African American Studies
Interviewee: Eldrid Hill
Interviewer: Dr. Mark Niason, Ricardo Soto-Lopez, Dana Driskell
Summarized by Sheina Ledesma
Eldrid Hill is a former lieutenant of the New York City Fire Department who has been a long time resident of both Harlem and the Bronx. He has also been deeply involved in local politics and urban planning and a member of Community Board 3 in the Bronx for several decades. Hill was born on July 12, 1928 in Harlem. His mother was from the Dutch side of the island of St. Martin while his father was from St. Kitts. His father was an alcoholic and as a result moved from job to job. The family lived in East Harlem and went to a small Episcopalian church called Church of the Crucifixion on 140th Street. Growing up in Harlem during the 1930’s and 40’s Hill was surrounded by many people who had an impact on African American culture and life like Langston Hughes who was his brother’s French teacher at P.S. 139 and James Baldwin who was a classmate of Hill’s. Hill also spent much of his free time as a youth in Harlem at famous dance clubs like the Savoy Ballroom, which was located on Lenox Avenue close to Hill’s home.
Straight from high school Hill decided to join the military. By this time World War II had begun and Hill was drafted into the 695th Tank Destroyer outfit, one of only six African American tank destroyer outfits during the war. Hill was sent overseas to England, France, Holland, and later the Philippines although he never saw combat. Once the war ended and Hill returned to civilian life in Harlem, he, like so many other young men who had just returned from the war, immediately began to look for jobs. Hill first began working for the Veterans Administration as a clerk, where he met his wife Dolores. While working for the Veterans Administration, Hill, like so many other young men during the time, decided to take several civil service exams for positions in the fire department, police department, and post office. Although Hill wanted to be a police officer, he was accepted into the Fire Department and began work as a Fireman in 1947. His older brother, who did the same, became a Police officer. Living in Harlem, Hill would commute to Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn, where he worked at his first posting as a New York City fireman.
Hill and Dolores were married in 1948, a year after joining the fire department. His wife was from an affluent family who lived in Sugar Hill. Her mother was from Charleston and her father was from St. Kitts. As a young couple living in Harlem during a time when Marcus Garvey was extremely popular, neither Hill nor his wives were active in politics. The two continued to live in Harlem for a short while but after being promoted to Lieutenant, Hill decided to find an apartment in public housing. They were able to find an apartment in the Sedgwick Houses in the Bronx, which was considered a middle-income development for veterans. The Sedgwick Houses were multiracial buildings with a large population of Jewish and Irish families. Hill and his wife lived in the Sedgwick Houses for ten years and in that time had two daughters. In around 1960 they bought a three-family house in Morris Heights, Bronx.
As the children grew older, Hill and his wife became more involved in politics and the local community. His wife became the district leader of the Democratic Party while he became the community relations officer for the fire department. In 1971 Hill retired from the fire department and it was then, through Angel Rivera, a friend Hill had met in the fire department, that Hill was offered a position with the Office of Economic Opportunity as a field representative for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Seeing this as a great opportunity, Hill’s wife encouraged him to take the job. As field representative, Hill was based in New York but had the opportunity to travel to the islands frequently and gain further experience in community relations. After ten years in the position, a friend helped him get a position as district manager for Community Board 3. Stepping into local Bronx Democratic politics was difficult for Hill at first because he was a registered Republican and everyone was aware of it. Hill however, described himself as a Javits or Rockefeller Republican, and explained that he was a liberal Republican from the era of Jacob Javits. Hill was eventually able to settle into the position and spent around 11 years working at the board. After the community board position Hill began working with a new urban renewal plan for the Bronx, the 197A plan, which, outlined various steps that should be taken to rejuvenate various neighborhoods in the Bronx. Neighborhoods like Melrose, Morrisania, Belmont, and Bathgate had been hard hit during the “Burning of the Bronx” and had undergone a decrease in population as much of the Bronx deteriorated during the 70’s and 80’s. Hill and others who worked on the 197A plan got involved in an exciting new process that would repopulate and revitalize many of these hard hit areas of the Bronx. Much of the plan included rezoning of areas, renovation of schools and residential buildings, establishing new supermarkets, and building of more affordable housing. The plan was mostly successful and after a few years working on the project, Eldred finally completely retired in 1991.
Hill, Elighu Eldrid. December 13, 2010. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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