African American Studies
Carolyn Smith was born in Metropolitan Hospital and lived in Harlem until around the age of 6 when she moved to the Melrose Housing Development in the early 1940’s. Her mother and a community of friends she grew up with in Hell’s Kitchen would all move around together. They moved around in Harlem a few times before settling in at Melrose. Carolyn discusses a common theme among those who grew up in this time of a sense of community where people in the neighborhood would watch others children. When they moved to Melrose it was a new housing project and very well taken care of with beautiful gardens designed by a Japanese gardener. The community was kept up very well while she was growing up there. Later she compares this to her move into the Patterson Houses in 1956 where she could get a sense that the housing standards were being lowered. She discussed the requirements to get into public housing at the time and says in Patterson she could see these were not always being met. She did not feel as safe raising her children there as she had felt growing up at Melrose. Many families were moving out and not staying around very long.
Academics were very much stressed in Carolyn’s home growing up, and she stressed academics for her two sons as well. Jack was born in 1955, right before the move from Brooklyn to Patterson Houses and recalls growing up in a single parent home after the age of 5 when Carolyn and her husband split. There was an understanding in their family that there were only 3 of them and if they didn’t get themselves together and get out, they wouldn’t get out. Because of this survivalist approach, Jack took schooling very seriously and attended school on scholarship. One of these scholarships was from people whose children had been killed in Mississippi in the Civil Rights Movement. From high school, Jack went on to study at Harvard. Growing up in the 60’s there was a political awareness that allowed young people to get into books, academics, and politics and not be considered an outcast.
Both Carolyn and Jack were very involved in political activism during the 60’s as well. Carolyn saw Malcolm X speak in Harlem and was involved in picketing and demonstrations. She also was elected to the Tenant Organization of Patterson in the 50’s, which fought against the deterioration of support and maintenance of the project. Jack attended Harvard in the early 70’s and was in Cambridge during the bussing problems occurring in Boston at the time. He says this was the first time he felt physically in danger. Even growing up in the projects and deteriorating conditions, he had never experienced such racism and white on black violence. Both Carolyn and Jack also discuss other aspects of growing up in the Bronx and their various experiences in school and life in general, including the influence of gangs and drugs in the projects.
Smith, Carolyn & Jack. Date of Interview Unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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