African American Studies
Interviewee: Jim Pruitt
Interviewer: Mark Naison
No Date of Interview
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Pruitt’s family moved from Harlem to the Bronx in 1932. Both of his parents were southern and met through his mother’s brother. About 5 years after the couple was married, they moved to Prospect Ave between Home and 168th street. When they moved to the Bronx, his father was working for the post office and for a tailor as a presser. Many of the Black men living in this neighborhood worked for the post office. Although the family and their neighbors lived in the Bronx, many of their social activities took place in Harlem.
The neighborhood they lived in was very friendly. It was predominately working class and very safe. The neighbors were very caring and attentive. The neighborhood around the corner, however, was rougher. Because of this, he and his friends would avoid that neighborhood.
He attended grade school at PS 99. In addition to the public schools having many after school activities, St. Augustine Presbyterian Church had many activities for children as well. Also, the housing projects had supervised activities for children. Many of his early teachers at PS 99 were white. He fondly remembers a black teacher he had when he was in the 3rd grade. The school was also diverse, with a good amount of white and black students.
He discusses the movies and the impact they had on people’s music preferences. He said, for example, that most of the albums his family bought were the soundtracks to musicals. However, he also listened to “black music” and artists that came from the Bronx. There was also a lot of Latin influence in the music they listened to and the dancing they did.
He discusses the NYC Missions Society and the contributions they made to the black community, for example they had Black leadership programs. They ran a camp as well.
When the housing projects first went up, Pruitt says people were not afraid of them. Many people were very proud to live in the early housing projects. Residents kept them clean and respected the property. There were some inherent problems with the projects, however, that down the road would lead them to decline, for example the lack of fines or punishment for vandalism.
He attended Morris for High School. He had very skilled and knowledgeable teachers that really made his high school experience enjoyable. The only extracurricular activity he participated in was the Minisink program, ran by the NYC Mission Society. He later taught there. When he was teaching there in 1964, he experienced racial tension from the staff. He was also the first teacher to teach African American History there. He was able to put the curriculum together because of the classes he took at Lincoln College.
During the Civil Rights years, his family went back and forth from the Bronx to the South.
Pruitt, James. date of interview unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Pruitt, James.mp3 (102821 kB)
Pruitt, James.mp3 (102821 kB)