African American Studies


Interviewees: Naeme Mubarak and George Sabb

Interviewer: Dr. Mark Naison and his Spring 06’ Oral History of the African American Experience Class

Date of Interview: April 23, 2006

Summarized by Sheina Ledesma

Naeme Mubarak and George Sabb are siblings who grew up on Boston Road in the Bronx. Their mother and father were originally from South Carolina and migrated to New York City during the early 1930’s. Their first stop was Brooklyn and they moved around quite a bit in the following six years until they finally settled on Boston Road in 1941. Their father worked in a steel mill while their mother did mostly domestic work and later factory work in bookbinderies. Naeme and George have many fond memories of growing up in the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s. Their neighborhood, which was mostly comprised of tenement buildings, was a really safe community that was composed of a variety of ethnicities. Despite being Baptists, Naeme and George were raised catholic because St. Augustine’s Church was the main church that served the community.

Naeme and George come from a large family of eight brothers and sisters and grew up in a modest apartment that had only three bedrooms. To add to the congestion of their apartment, their parents often had relatives and close friends who had recently moved to New York City stay with them until they got on their feet. Being from the South their mother usually cooked traditional southern meals for the family. From smothered chops, smothered chicken, fried chicken and collard greens to pig’s feet and a variety of cakes, their mother made it all. Still, because of the size of their family, they often had to share food in the house. They would share fruit and hot cereal in the morning and their mother usually gave them a spoon full of cod liver oil to keep colds away.

Since no one in the neighborhood had a television at home children were always playing on the street or listening to the radio. For all the children, the stoop was where they mostly hung out because it was in the range of their parents’ eyesight. Naeme and George remember playing stickball, hide-and-seek, hot peas and butter, punch ball and marbles during their time off from school with all the kids on the block, regardless of color. Everyone just got along and being respectful of his or her elders was never questioned. The interracial co-existence in the community allowed for an interchange in things like music amongst the kids. Naeme and George were introduced to dances like the square dance and the dosey doe. Through their older brother they were also exposed to a variety of popular music of the day like jazz, rhythm and blues and later Latin music. During the 1950’s the neighborhood streets started to hear the sounds of the street corner Doo-wop singing groups. Groups like The Feasters, The Chords, and Sh-boom were some of the popular groups heard around the area.

During junior high school and high school, Naeme and George remember school being a very serious place. Kids went to learn and quietly respected their teachers. Talking back was unheard of and if there was a problem in school their teachers would make house calls to speak with the parents directly. Naeme, who went to Walton High, an interracial all-girls school at the time, was encouraged not to accept failure. George also had a lot of support while he was in school. There were many teachers during junior high school and high school that encouraged him to reach his full potential.

In their teens Naeme and George began visiting the local dance clubs like the Royal Mansion, Boston Road Ballroom, and Hunt’s Point Palace. During this time there was a great influence of Hispanic culture and African American culture in the dance and music of the dance clubs. People would often walk home from the clubs at late times because the neighborhood was still very safe.

As they grew up things began to change in the area. One of the first hints of change was when the effects of the Korean War began to show themselves on the streets. Young men who had recently returned from the war suffered from posttraumatic stress and began to look to drugs to help them cope. Over time the drugs became increasingly prevalent and many in the neighborhood began to trickle out of the area. It was during this time that Naeme and George began to entertain leaving the neighborhood and spreading their wings. At first, when Naeme had recently married, she attempted to stay in the area however, due to high rents and the deterioration of the Bronx, she and her husband decided to move to Riverdale. Even still, with the slow deterioration of the neighborhood occurring, things were still relatively safe in comparison with the later years in the Bronx. Drugs and gambling were being introduced into the area but even those who ran the street gambling or “playing numbers” helped to keep the neighborhood safe and provided many families with items of necessity during hard times. Regardless, both George and Naeme eventually moved out of the area and the neighborhood continued to spiral downward. George and Naeme both have very fond memories of both their childhood and the neighborhood they grew up in. Today, Naeme is a retired teacher who still lives in the Bronx and George lives in Englewood, New Jersey.

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Saab, George and Naema Mubarak.mp3 (52187 kB)