African American Studies
Interviewee: Shirley Anderson Bailey
Interviewer: Dr. Mark Naison
The interview took place April 26, 2005
Summarized by Concetta Gleason 1-17-07
Shirley Anderson Bailey’s family, consisting of her mother, younger brother and herself, moved from Harlem to the Bronx in 1942 when Bailey was seven years old. Bailey’s family happened to move to the same area of the Bronx with some of their neighbors from Harlem. Bailey’s father was away trying to find work in Connecticut because of the Depression and Bailey’s mother took night classes and was one of the few working women in the neighborhood. Most families were two-parent households and the mother was usually a homemaker. She cannot remember if the neighborhood was multiracial or not, but almost every family had children. A few other families from their neighborhood in Harlem were moving into the Bronx at the same time and the neighborhood felt extremely safe; children did not go beyond the area. Her mother encouraged education and she remembers spending a lot of time with her younger brother in the Morrisania library. Her neighborhood took education and involvement in school very seriously. Her mother attended Victory Baptist Church and after mass, the family would go to Crotona Park. Bailey also played street games with her friends and was a girl scout at St. Augustine’s, which had many social activities for young people and she eventually became a member of the Parish. Bailey felt she lived in a very safe environment, although she did know of one gang when she was in High School. There were bars near her apartments, but they were not known to be riotous or rough. Teenage pregnancy was not a big issue in the neighborhood, although one of her best friends became pregnant and married at sixteen years old, but her story was a success story. People in her neighborhood knew of addicts, but it was not a major problem. On Union Prospect, 169th Jennings the neighborhood was mostly African American, but she does not remember if the majority migrated from the South or from the Caribbean, it was not an important distinction among her friends and the people in her neighborhood. She does not remember any heightened awareness of racism between people in or outside the community.
Bailey was enrolled in the more advanced classes throughout Junior High School. As a teenager, Bailey attended Jump parties at her friend’s house, which were chaperoned by the host’s parents. Concerts and music venues Bailey attended with her friends provided two sides of music at each show, jazz and Do-wop. Bailey discovered Charlie Parker and jazz, and fell in love with the music. When she was twenty years old, a friend from Ritter Place put her in touch with the Jazz Arts Society and after attending a meeting and seeing that the entire group were male she offered to be the secretary. After graduating High School Bailey worked odd jobs until she enrolled in Business School, did secretarial work and became a legal secretary. She eventually returned to school and became a court reporter later in life.
In 1955, her mother remarried and Bailey moved out of the apartment on 169th Street to Williams Bridge. Bailey did not leave because she felt her old neighborhood was deteriorating. Bailey originally met her future husband as a teenager, but after she moved out she bumped into him again and they began dating. In 1960, she moved to Queens and she still did not see her old neighborhood as deteriorating. Currently, most of her old block has been demolished in order for P.S. 40 to be extended.
African American History Project, Bronx, "Bailey, Shirley" (2005). Oral Histories. 313.