.
(I) And you had a sample interview that took place between Phoebe Snow as the interviewee and the interviewer was
(N) I am trying to think now, the interviewer, yes she was a librarian working at Teaneck Library though who had had experience. She had had training with the Columbia School of Oral History and she had done it professionally. Her name was Barbara Wood.
(I) Again, stepping out of my interviewer role and into my community member existence, what I recall especially about that meeting was a very electric sense of involvement on the part of all the different people in the community who were there. I think that in terms of reaching a broad number of people in all the various types of organizations that you mentioned, that it was extremely successful in creating a sense of purpose in the community toward the realization of the project. What is your opinion of the benefits of this type of project, this oral history project for the community?
(N) Well, the original goals for the oral history interviewing were to be not only the actual tapes that would result from the interviews but also an audio-visual presentation that could be shown on the cable TV or presented for any kinds of community groups, a slide exhibit with accompanying commentary on tape cassettes that could again be used for any types of community groups and especially for schools, photographs, memorabilia and a handbook all packaged for display and use at the library and as I've said for loan to schools or township organizations. Such a package though could also be loaned to other communities and so I think that the completion of this study would have two benefits. First of all, it would really give Teaneck, help Teaneck fully become aware of its ethnic diversity and the contributions that the many different ethnic, religious and racial groups are making, have been making to the vitality of Teaneck and the international flavor of Teaneck. And secondly, and perhaps more important, it would provide this information for other communities, most of whom we know have been very reluctant to open up their doors to racial and religious minorities.
(I) Then you might say that this oral history project is really quite consistent with your original interests when you first moved to Teaneck?
(N) Yes. I think I've been very fortunate really in having chosen Teaneck as our community in that being the type of community it is, very open, interested in learning about other cultures and receptive to new ideas, it has allowed me a very fertile territory for exploring my interests which have been developing an awareness of the contributions of African and Afro-American cultures, of sharing this with other people, of developing a sense within the community of the richness that was to be gained by cultural interchange.
(I) Would you say that there were difficulties along the way in your implementing your goals and interests?
(N) No, I wouldn't say that there have been any difficulties. What I would say is that there have been some frustrations. For instance, I had hoped that the course that I had given, the in-service course that I gave to Teaneck teachers, would have been continued and possibly expanded and it wasn't despite the fact that the teachers in the course all felt that they had gotten a great deal out of it. Secondly, another example would be the center, I guess I've had perhaps unrealistic goals for the speed of growth of the center. I had hoped that it would grow much more quickly in terms of numbers of children registered and numbers of parents involved. And it has been a very slow, steady sometimes not even a growth but a steadily maintained small group of parents and students. It looks now that the computer component has been added that with this present registration, there has been a considerable jump and increase in participation which of course makes me feel good.
(I) Would you say that in your experience from the time you moved here which was 1969 to the present which is 1984, that there have been any significant changes in the relationships of the black and white communities in town?
(N) No. I guess as I see it basically there have always been, or since I've come, there have always been a number of blacks let's say who attend the various white churches in Teaneck as well as the black Baptist Church of course. I feel a very small percentage that participates in the activities of the PTA and the schools, actively participates.
(I) Small percentage of
(N) Of blacks that participates in the PTA activities. The actual meetings and organizations of the PTA. And a few who over the years have been members of the various boards and commissions of the town such as the Planning Board, the Board of Adjustment, the Town Council which as we know in the last election elected a black as our latest president, as our latest mayor, Mayor Bernie Brooks. And finally the Redevelopment Board on which my husband served. So this I think gives some overview of the type of activities of blacks within the community. On a social level, however, I feel that there is very little intercommunication between blacks and whites. From what I've read and understood from people who lived here prior to my coming, there had been considerably more social interaction during the period prior of the mid 60s I'd say when of course people banned together in an effort to accomplish the goal of integrating the schools and I had some feeling that I gained from what I'd heard or observed that people expected this kind of interracial interaction to continue but I feel that it is really, it really has not continued past the point when the actual conflict ended, the conflict of the debate on integrating schools and busing.
(I) Would you say then there have been some separation as a result of the achievement of the goal of integration of the schools?
(N) No, no. I wouldn't imply that there has been a separation. What I think I would imply was that what appeared to be shall I say a natural social interaction between whites and blacks I feel was really one that was perpetrated, which is not too good a word, but one that had been fostered by the need to unify in order to achieve this goal.
(I) Do you think it takes a crisis situation to bring people together?
(N) I think it can or it did in this case since there was not a natural basis perhaps for people coming together and I think what, perhaps what we see in Teaneck is that perhaps different levels of education between the black population and the majority of the white population when I did a study, really a survey study, of socio-economic groups, socio-economic levels etc. of blacks and whites in Teaneck before beginning the planning for the Afro-American Educational Center, and what I found was that while three quarters of the white population basically were of the professional level, professional upper middle class level I guess you'd say in terms of income, that three quarters of the black population at that time on the other hand were largely blue collar to middle class families with an emphasis on say white collar employment, nurses and technicians. So that I think this perhaps is a major factor in, that mitigates against social interaction.
(I) Would you say that the diversity of the community is reflected in people's social lives, personal lives?
(N) I think there is a good deal of interaction, inter-culturally, interracially on the neighborhood level where children play together and neighbors share back and forth with each other or help each other out on a neighborly basis. And I think it is perhaps most obvious on the occasional bases when there is a community event such as the Teaneck Together Day or any of the special events at the high school where parents come together and then are more aware of the diversity of the community and are obviously interacting on that level.
(I) Speaking of neighborhoods, have you observed any changes in your neighborhood since, from the time you've moved to the present?
(N) From the time I've moved to this house? OK, right. We moved to this house from the other, another part of Teaneck about seven years ago and at that time, as we were moving in, the decision had just been made, or been finalized, that a Senior Citizens Housing Center would be built directly across the street from our new home and neighbors around us expressed a great deal of concern because they had just finished battling, some on one side and some on the other, as to the pros and cons of establishing a center, housing center for the aged. The negative feeling being that possibly it would effect housing values, that possibly it might effect the traffic flow in the sense of many people coming to visit the elderly, and thirdly perhaps more importantly the question of whether the visual ambiance of the community, of this particular area, would be effected if a high rise type building were constructed even though at that time promises had been made by the town and the county administrators who were involved in the developing of this project that efforts would be made to build single-story types of dwellings that would blend in with the community. So people had all these fears and shortly after we moved in, the construction was begun and completed and I am happy to say I haven't heard any complaints from any neighbors since then.
(I) What is the nature of the center?
(N) Well, first of all the authorities did follow through and build single level buildings which encompassed I'd say three or four apartments within one small house and these homes or multi-unit homes really do give the impression of a single family home that are in this neighborhood. They've been painted in very attractive colors and they really blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.
(I) Have you had any relationship with the senior center, with the people in the center?
(N) Yeah. No, I think that is one thing that I feel badly about that is lacking. I really do not like the idea of seeing a large number of any age group isolated by themselves and I really think that is the reality here in this community that the senior citizens have their own card games and bingo games and special activities. You very often see the large buses coming to take them on outings. All this is done as a group. They are doing all this as a group by themselves without any interaction with the rest of the community. And I've always felt theoretically although I've never done anything about it that if, well first of all if theoretically senior citizens centers should be constructed in such a way that they are near let's say an early childhood facility, an early childhood school, a nursery or something like that so that interaction could be stimulated between the old who might be able to take care of some of the young or at least help tutoring and that kind of thing and so that there would be a natural kind of basis for interaction between the seniors and another age group. So that's something I think that if Teaneck wanted another project, bat might be something they might want to work on.
(I) What about on a daily basis, is your particular neighborhood a neighborly community? Is there much interaction generally?
(N) No. I would say this would be about the least interactive community in Teaneck. Much less interactive than the community that I moved from. We moved here from the, well it was the area around the Town House and what used to be Washington Irving Early Childhood School. That's in the area where all the streets are named after women Alicia, etc. We lived on Alicia. And that was, I would say, more of a combination blue collar middle class community as compared to this one which is definitely upper middle class professional. Much colder. Less likely to interact and have conversations and that kind of thing.
(I) Do you think that is the function of affluence?
(N) It might be a function of affluence. It might also be a function of the fact that this street and area was largely inhabited originally by Jewish families who I think had a close knit neighborly feeling and have witnessed other people moving in, both Christian, or white Christians and black Christians, and so I think there may be some feeling in that respect and I don't mean to reflect that there has been any evidence of prejudice or discrimination exhibited by the former residents but I think that may be one fact. The fact that they already had a very close-knit community before other people moved in. The second factor I think is, something else I was going to say, which I think is a purely sociological one is that these older families, the original families tend to be older and tend to have children who've already either gone off to college or actually left to get married and so that they do not have children who would be playing with the children of the newcomers and interacting in a normal way, a neighborhood way.
(I) So that having children of the same age has a lot to do with how people get to know one another.
(N) Yeah. That's right.
(I) Has the area where you do most of your shopping changed in any way from the time you've moved here?
(N) Not really. I feel the stores are pretty much, you know, there has been the addition of new stores in the past few years on Cedar Lane but it really hasn't effected me. Those are the mainly clothing stores and most of my clothing needs I furnish in the shopping malls so that basically most of my shopping is for food. The supermarkets and the small food shops, the health food shop especially I am a very avid frequenter of and that's I think another one of the benefits of Teaneck though. The fact that we do have the specialty shops that we do; we have a health food store, uh . .
(I) What about changes in restaurants or movie theaters. Do you attend such places or frequent such places in town?
(N) Yeah. Not too much. We always say that we are going to go to a movies and we never actually end up going but I do know, I mean I've been enough to know that the movie has expanded from a one movie theater to a four movie theater which is quite something and part of the movement, part of the national movement that movies have undertaken to increase their sales, increase business. So even though we haven't taken advantage of it, it certainly gives a broader range of options in terms of a choice of four movies and I think that reflects the fact that the town keeps up with the times, let's put it that way.
(I) And what about restaurants. You mentioned specialty shops.
(N) Well we very much like Cliff & Ann's. Cliff, who is a Jamaican, has a general international menu but often has dishes that have a particular West Indian flavor that we enjoy, rice and that kind of spices that we like so we enjoy that restaurant very much. And we also appreciate the fact that if you are not particularly hungry or you don't particularly feel like spending a lot of money on a international or foreign type meal, specialty type meal, there are at least two or three diner type restaurants in town where you can get very well prepared hamburgers and average kinds of dishes at very reasonable prices. So it is a good, it is a family town in that it has provided for reasonable meals for the whole family.
(I) Well I might ask you if you were to make your choice again, would you move to Teaneck?
(I) Do you feel you have many friends within the community?
(N) Yes, I do. I really do. Friends of all groups and as I said before, I feel that I've been made very welcomed in the community and have been very much encouraged to participate and that's been very important for me being the type of person I am.
(I) Do you think your children might settle in Teaneck?
(N) No, I mean I don't know but I would question and possibly think that possibly not. I think one of the disappointments I have had in some ways is the fact that our children, our three children, have not developed many friends across interracial lines. While they had friends of different groups in elementary school, once they got to junior high school basically they developed contacts with and stayed in the black teenage group and that's another whole area that could take two or three more tapes to discuss. But I think possibly my expectation of their having a more inter-racial kind of life reflects a certain idealism on my part that is not consistent with the reality of the United States today or even Teaneck today.
(I) And what's the nature of the idealism?
(N) That people would chose their friends on the basis of common interests
(END OF TAPE 1, SIDE 2 - BEGIN TAPE 2)
goals and ideals or aspirations let's say as a first priority with racial and religious considerations being secondary rather than the other way around. And I must say that the experience that I've had with my children is not necessarily true with all black children in Teaneck. I know of friends whose children have been able to socialize and continue to socialize through junior high school and high school both with whites on the one hand and with black friends on the other so it is not an across-the-board general situation but rather my own experience that I am relating and I know the experience of many other black families as well.
(I) Do you think there is anything that Teaneck as a community could do or should do to foster greater interrelationships?
(N) I think the one thing that the community could do that it has always buckled on whenever it has been proposed is the establishment of a community center for teenagers in the center of town. As it is, we have only one community center and it is in the black section of town or that section of town which the majority of black people have lived in since the coming of blacks to Teaneck. And of course since the center is in that location and given the proclivity to racism in the country that is still reflected in Teaneck with all the improvements we have made in the town in that respect, white children or white teenagers do not go to that community center and I think the only way to begin breaking that pattern would be to establish a community center which the town badly needs in the center of the town which I think would be a potential drawing place for all racial and ethnic and religious groups.
(I) Do you know anything about the current recreation center? How long it has been in existence and who attends it?
(N) Well I can tell you it is attended by black I would say junior high and high school students in terms of the social activities on the weekends but it is also used as a pre-school center, a township pre-school center and on that level where it is a question of parents bringing their children, I think it is very interracially and religiously mixed.
(I) Yes, it is. I've had experience as a performer, programs for children in that nursery school. Is it well utilized, I mean is it actively utilized by the black community?
(N) To my knowledge, and I haven't had that much experience with it, it is utilized beyond the pre-school program, to my knowledge it is only utilized for the junior high and teenage kinds of activities. In other words, to my knowledge again, I could be wrong, adult groups do not use it let's say for community meetings or meetings for club groups and all that kind of thing.
(I) Do you think that would help integrate the center?
(N) Well I think to realistically accomplish that goal, the center, much more money would have to be put into the center to update it, to modernize it, to make it attractive enough for people to go to and that's never been done and I think part of the reason is that it does exist in the black community.
(I) Are there any other suggestions that you would like to see implemented?
(N) No, I think other than that, I really don't see any other particular areas that I feel I would suggest at this point.
(I) At this point, do you feel as your children have grown up and you and your husband live in Teaneck as your children are growing older, do you feel very connected to the community?
(N) Yes I do and we are at the point now of beginning to think as to whether we should first move to a much smaller home or apartment than we have not which is a space that we really don't need now that the children are beginning to leave and I think it is very hard for me to envision another community that I would be as contented in as Teaneck.
(I) Joan Waite, I thank you very much for this opportunity to share with the community of Teaneck your experience, particularly in the development of so many important organizations within the town itself. Thank you.
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