African American Studies


Interviewer: Mark Naison, Brian Purnell

Interviewee: Paul Cannon, Woody Johnson, Gerald Williams

Date: 11/10/05

Summarized by Salmaan Khan on 4/14/07

Gerald Williams was born in Newport News, Virginia. He moved to the Morrisania section of the Bronx with his mother with the intention of working and moving back. Gerald attempted to earn some money by working a job at the Hotel Diplomat on 43rd street in order to go to Canada to play in the International Table Tennis Tournament. They chose to move to the Bronx because of friends his mother had in the Bronx. He was 13 when he first visited and moved when he was 17 in 1958. Gerald speaks in depth of his nightclub experiences in the Bronx growing up at places like the Blue Morocco and the Band Box where he and his friends would go in to try and meet famous people. He describes feeling completely safe in his neighborhood growing up, and recalls his experiences fondly.

Woody Johnson was born in Manhattan. His father was a piano player who lived in the Theresa hotel. In 1951 they moved to the Hunts Point area of the Bronx into a private home on 826 Manida Street. Manida Street was mostly Jewish at the time, and Woody’s family was the only African American family on the block at the time. Woody was “born into” music, and became very active in it, as his father would play with his band at Hunts Point Palace. From a young age he would going to the Apollo as his father would play there, and Woody eventually got into the band, with whom he played with for several years. He attended Theodore Roosevelt High School on Fordham Road, and was exposed to a variety of famous people who would go on to become professionals playing baseball. He recalls playing baseball from nine in the morning until midnight, as sports were a large part of his life as well.

Paul Cannon was originally from Columbia, South Carolina, but had an uncle who lived in New York. When Cannon was two, his family moved to 145th Street and Lenox in Harlem. They lived there for two to three years and then moved to 1278 Union Avenue in the Bronx around 1968 or 1969. They remained there for 20 years in an apartment on the fifth floor. Paul recalls the Bronx growing up very negatively, as the neighborhood was changing drastically. He was aware that it was a time of drugs and gangs. He describes people in the area were close at this time, a “tight knit family” Despite the negative things going on at the time, people didn’t leave because Cannon says “they felt the were a part of building that community and it just had that “I’m not going” type of attitude. When Paul got to the area in 1968 the area was predominantly African American. There were a few Jewish families but the neighborhoods of Morrisania and Hunts Point were changing drastically. Manida Street became more African American, Puerto Rican and Dominican as the Jewish population began moving out.

The three men recall the rise of crack and its adverse effect on the community. Woody remembers its effect on many ballplayers who overdosed during the time period. The drug affected entire communities as he saw more “single parenthood…children raising children.” However, Woody discusses taking a lot of the things he grew up with and trying to give them back to the kids. They have developed an array of after school programs, sports teams and Sunday schools. They now speak positively of the future. Woody explains that he feels “It’s getting better. I feel good about the Bronx.” There is a sense that things are getting better and people are going back to school and “getting their lives together.”

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Cannon, Paul--Jerald Williams and Woodrow Johnson.mp3 (112831 kB)