African American Studies


Shelley Sanderson, a Spanish teacher in Co-op City, grew up in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. Sanderson spent her early elementary school years in the late 1950s living in her maternal grandmother’s apartment on Boston Road, which was shared amongst twelve family members. She explains that children in the family were independent and responsible, and that neighbors looked out for one another and the children. Girls and boys played outdoor games such as jump rope and Johnny on the Pony respectively, and boys’ stickball games were big neighborhood events. Music was a constant presence in Sanderson’s life growing up. She listened to the jazz and Latin music that her uncles would play, and she and her friends imitated their favorite Doo Wop singers.

Sanderson attended P.S. 61 on Boston road, which she recalls as being very safe, with students from all different ethnic backgrounds and challenging teachers. She transferred to P.S. 50 for fourth grade, where there was a program for intellectually gifted students. By this time, Sanderson and her mother had moved to Longfellow Avenue from Boston Road. From Longfellow Avenue, she, her mother and her stepfather moved to St. Mary’s Projects. She describes St. Mary’s Projects, which was predominantly inhabited by African Americans and Hispanics, as being middle class and very culturally rich. Despite a move from her Boston Road neighborhood, she witnessed its decline through visits back to friends and family. People had begun locking their doors as drug use became visible, and she noticed that many people had started moving to Co-op City. Residing in St. Mary’s, Sanderson saw the start of the Bronx burning, and recalls this time as a period of sadness and confusion about the state of the world.

For junior high school, Sanderson attended Herman Ritter, and then for high school went on to Music and Art in the late 1960s as an art student. Music remained a significant part of her life. She played saxophone for the band in junior high school and took guitar lessons. She recalls going to dances when the Motown sound was popular. In high school she listened to artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, and the Isley Brothers. According to Sanderson there was much political activism at Music and Art. She was involved in the black power movement and protested the Vietnam War. Sanderson went on to New York University from Music and Art, where she decided that she wanted to become a teacher. She became certified as an art teacher, but then the art programs in the school system were cut, so she eventually became a Spanish teacher.

Sanderson notes the changes that she has seen in the Bronx between her childhood and adulthood. She expresses concern with the lives of young people in the Bronx at the present. She comments that math skills are not as sharp, there is less cultural instruction, and that new programs being implemented in schools are burning students out. There is little safe space for children to play outside, and there is not the same interaction between kids that she experienced growing up in Morrisania.

Keywords: 169th Street armory, P.S. 61, P.S. 50, Herman Ritter, Music and Art, Jazz, Latin music, Sylvia’s Blue Morocco, Boston Road Tavern, Boston Road Ballroom, Stickball, Jefferson Avenue, Sis’s Record Store, the Hub, Junior High School 40, St. Mary’s Projects, St. Augustine, St. Augustine’s, Gangs, Caldwell Avenue, Bronx burning, New York University, Motown, Black power movement, Vietnam War, Urban League, North Bronx National Council of Negro Women Daycare Center.

Summarized by Danielle Lund

Click below to download supplemental content.

Sanderson, Shelley pt 1.mp3 (91599 kB)
Sanderson, Shelley pt 2.mp3 (57078 kB)