African American Studies
African American Studies
Summary by Jocelyn Defex.
This interview for the Bronx African American History Project was with Patricia Payne, a professor at Monroe College. She and Dr. Mark Naison discuss her family history and experiences growing up in the Patterson houses in the South Bronx.
Payne’s family moved to the Bronx from Harlem in 1949 and settled in the Patterson houses. Payne’s parents were from South Carolina; Her father worked as a taxman and auxiliary policeman, while her mother had limited formal education and worked occasionally as a domestic helper.
Patricia's memories of the Paterson houses began when she attended kindergarten at PS 18, in building 291 on East 143rd Street. Her parents strongly emphasized the importance of academics in her household, and Patricia felt a responsibility to finish school and attend college due to her family's background and expectations. She also noted that some girls her age had children and remained in the Paterson houses on welfare. Still, her family's determination kept her focused on her education and goals.
Then, Dr. Mark Naison and Patricia Payne discuss the tracking of students at PS 18 and Junior High School in the Patterson houses during the 1950s and early 1960s. They mention that Payne and her peers were on an academic track and were part of the "Gifted and Talented" class. The interview reveals that the tracking system influenced the students' perceptions of their intelligence.
The discussion also touches on the community in the Patterson houses during that era. Payne recalls that everyone knew everyone, and people from various ethnic backgrounds got along well. The projects were a clean and safe place to live, and many residents were optimistic about living there.
Moreover, the interview delves into teenage recreational activities, hobbies, and the emerging music culture of the time. Yet, they also talk about the emerging issue of teenage pregnancies and the increasing presence of heroin in the neighborhood during the late 1950s. Patricia explains that she noticed the drug problem earlier but did not negatively impact the community's safety. However, as she became an adult, she saw changes in the community. Later, in the early 1960s, single-parent families started moving in from outside the neighborhood, changing the community’s character.
Afterward, the conversation switches to the changing role of the teacher; Payne describes how teachers in the past had more autonomy and respect from students and the educational system. The interview also introduces the "numbers" culture, with residents playing numbers games. Yet, by the late 1960s, the community had undergone significant changes, with the atmosphere being very different.
Finally, Payne discusses the declining conditions in the housing projects. More specifically, she mentions how the deterioration of the project's environment and increased disregard for rules contributed to a sense of wanting to leave. The conversation also touches upon the impact of external events, like the Vietnam War, on the community and the return of individuals who struggled with addiction. The speaker reflects on her growing-up journey and describes the importance of helping students find better opportunities and being exposed to different perspectives.
Naison, Mark, "Patricia Payne Interview" (2023). Oral Histories. 354.