African American Studies
Evril Renwick was born and raised in Grenada by her maternal grandparents. Her father abandoned Evril’s mother after her elders refused to allow her to travel alone with her young children to Brazil and meet him there. Evril’s mother wrote her brother in New York and went to live and work with him in 1924 when Evril was still a baby. Evril was living a content, independent life in Grenada until her twenties when her older sister died (her grandparents had already passed away) and for the first time Evril had a strong desire to see her mother. In1946, after World War II ended Evril moved to New York certain there was nothing left for her in Grenada. Evril originally lived in Harlem with her mother, but did not like the limited amount of space and she soon made friends and found an apartment with them. On her block there was a lot of interaction between African Americans from the South and people from the Caribbean.
Evril was already a dressmaker in Grenada, but when she arrived in New York she attended the Central-Needle Trade High School at night and joined the “International Ladies Garments Worker’s Union”. Evril was able to sew dresses beautifully and quickly, and she only worked in three different garment shops because her was widely considered a talent, valuable worker. Her first job was in a unionized shop that allowed piecework, and her skill, speed and experience enabled her to make good money ($90 a week, which was very good at the time). Some other Caribbean women work in the shops with her.
Besides her mother and her uncles, Evril made roots in New York by joining a Grenadian association, The Elks on 129th Street, regularly attending St. Nichols Church on 8th and 118th Street and joining their choir. (Evril was raised Catholic by her grandparents, and Evril remained in contact with her surviving relatives in Grenada by letter.) The Elks activities included dances at the “Renaissance Ballroom”, picnic bus rides to Hecksher State Park, taking a boat to Bear Mountain, and for the men, playing cricket in Van Cortland. Every island from the Caribbean had its own organization and every week there was a different dance to attend; solidarity existed between the different Caribbean organizations that crossed island lines. Evril was the secretary at The Elks until she married in 1953. Evril socialized mainly with Caribbean people and a mutual friend in Grenadian society introduced Evril to her husband who was also Grenadian and Catholic. Evril’s husband worked as a welder, but she made more money than him as a seamstress. Evril’s husband did not like the idea of his wife making more money than him and he changed his profession to a sand hog (he helped build the 2nd or 3rd Lincoln Tunnel). Her husband worked in Long Island and Queens, but it was difficult for African Americans or African Caribbean people to get a welding job, but Evril’s husband was a member of the union.
Evril and her husband bought a house and moved to 213th Street, between Barnes and Bronxwood in 1953 with her husband. Evril and her husband were looking for a home with a big yard like the one she grew up with because she disliked children playing in the street like she saw in Harlem. They found their home in what they then referred to as “the country” with Black Realtors (offices in the South Bronx). Her home had two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a basement and an attic. After Evril moved and started a family she originally attended the Immaculate Conception Church on Gun Hill Road, East in a very Italian neighborhood, but soon changed to St. Mary’s on White Plains Road, 125th Street because all the masses were in English (it was a mixed parish of Italians and Polish people). Evril and her husband received mixed reactions from the neighbors when they moved into their home. One family moved to Yonkers when they saw Evril and her husband moving into their home. The neighborhood was mostly Italian with one Irish family and it would be another nine to ten years before more black families began to move onto the block.
All three of their children, one boy and two girls would attend St. Mary’s Catholic school, and the girls continued their education in the Academy of Mount St. Ursula and the son attended Evander (during the 1960s). Evril raised their children to think of the character of a person and not their color, and they mingled with the other children on the block. Evril’s children did not play in the street because their house had a backyard and she kept them busy with different extra circular activities, such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and dance classes. Evril and her husband’s only concerns were to raise their children and to give them a good education. Their children did not grow up thinking of themselves as Grenadian. Evril and her husband lived in that house for forty-three years and the neighborhood was mostly safe, except for the last two years as old neighbors died and new Hispanic families moved onto the block. The children never felt unsafe.
Evril worked nights sewing in a shop in the Bronx on Burke Avenue with good, healthy conditions while her children were growing up. Evril was accustomed to being independent and having her own money and wanted to continue working despite the fact her husband said it was not necessary. Evril’s mother came to live with them for a while and she looked after the children after Evril fed them dinner and went to work.
After Evril married, moved away and began a family it was harder for her to stay in touch with the Grenadian society and attend meetings, and eventually the organization moved to Brooklyn. Evril would not visit Grenada again with her family until eighteen years after arrival in the states. Although the family bought their first car when the son was six years old Evril did buy her own car until her husband was in college; the dress industry had changed dramatically with the outsourcing of jobs to Japan and Korea and Evril began work in Jacobi hospital as a nurse’s assistant (she later became a technician in the hospital) and she needed the car to get to work. Evril’s husband became a carpenter after the Lincoln Tunnel was completed and was a union member despite the fact it was difficult for a black man to get into unions, but he had some Irish friends. All three of her children entered college, although the son dropped out, married and became an engineer with Con Edison, one daughter continued to Law School and the youngest became a journalist.
Renwick, Evril. date of interview unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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