African American Studies
Interviewee: Mary Bailey
Interviewer: Mark Naison
Interview took place April 21, 2006
Summarized by Concetta Gleason 1-17-07
Bailey is a retired nuclear Medicine Technologist and grew up in Morrisania. Bailey’s parents are originally from South Carolina, but she was born in Harlem on 138th Street. When she was six years old, the family moved to the Bronx. Bailey was baptized, but not necessarily raised with a Catholic upbringing because her mother had some issues with the Church after St. Augustine’s refused to enroll Bailey in their school. The family originally moved to Boston Road, but then they moved to 1350 Washington Ave where Bailey spent the most of her life. Bailey’s family consisted of her mother, stepfather and herself when they moved to the Bronx. Around the corner, Bailey’s mother and many of her neighbors worked at a pickle factory, Shumens on 170 and 3rd Ave. Her stepfather worked for a trucking consumer lithographer’s consumer as a trucker’s helper, which was located in Manhattan. Her stepfather was originally from the South, Jacksonville, Florida. Bailey developed a friendship with another little girl who lived next door and they still keep in touch. Bailey lived in a nice building six stories high with glass windows and curtains on the doors. The building had no elevators, but the stairs were made of marble. The neighborhood was a relatively mixed area with African Americans and some businesses run by Jewish people. She attended P.S. 2 on 3rd Avenue between 169 and 170, but the school itself was extremely old at the time she attended in the late thirties and forties. Her first black teacher was Dorothy Timings in fourth grade and she was a very good teacher that would take the class on field trips. Her stepfather had very little education and her mother’s education extended to ninth or tenth grade. Her parents did not pressure her about education, but her mother was an avid reader and was constantly buying books for her. Bailey does not know if her mother was unable to enroll her into St. Augustine’s elementary school because her mother was unwed when Bailey was born or because of her skin, the school was mostly Irish at the time. Bailey attended P.S. 63 instead. She occasionally attended St. Augustine’s Church with her mother, but it was a long walk for her as a child and sometimes she would attend a Baptist Church with neighbor, but that Church did not suit her well either.
Her mother was extremely protective and did not let Bailey hang out with the tough children on Brook Avenue and Webster. The P.S. 2 was most likely tracked and she was a decent student. Her parents played jazz in the house, but she would not become interested in music later in DooWop. Her elementary school and Junior High School 55 (a.k.a. Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, on Washington Avenue) both had programs in music and art. All her schools were in walking distance and either her mother or her grandmother who also lived on the building, but on the sixth floor would walk her to school. She could play outside on the street, but she was not allowed to wonder too far. She would also go to the neighborhood movie theater, Fin Way on Claremont. Her high school was multiracial with African Americans, Hispanics (mostly Puerto Ricans then) and some Jewish people. In elementary and Junior High School, she does not remember any tensions between groups or being aware of racial differences in terms of treatment. She attended Theodore Roosevelt High School at a time when there
very few blacks at the school and she encountered racism, especially from a math teacher. The High School was also heavily tracked where the toughest kids were put in a class together. She did not notice any racial lines in the school matching tracked classes. Other students in her neighborhood choose vocational schools. The High School was also very disciplined, but some kids always smoked in the bathroom. Bailey and her friends went to St. Paul’s Episcopal on Friday for their dances. On Fridays, a social club called The Bisquanas played basketball. She did well in High School and then went to Hunter College, which was a difficult school to gain acceptance into at the time. She took classes at night and babysat her sister and a few other neighborhood children during the day. It took her seven years to graduate because she was constantly taking care of her younger sister. Upon graduation in the sixties, she realized how hard it is for a black woman to find a job. The Civil Rights movement made an impression on her, but she was not part of it.
She always had in interest in science and it was her best subject throughout school. Bailey worked at NYU Medical Center for 39 years and her first job there was working with medicine. Nuclear Medicine the field she works in had been around longer than 39 years. Nuclear Medicine is giving a patient radioactive material and then using a camera to make a diagnosis. She encountered a lot of shock from people she worked with, but she eventually found the environment a positive environment to learn about the medical instruments used and received her training on the job. Many of the women she grew up with married and had careers in health education, but she is the only one to work in medicine.
She lived with her family in the Golden Morris Houses, but in 1959, the family moved to the Claremont houses. In particular, the family moved into the Melrose Houses because housing was divided into low rent, mid-rent and high rent, and the mother was no longer working and Bailey was still in college. The building was clean and very multicultural with Jewish, Cuban and Black neighbors. The family lived in Melrose until 1962, when she began working and with the increased income, they moved to St. Mary’s, a higher income unit on Hallow Avenue 550 Hallow Avenue. Bailey lived there until her mother’s death in 1968 and her stepfather lived there until his death in 1995. She was not living in the South Bronx during the all the fires in the Housing Projects.
The Markets on Bathgate Avenue included fruit markets, fish markets and clothes stores. Crotona Park was very safe in the fifties and people in her building always left their door open, until things began to change. Before the sixties, she still felt safe in the Bronx and as she got older, she began to go to dances other than St. Paul’s, such as Hunt’s Point Palace and Savoy Manor. She even felt safe walking home by herself at night from dances. She never married and she attended a few Churches, but had a few disagreements with the ministers from different parishes, although she received all her sacraments as a teenager. She is a member of Immaculate Conception Church on Gun Hill Road and she is a part of the Archdioceses, a commissioner with the office of black ministry.
Keywords: Morrisannia, the South, South Carolina, Shumens, St. Augustine’s school, Multiracial, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Tracked, Nuclear Medicine, Street games, Dances, NYU Medical Center
Bailey, Mary. Bronx African American History Project. By Mark Naison. Fordham University Project, April, 2006.
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