African American Studies
Frank Belton was raised in the Morrisania neighborhood of the South Bronx from the time that he was 9 years old. He was born in Harlem, then later his family moved around a bit before settling in a home on Chisholm Street in 1948. Although he had lived in the city when he was younger, he had his first experiences with Puerto Ricans when he moved to the South Bronx. Chisholm Street had a fairly mixed population, but his schools were mostly made up of Puerto Ricans. He says that this mixing of racial backgrounds did not affect relationships between those in his neighborhood and that there was a strong sense of community and trust. Families did not feel the need to lock their doors back then, and his family did not begin to do this until the 50’s when crime became more of a problem. He talks about people watching out for others children, and the games they used to play, as well as the aromas of the various types of food that was in his neighborhood.
He talks in depth of his experience in the educational system that existed in New York City at the time. Although the community he lived in was mostly Puerto Rican and black, the majority of his teachers were white. Frank had a tendency to curse teachers out quite often and was categorized as having behavioral issues. Because of his behavioral issues, he was placed into a separate class in junior high that was created for uneducable kids. These classes were not so much about learning as they were for maintaining students and keeping them out of trouble. He describes it as a “dumping ground for kids who had behavioral or educational problems”. Of the 29 in his 9.12 junior high class, only 2, including himself, went on to receive a high school diploma.
Frank not only received a high school diploma, but also went on to college at Morgan State College. He says that one of the things that gave him direction and motivation in life was running track. He began running in 8th grade and says it motivated him and helped him develop confidence. He knew he was not going to make it to college based on academics since in high school at Morris High he was placed on the general track due to his being in the 9.12 class in junior high. Like the junior high classes, his high school classes were intended more to keep students in line rather than really educate them. Once he graduated from Morris High, he continued to run for the PAL and attend high school night classes in order to receive education in subjects like math and language that were not part of his curriculum on the general track in high school.
Beyond the school environment, Frank also discusses the change in the neighborhoods and communities that came around with the growing use of drugs, heroin in particular. Once drugs became more of a presence in the communities the dynamics began to change and people had to lock their doors. In other areas in the 60’s and 70’s the buildings began to deteriorate as well. Frank even noticed a change in the attitudes of the Board of Education as well. This is part 1 of a 2 session interview.
Belton, Frank. Interview 1. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Belton, Frank Interview 1.mp3 (119019 kB)