African American Studies


Inerviewee: Bernadette Jackson Ford

Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison and Natasha Lightfoot

Date of interview July 28, 1006

Summarized by Alice Stryker

Bernadette begins the interview by talking about her parents coming to New York. Both grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and met when they were younger. Neither one of them said that they felt the sting of segregation, and were in New York when most of the civil rights activities were occurring in Birmingham. When they moved to New York, they moved to Harlem with her father’s cousins.

She is the oldest of three and was born in 1958. She grew up on Gunther Avenue, in the Valley Section of the Bronx. The neighborhood was very safe and the neighbors all knew each other.

Her parents were very strict, though not that religious. They did go every Sunday to Metropolitan United Methodist church in Harlem. They stopped attending that church when the area became more dangerous, when she was about 13. Her parents stressed to her that she was going to go to college. She was not that good of a student and was more interested in her dance classes at Dorothy’s Dance School. She attended PS 76 for elementary school and had to be bussed there. However, after a fight by the community, she and her neighbors went to PS 97, which they still had to be bused to. The reason they had to go to that school was for integration purposes and the white members of the community were not happy about this. However, she still had many white friends in school.

Around 5th grade the influx of Caribbean peoples to her neighborhood began to happen. She did not notice a lot of tension between the African-Americans and the Caribbean people, but it was definitely present. She claims that it was because of them that marijuana started to come into the Bronx.

She went to junior high school at Michelangelo, or I.S 144. This was close enough where the children could walk to school. There was not much of a difference between her grade school experience and her junior high school experience, except fashion wise. This was a brand new school and so children from all over the Bronx came to the school. In spite this she remembers a lot of fights happening in her school, in particular girl fights. At this time, she got involved with cheerleading.

She went to Evander for High School, a school that had a bad reputation. There was a liberal arts style education there with trade programs and honors programs. The dating scene was still formal, meaning that boyfriends had to come to her house and meet her parents before they could go on a date. This was the time of disco, so her and her friends would often go to the clubs around the Bronx and dance. She also mentions DJ’s in the Parks. She was witnessing the first inklings of Hip-hop.

She went to college at Old Westbury on Long Island. She lived on campus there and remembers the parties. She met her future husband in college, who was from Manhattan. She was an education major and upon graduating immediately got involved with teaching. Although she did her student teaching on Long Island, she felt she wanted to come back to the Bronx and give back to the city.

She thinks kids now have had a much different experience then she had when she went to public school. She has taught at CS 6 for 20 years. From the 80’s to now, the biggest changes she has seen are in regards to the drug culture. She taught a lot of children that were crack babies and had difficult students. She also talks about the teen prostitutes.

Click below to download supplemental content.

Ford, Bernadette.mp3 (59949 kB)