African American Studies
Marguerite Chappell grew up in the Morrisania area of the Bronx. Her mother was from Atlanta Georgia, and her father was from South Carolina. Her parents moved to New York City for more work, like most other people, she says. They first moved to Brooklyn, and when the Forest Houses were completed, they moved to the Bronx. Her mother worked as an educator at P.S. 140 in the Bronx and she was also a paraprofessional. She describes her mother as one of a group of people who helped reshape the face of her neighborhood, and Marguerite saw her as an activist.
Marguerite recalls some Italian and Jewish people living in the neighborhood of the Forest Houses, but not too many white people. She recalls feeling very safe and she recalls the grounds of her apartments being very well kept- they were not allowed to play on the grass or play ball up against a wall.
When she was five years old, she went to kindergarten at P.S. 140. She recalls the experience fondly. Her parents were very particular and strict about school, and she excelled. Although she says many kids who did well in school would get taunted and made fun of, she didn’t mind. Her family was always in the top classes and she was always satisfied with doing well. Her brother eventually became a basketball star who went on the play at NYU. He was mentored by Hilton White, a local “Bronx hero” who took him under his wing and taught him many of the fundamentals of basketball that eventually made him an All-American player.
Marguerite frequently attended after school programs where she and her friends were taught how to stitch and sew while the boys played basketball and other sports. In addition to this, she took part in the music program in her school, and took part in a tap dance program. Because of her excellence in school, she was accepted into a prestigious private school known as the Walnut Hill School of Performing Arts, part of Wellesley College. She recalls it was daunting to go from being in the majority to being a minority, but she mingled with people and eventually had an amazing experience. However, she explains that she knew people who didn’t have as good of an experience as her, and that there were racial undertones. Upon returning home, she was told by many of her friends that she was “one of them”.
Marguerite recalls drugs becoming big in the 1950’s, and says she noticed when her neighborhood began to deteriorate. However, even when gangs became more prevalent, and crack was introduced in the 1970’s, she never felt unsafe in her neighborhood. She never left the Bronx except to go to school, and continues to live there today.
She eventually went on to attend NYU like her brother before her, and commuted from home. She majored in film and minored in education, but because of her lack of contacts, could not work in film and eventually got a job at City University as an educator.
Chappell, Marguerite. July 17, 2006. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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