African American Studies
In the interview granted by Nathan Dukes to AAHP, the interviewee discusses the community life style in the Patterson Houses during 50s, social issues such as drugs, numbers runners, religion, racism within the African American community in Patterson Houses.
In the first part of the interview, Nathan Dukes talked about the closely relationship of all families living in Paterson Houses and the kind of economy that the community was involved at the specific time he covered all the occupations that young people, fathers, and mothers that were tenants of the Paterson Houses were involved. According to him, while the kids of different ages from elementary schools to junior high schools were engaged in games such as softball, basketball, fathers were doing factory works and women mostly were employed in office cleaning industry. He stated that Paterson Houses at the beginning was a safe environment not only because people keep eyes on everyone to the point that it was impossible for outsider to step in the project without being questioning but also an idealistic place where there was a melting pot of people coming from different side of the city with different origin background such as from Southern states, Caribbean states, and Latinos. Nathan acknowledged the AAHP that the economy activities at that particular era in Paterson Houses were characterized by numbers runners that were big donors for the churches and basketball teams. He informed that even though the number runners were engaged in pimping activities that took place in downtown, especially in Harlem, less was known about the drugs, “maybe they might be involved,” said Nathan.
In the second part of the interview, Nathan talked about the school system in 50s, about the sport, especially basket culture within the community and outside of the community, but also about the gangs groups in Bronx. Relating to the schooling system, he noted that it was well organized with good teachers that are mostly Irish at elementary schools and African American teachers at junior high schools. He added that teachers weren’t denigrating instead they were focusing in helping students that had serious reading and writing skills. He pointed out that music was learned at that particular time in school with all instruments available to all students to take home during the weekend. He emphasized that Latino music was well known and played everywhere in the city during that period. Concerning the sport, he noted that basketball was rampant not only because it was about playing game but also it was about players that thought that they can have better life through basketball. According to him, some teams like Falcons required from the players the ambition to go to college before getting selected as players, this game as major sport within African American community created also friendship between players, shaped the relation between the people living in the Paterson Houses, and connected also a giving project to another one. Even though there was fighting between kids from different projects like Patterson and Melrose, ball players according to Nathan, “have a free pass to another project and even more free pass throughout New York.” In relation to gang activities, Mr. Nathan informed that gang groups were noticed in South Bronx at that particular time of years 50s. He noted that two gang groups such as Fordham Baldies composed of African American and the Suicides owned by Latinos were opposed. However, he noted that gang groups fighting didn’t impact negatively the good relationship between Porto-Rican and African American communities. For instance, Nathan says “Latinos guys were dating black African American women; the intermarriage between both communities was well-known.
Furthermore, he talked about many social issues such as religion, racism, drugs and narcotics and their side effect within the Patterson African American community during mid-50s to 60s, and the Patterson reunions that started in 1990s. He noted that Methodist church was the religion of most African America even though there were among the community few Catholics and particularly, Muslims that hold stores in the community. Concerning the racism he added that he wasn’t experienced because he played with Larry an Italian living in the Patterson Houses and had that time a black girlfriend. He started experienced from the high school at South Bronx where the principal recommended to the black students to wear the black dungaree as the Jewish and Polish wore it. He noted that the principal decision followed with a big protest with the presence of news media. Mr. Nathan revealed that he wasn’t aware of the Civil Rights Movements at his early ages and he didn’t experience it much as it was in Southern states at his youngest ages. He described how during the Civil Rights Movements heroin, narcotics, and others drugs were threw in the African American community and how these drugs created during 1960s many problems such as loss of jobs, parenting issue, end of family atmosphere, lack of trust in Patterson Houses, robbery. According to him, even though later people stop using heroin within, most of them died prematurely in their 50s from HIV virus. The interviewee added that the basketball culture helped him and his peers not only to be protected from all kind of bad things that occurred in Patterson Houses at that particular time but also to focus seriously on their education because as he said, “if you want to play you had to stay eligible by being serious with schools. But importantly, the interviewee recognized that there was a different attitude of the young people toward adults at the particular time than there is now in African American Society.
Finally, he noted that while some have prematurely died from heroin and HIV, few that go away from using heroin have been highly successful and was at the center of creating during 90s Patterson reunions that gathering all peers of Patterson Houses during 1950 at the early stage of the project. Basketball was the main motivation of creating Crotona reunion started in 70s and Patterson reunions began in 90s.
Dukes, Nathan. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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