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: John H. White, Jr.
INTERVIEWER: Theodore Branch
DATE OF INTERVIEW:    February 18, 1984
TRANSCRIBER: Jackie Kinney 

(N) I am Doctor John H. White, 979 Queene Anne Road, Teaneck, NJ.

(I) Were your parents from this area or are they from another area?

(N) No. I am from Virginia originally.

(I) What part of Virginia?

(N) Roanoak, Virginia.

(I) How long have you been in Teaneck

(N) I came to Teaneck in June of 1956. So I have been here about 28 years.

(I) You were born in Virginia.  How about your parents and grandparents?

(N) All my family are from Virginia.  Native Virginians.

(I) Tell me a little about your early life in this area.  When you first came here, how did you find the conditions? Living.  What were your reasons for coming here?

(N) Well the reason I came to Teaneck, I had, I was looking for a place to practice and I had made inquires around a number of states and so forth.  I had a number of places I could have gone but I wanted to be on the east coast and an opportunity came up here in Teaneck and I came here.  I had never heard of the place before I looked here.  When I first came here, it was all built up.  Almost as dense as it is now as far as it is concerned.

(I) How do you feel about being in a suburban township so close to New York?

(N) I felt very favorable toward it because it meant I could enjoy some metropolitan advantages and still not live in the city because I am primarily a country boy.  But it has changed a little bit since then of course.

(I) Have you had any experiences in the political aspect of Teaneck?

(N) Politically.  I didn't know a thing about it when I first came.  I have just been more or less an interested observer for the most part.  My wife took some interest in some things, not politically but like schools and so forth.  We've always been quite interested in the schools, of course because we had two kids who started here for the most part and graduated from the high school.  A boy and a girl.

(I) Did you remember Mayor Feldman?

(N) Yeah.  I know Matty.

(I) How did you find him as a mayor?

(N) I thought he did very good at the time.  Especially from our status at the time.  I could spell it out if you want me to but there were a lot of racial problems here and I think Matty did a very good job about trying to (ausage) them.  To negotiate and make it satisfactory for everybody.

(I) How did you feel various ethnic groups entering Teaneck.  We've really had different types of nationalities here.

(N) I call it the United Nations now.  But I think it has been to the good because I think overall the township administration has been sensitive enough towards the individual problems of different ethnic groups and so forth.

(I) You remember when the first colored people started moving up here. They are trying to add some blockbusting.

(N) Right.  Really up in the Northeastern section of Teaneck around Tryon Avenue, Stuyvesant Road, Van Buskirk and all that in there and the real estate dealers initiated it.  They don't say that but they did.  It was perfectly obvious they did.  They would go by and tell white people that blacks are moving into the neighborhood and your property values are going to go down and that is something that went on in Teaneck.

(I) Well I know that sometimes I understand there was a little difficulty in school especially in regard to...

(N) Well initially Teaneck I think did a more or less started a voluntary plan in integration.  And the man who I think was very instrumental in getting all factions together was the superintendent at the time named Dr. Scribner.  And he initiated a plan where everybody, every sixth grade student in town had to go to one school and actually it seemed to work because then the adverse feelings I think for the most part went down the drain but I will always remember him, Scribner, that was probably one of the best superintendents we ever had in the twenty years I have been here.  I always did think that Teaneck had a fine school system and of course I am nowhere as closely associated with it now as I was when my kids was going to school but I've always found that a kid could get a good quality education in the school.  That was the main thing.  I know my two kids had no problem at all about getting into any college.  They went to the University of Chicago, the (matron) school.  Never had any problem.  Graduated with high honors and so forth so I think a lot of the background came from the education as well as home too.

(I) Do you think the busing did enhance the educational situation in this particular area?

(N) I think so.  I have found in thinking back and everything, usually when you have a segregated system, the person who is being segregated against usually comes up short.  Facilities, good teachers and anything else.  I saw it in the south and it is the same all over.  Anytime you have two systems, the one how doesn't have the pull is going to get the short end of the stick.  That works.  It is not right buy that is the way it is, of course.  So I feel that by busing in Teaneck at the time, it certainly had to alleviate a lot of that.  So I think how a kid who goes to any school in town, he is going to get a quality education because the facilities seem to be divided up fairly evenly.

(I) (Could not understand question)

(N) I think we are very good.  I think we got a pretty good DPW. Health Department seems to be on the ball.  It is a clean town.  Teaneck is not a dirty town.  The streets are clean and everything.  So I think overall they do a very good job.  Especially when you think of all the demands they probably get.

(I) What schools did you go to?

(N) Colleges? I went to college in Kentucky called Kentucky State College.  From 41-42 then I went in the Army.  When I came back, I went to Catholic University of American in Washington, D. C. and then later I went to Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine.

(I) Did you have any difficulty acquiring a place when you went there to

(N) Yes.  Primarily the banks were unwilling to loan me money. They would loan you enough money to get in trouble.  I needed about $60,000 and they wanted to loan me around $15,000.  That's not enough, you know.  And most of them were white banks.  I found a black bank that loaned me the money to go into business.  So I found that white right in Bergen County at the time I was inquiring.

(I) Did you find any animosity between the blacks and white when you first came to this area?

(N) I really don't think so.  I think it was a matter of     .  Teaneck was an all white town up until after World War II.  Primarily an all white town and people weren't accustomed to blacks to I think a lot of it was the fact that they just had never seen blacks before or been in close contact with them so.  Any just straight out pure animosity, I never saw it exhibited.  I've seen individual cases, of course, but overall I don't think.  I think it was a matter of not knowing each other.  I think times got much better and better after more Negroes moved into the town and people found out that the stories they had heard were not quite right.

(I) Now you said you went into the service.  Where did you serve?

(N) I served in a Combat Engineer Outfit in France, Germany and Czechoslovakia.  I was in Holland and the whole thing.  I was in there three years I think it was.  Then from the service, I went back to school.  

(I) Did you find any racial disturbances while you were in the armed services?

(N) Oh yes.  Tons of it.  I found it throughout the entire Army.  The worst place I have ever been in my life was in Louisiana as far as the way black soldiers were treated.  And all that is carried over through the ETO too. Fights and shootings and everything.  I saw plenty of that.

(I) Did being in the war have an effect on you as far as obtaining economic situation

(N) Oh yeah.  I went to school when I cam out under the GI gill.  That was quite helpful to me.  Psychologically I think it helped me a lot from the point of view that I found out that I was good as anybody else and if I had a chance, I could probably do all right.  Having met so many different version, I found out that I was just as good as anybody else even though they didn't want to treat me that way so it helped my psychologically.  Then I didn't worry about it any longer.

(I) Did you have a nice childhood?

(N) Yeah. I came up .. poor family but we always had plenty to eat and clothes.  My mother was a good housewife.  My father was a railroad employee.  Small town family.  Everything was centered on the family for the most part go generally speaking, I think we came up very well.

(I) How did you feel about the influx of blacks coming into Teaneck?  Especially right after the war.

(N) Well I think the unfortunate part of it was that they were all channeled into one section of town.  At one of the first city council meeting I ever went to I was quite appalled with a statement was made that .. by someone in the audience that they didn't think that the black citizens were being treated right and officials got up and and said, 'we are proud of our black citizens in northeast Teaneck.' So anytime you can say where all your black citizens are, I thought that was very bad for a town, of course.

(I) Do you know of any areas of Teaneck designated with a name such as Harlem in New York?

(N) No.  I am no familiar with any.  I guess all of the certain neighborhoods had the same name as when I came like Glenpoint and Glenwood and things like that but I never heard it referred to solely as from any particular racial point of view.  All the sections were about the same as they were when I came here.

(I) Any particular church you are affiliated with here in Teaneck?

(N) We have been members of Galilee Methodist Church for twenty eight years.  Of course, Galilee is in Englewood.

(I) So are you quite satisfied with the local government of Teaneck?

(N) Generally speaking, I am satisfied with it but while I am not as active as ... I get a little disgusted with our school board.  I think back a couple of a years ago when they had a strike in Teaneck in the schools I think that was totally uncalled for and I thought the School Board did not do its job.  They could have certainly prevented it if they had gotten on the ball and negotiated in time of course.  I thought that was one of the worst local situations we have had in in the twenty eight years I have been in Teaneck.  So far as the government is concerned, I thought it was just terrible.  Personally.  I am just giving my personal feeling about it.

(I) I understand there was a camp in Englewood during the war.

(N) I am not sure.  I've heard of something like some sort of Camp Merritt but I think that was up around Cresskill or something like that.  I don't know anything about what happened.  I am not familiar with it at all.  I was probably long gone when I came here.

(I) Are your parents still alive?

(N) No.  My mother and father both are gone.

(I) Have you traveled back home much?

(N) Yeah.  I used to go twice a year.  I would go to see my mother in May and then again in October and stay a couple of weeks each time but my mother died this past August.  But I have a brother and sister there so I'll probably still continue to go at least a couple of times a year to visit them.  And my wife has a couple of brothers there also.

(I) Can you think of any events that have taken place in Teaneck that would be interesting to the school, to the library?

(N) I think one of the things is when the Teaneck government got on the ball and went on record that they were not going to have any more of that blockbusting in town.  I think that was one of the major steps they made.  And as I say, the old superintendent of schools when they got the so-called busing situation adjusted to where it was amenable to everybody.  And now one good thing I like about Teaneck is the fact all these different racial and ethnic groups live all over the town and that's more like a town should be.  A good mixture for it.  Because it always leaves a bad taste in everybody's mouth when people congregate.  That's where the word ghetto came from, when people alike want to go in one place.  If they prefer to do that, all right, but I just don't like it.  I see people, like certain groups from certain countries like to be in the same area or neighborhood, that's all right but I just resent the fact of a guy telling me that I can't live here because I am black.  So I do give Teaneck credit for having ... eventually getting on the ball and doing something about these real estate dealers because they were terrible.  In fact, I am a victim of it myself or about to be a victim when I first tried to buy this house here and many, four or five real estate dealers told me it was not for sale or it had been sold but I later found out it was owned by the federal government.  So I went to Newark and they told me the house wasn't sold.  To give them $100 and they would hold it thirty days while I looked at it.  And this is the kind of stuff I am talking about.  That was a personal experience.

(I) I've heard of it but I haven't been the victim of such circumstances.  Of course, some it it still is in existence.

(N) Sure it still is in existence.  But now you have problems or the city is having problems with certain real estate dealers for new people coming into the area, they tell them don't go into Teaneck.  And that is one of the big problems now.  In fact, I think there are some cases up now being considered.  They have a couple of real estate dealers steering people away from Teaneck and most of it from a racial point of view.  Either they have too many blacks or they have too many Indians or so forth.  As long as that dollar is concerned out there, you are going to find unscrupulous businessmen.  And you've got to regulate them one way or the other.

(I) Do you think Teaneck is an ideal community?

(N) For me, I have no objection to it at all.  I have lived in a lot of towns and this is as good as any that I've lived in.  I've visited a whole lot of towns, I've made a living in a town for the twenty eight years I've been here, my clientele is probably 90-94% while so I have no problem racially in my business or anything like that.  Just have a few different occasions that should arise but I vote when I don't like something, and somebody comes up for election, I vote if I don't like the guy, or something like that. But I like the town myself.  I enjoyed it the whole twenty eight years I've been living here.  So no place is perfect but I can think of a whole lot of places that I have been in and lived in that were worse than Teaneck, of course.  And I feel, as well as you can, I feel like Teaneck is home but naturally my home actually is still down on that farm in Virginia but after that, Teaneck is home so to speak.  My roots are in Virginia and they will always be there.  But I've had it very well so far raising my family and getting along.  And my neighbors have been very good to me.  I have no objections.  And I feel safe.  I grant you I don't feel quite as safe as I did when I first came here but I am still proud of the fact that we can walk the streets at night and not having to worry about anybody mugging you too much.  But it does occur occasionally. So as of now I feel fairly safe.

(I) Is this the first residence you've had in Teaneck, the first place you lived in Teaneck?

(N) Well I lived over on top of my business for nine years but this is the first home I've bought here.

(I) Do you have any hobbies?

(N) I read a lot and I do a lot of woodwork.  I've got a woodworking outfit down my basement.  I am not expert you know but I make little furniture, shelves and things like that.  And I like to boat in the summertime.  I bought a boat and I can't afford the time. Always something comes up.  We didn't use it this summer at all.  Well we had some family stays but I hope to get to use it next year.

(I) Well we covered quite a lot.

(N) Thanks for the opportunity to express my own personal points of view.

(I0 It is good to get a chance to do it and also to let somebody else hear.  Do you know what any memos or clippings or anything of your since you've lived in Teaneck that you would like to loan to the Library?

(N) Everything that I have right now is in the form of plaques for the most part.  I have alumni awards, these came from my schools or organizations I belonged to, so when we get things like this, we just put them on the wall and just get them out of the way that way.

(I) I see you like fishing, hah?

(N) Yes.  That goes along with the boating.  I haven't had a vacation in about three years.  I had my boat down the Belmar for about four years.  I used to do a lot of fishing but then marinas got real bad down there, you know, a  lot of theft and so forth so I found a marina up in Haverstraw so we moved our boat up to there.  Up by the Tappan Zee Bridge.  They tell you not to eat the fish from the Hudson so I got to think seriously about going up there because of that.  Chemicals in the water or something.  They are cleaning the Hudson up though.  In the past three or four years, I've seen evidence of it being cleaner because you see some of the blue claw crabs coming in and I saw a huge sturgeon last year or the year before last up around Indian Point where the atomic plant is.  So the water is clean enough for them to live in but the point of it is that polyvinyl that is coming from that...

(I) Well I do appreciate you letting me interview you.  So I have some papers here for you to sign if you so desire. I have to have your permission, you know, to grant these things.

 

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