In Memory -- Isaac McNatt: A kind man

First black council member

By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer

(From: The Teaneck Suburbanite, February 4, 2009)

Isaac McNatt, who in 1966 became Teaneck's first black council member, died on Jan. 27 at the age of 92 at his home in Madison, North Carolina.

He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and kidney failure, said his wife of 60 years, Agnes McNatt.

McNatt, a lawyer, moved with his family from Harlem to Voorhees Street in 1960 and quickly became active in civic affairs, becoming president of the Teaneck Fair Housing Committee and of the Bergen County Coordinating Committee on Civil Rights.

For a time, he continued to practice law in New York City but ultimately moved his practice to Teaneck.

At the time, when McNatt moved to Teaneck, realtors would show black families homes only in the northeast section.

Riverview Avenue resident Harold Selwen, who served as McNatt's campaign manager, said that the Teaneck Fair Housing Committee was set up combat the de facto segregation.

"We would talk to neighbors and try to persuade them that it was not a bad thing for a black family to move on to the block," Selwen said.

The committee also took stronger measures, proving discrimination by sending white members to pose as buyers of homes that realtors had told black families were sold.

McNatt was born in North Carolina and served in the U. S. Navy during World War II.

He graduated from Hampton Institute and St. John's University Law School.

Retired Teaneck teacher Theodora Lacey, a leader in integrating township schools, recalled that McNatt was defeated in his first run for council, but that residents of the northeast afterwards celebrated with a huge party. "The party we had then was bigger than the one we had when he won," she said.

McNatt was originally appointed to fill a vacant seat but won election in 1966 and 1970.

He served a deputy mayor from 1970-74 and was later appointed Teaneck's first balck municipal judge.

He subsequently became a state judge.

Former Mayer Eleanor Kieliszek recalls McNat as a man with strong convictions but a quiet voice.

"Not everyone agreed with him but he never lost his temper," she said.

Voorhees Road resident Carolyn Witherspoon noted that she met Mac, as he was familiarly known, on the day she moved to Teaneck in 1961.

"To say that he was a gentleman is not enough," said Witherspoon. "He gave generously of his time. He was a very quiet but strong in character and he was always active in the town. I can't think of anything that went on that he was not the leader of or working on." She noted that McNatt has donated his legal services to help the Teaneck Negro Business and Professional Women's Association, of which she was a member, set up a 501 account with the IRS.

McNatt was the ideal African American to run for council, she said.

"We were not welcome when we first came here and that is why we all jumped on the bandwagon to be good citizens," Witherspoon said, noting that she has served on the board of adjustment.

In addition to his wife, McNatt is servived by his sons Robert, of New York City, and Glenn, of Baltimore, and two grandchildren.

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