Harry Sweet grew up on Boston Road and moved with his family to the public housing projects near Crotona Park and the Cross Bronx Expressway as a teenager. He remembers finding it impressive as a child that kids got to cross the street to Herman Ritter Junior High School, across from their apartment building, by themselves and how important it was when he got to do it. He walked to PS 50 and would walk home and back for lunch. Sweet remembers his elementary school class as mixed Jewish, Italian, and black, but as most of the Jewish and Italian families moved out of the area, it became, by the time his family moved to the projects when he was in fifth grade, predominantly black and Puerto Rican with a few Irish kids. Because he was young, he did not see or experience any prejudices during this change. The neighborhood didn’t feel dangerous at that time.
Sweet’s father was a postman and his mother sometimes worked as a secretary. They wanted to get a house out of the Bronx, but because they got chosen from the list of the projects, they moved there for the stable environment. By that point, that side of Crotona Park was predominantly black and Puerto Rican as well, and Sweet spent more time with the black kids because he liked to play basketball as opposed to the Puerto Ricans who liked to play handball. His junior high school was the dividing line with the Italian neighborhood around Arthur Avenue, which many non-Italians would not cross. Sweet recalls a story of riding unicycles with his black friends from the project, returning from playing basketball by Fordham University, and being chased and assaulted by Italian teenagers.
Going to Bronx High School of Science was a culture shock for Sweet because he was unaccustomed to being around middle- and upper-class people and white people. Although he was white and Jewish, he felt like he didn’t fit in socio-economically, and ended up befriending the few students of color there during that time period, 1967 to 1970. Sweet then attended City College, becoming a shop teacher. Visiting his father’s Orthodox family in Brooklyn when he was young opened him up to becoming a klezmer musician today. Continuing his education in Albany was its own culture shock, being exposed to Protestant Christians for the first time. His travels around the country continued his exposure to new people and cultures.
The Great Depression, World War Two, Public Housing Projects, Crotona Park, Black, Italian, Arthur Avenue, Bronx Science, culture, class, 1960s, Vietnam War, 1967-1968 teachers strike, City College, Hasidic, klezmer, Co-op City
Maier Garcia, Sophia, "Sweet, Harry" (2022). Bronx Jewish History Project. 4.