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Guide to Voices of Crown Heights oral histories 2016.027

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Collection processed by Brett Dion

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 19, 2017 using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Container List

Voices of Crown Heights oral histories: Weeksville Heritage Center, 2017

Alexander, Deborah, 2017 January 9

Biographical note

Aged fifty-five at the time of the 2017 interview, Deborah Alexander grew up in the Bronx, with her family originally being from the American South. She attended Ithaca College and got her master's degree at Brooklyn College. Alexander is a speech teacher at PS 243 (The Weeksville School) in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She lives in that area, having raised a son and daughter who were both adults by the time of the interview.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Deborah Alexander talks about her life growing up in the Bronx and what led her to eventually become a speech teacher in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She discusses her experiences in Intelligent and Gifted Classes (IGC) in both junior high school and Lehman High School. She recalls facing racism in an incident at school that corresponded with the Roots series' premiere. She describes her role in the Afro-Latin Club at Ithaca College and the racism that she also faced there as a student. She delves into her experiences as a speech teacher and the reemergence of the Weeksville Museum at PS 243. Alexander then evaluates the differences between her life as a student and the lives of students circa 2017. Interview conducted by Obden Mondésir.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Alexander, Deborah, 1961-
  • Derico, Jean L.
  • Jarvis, Cleo

Subject Organizations

  • P.S. 243 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History
  • Weeksville Parent-Teacher Association (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Charter schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Exhibitions
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Intergenerational relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Parents -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) |x Social conditions
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Britt, Morris, 2017 January 10

Biographical note

Morris Britt is a sixty-three year old man, originally from St. George, South Carolina. In 1970, after finishing high school, he moved to New York in hopes of finding work and eventually found himself working as a janitor at PS 243. Married and a father of a son and daughter, he remained employed at the Weeksville School at the time of this 2017 interview.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Morris Britt recalls that he moved to New York because of the racism in the South and his realization that he could not "exist" in South Carolina. He talks about living in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn since 1970 and how he found himself working as a janitor at the Weeksville School at eighteen years old. Britt recounts how PS 243 changed its name from the Isaac Newton School to the Weeksville School. He discusses the politically and culturally involved faculty members that worked at the school, such as Marguerite Thompson, Joyce Washington, and Parent-Teacher Association president Elman Meggs. Britt reviews how the school and neighborhood have changed from 1970-2017, touching on what it was like to have his son attend the school. He also considers his first dealings with gentrification. Interview conducted by Obden Mondésir.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Britt, Morris
  • Butler, Herman
  • Derico, Jean L.
  • Washington, Joyce

Subject Organizations

  • P.S. 243 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Charter schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Exhibitions
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

Brown Green, Myrah, 2017 February 7

Biographical note

Sixty years old at the time of the 2017 interview, Dr. Myrah Brown Green is a Black woman originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts and a longtime resident of the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. She moved to New York to attend Pratt Institute for a master in fashion merchandizing and found work at Lord and Taylor. While at this job, she met Richard Green, a community organizer. They married after moving to Brooklyn. Displeased with the options of private school or PS 241, they eventually decided to homeschool their four children. She then became the principal of their newly formed "home school" which they named the Crown Heights Collective Fellowship and Peace Academy.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Myrah Brown Green recalls many of her biographical highlights. She remembers her youth in a neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she experienced racism from a childhood friend's father and a stutter which she believes had developed from a fear of needles. She remembers meeting Richard Green for the first time and realizing his impact on the community in Brooklyn. Brown Green discusses starting the Crown Heights Youth Collective, the difficulty in maintaining the organization, and the roles that she and her husband played during the social upheaval in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn in August of 1991. She also references the Summer Youth Employment Program that she directed to specifically support pregnant teenage women. Brown Green relates her involvement in starting up a home school. In closing she shares where her focus is in 2017; taking part in raising a granddaughter, publishing a book, and exhibiting her quilted artwork. Her husband, Richard Green, was recorded for Voices of Crown Heights oral histories: Brooklyn History Society and the Listen to this: Crown Heights Oral History collection in 2010 (2010.020). Interview conducted by Larry Weekes.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Brown Green, Myrah
  • Green, Richard

Subject Organizations

  • City University of New York. Medgar Evers College
  • Crown Heights Collective Fellowship and Peace Academy (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Youth Collective (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Pratt Institute
  • St. Francis College (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Blacks -- Race identity
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Private schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- United States
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Massachusetts

Derico, Jean with Butler, Herman, 2017 January 6

Biographical note

Aged sixty-three at time of the 2017 interview, Jean Derico is a Black second grade teacher who was born in the Bronx and lived most of her life in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn. She attended Hunter College in the early 1970s and received her master's degree in education at Adelphi University soon afterwards. Derico began teaching at the Weeksville School (PS 243) in 1984-1985 and has been at the school ever since. Aged eighty-three at the time of the interview, Herman Butler is a school janitor/fireman who has been working at the Weeksville School since 1967. He is originally from Augusta, Georgia.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Jean Derico talks about her experience as an educator at PS 243 and how the school changed during her three decades-long teaching career. She describes how the school initially was a very prominent one; with her being part of a change in demographics in regard to the teachers employed. Derico evaluates how the student population started to decrease with the rise of charter schools. She also discusses the changes in demographics both racially and generationally that she has witnessed in her profession. She also shares about the Weeksville museum that was at the school; how it was turned into a junk room and how it was eventually re-opened in 2015 through the impetus of the local Parent Teacher Association president's (Donnaly Lamont) proactivity. Herman Butler intermittently adds description of his experience at PS 243; recalling the school's participation in the archeological dig that occurred in 1968 and when the school changed its name from the Isaac Newton School to the Weeksville School. He also discusses how the school has changed since 1967 and how it may have lost the "feeling of the community." Interview conducted by Obden Mondésir.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Butler, Herman
  • Derico, Jean L.
  • Markowitz, Marty

Subject Organizations

  • P.S. 243 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Charter schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Exhibitions
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Intergenerational relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Weeksville (New York, N.Y.)

Leach-James, Linda Patricia, 2017 January 12

Biographical note

Linda Patricia Leach-James was born and raised in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. Her parents, Walter C. Leach and Rosalind Boston (nee Leach), also raised a younger brother and sister. Leach-James attended St. Gregory the Great Elementary School and graduated from Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School in 1968. She went on to an undergraduate degree at Hampton Institute in Virginia. After marrying, starting a family, and taking the family abroad to France, she raised her children in France from the early 1980s to early 1990s. She then returned with her family to live full-time in Crown Heights. Leach-James took her father's previously-held position as a co-owner in the local storefront insurance brokerage firm, Cambridge and Leach. She is also a grandmother.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Linda Patricia Leach-James speaks about her experiences in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn as a member of a middle class African American family. She discusses her upbringing and her educational experiences in Catholic parochial schools. Leach-James recalls key biographical turning points. She remembers arriving to college and attending Hampton Institute, a historically Black school. Leach-James references her time living in a few towns in France. She reflects on how her family reacted and coped during the August, 1991 event that's sometimes known as the Crown Heights riot. Interview conducted by Vivian Millicent Warfield.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Leach-James, Linda Patricia

Subject Organizations

  • Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School for Girls (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Public Library
  • Erasmus Hall High School
  • Hampton Institute
  • Saint Gregory's Roman Catholic Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Blacks -- Race identity
  • Church schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County -x History
  • Community centers -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community development, Urban -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • France
  • Virginia

Maxwell, Richard, 2017 February 17

Biographic note

Richard Maxwell was born to an African-American family in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in 1944. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. In adulthood, Maxwell moved to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, having come to know the adjacent Crown Heights neighborhood quite well. In the mid-1960s, Maxwell served a tour of duty in the army before the Vietnam conflict escalated. He received master's degrees from Brooklyn College and City College. He has worked in education in Brooklyn since the 1970s. Maxwell held multiple positions during his career as an educator; perhaps most notably as a school guidance counselor in District 75.

Scope and Contents

In the interview, Richard Maxwell initially discusses the changing boundaries of central Brooklyn and the demographic and political influences that create them. He also focuses on encountering the Jewish community in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn during the 1940s and how he grew up— predominantly on Jefferson Street and Nostrand Avenue. He recalls the many positions that he held in the Department of Education and his interactions with Brooklyn political players. He mentions his time as a student at Boys' High School, its preponderance of quality basketball players, and how that played a role in his social life growing up. Maxwell reflects on his decision to move closer to his brother— who, after serving in Vietnam, suffered from the effects of Agent Orange— which led him to work at the notoriously difficult school IS 320. He speculates on the issues of school safety and the gang behavior that he encountered as an anti-gang specialist and acknowledges the patterns among some youths that impacted the August 1991 uprising in Crown Heights. Maxwell identifies Richard Green as an educator who helped quell the uproar and violence that occurred at that time. In closing, he lists many of the bars that he frequented in Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Brigitte Winston.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Green, Richard
  • Maxwell, Richard John

Subject Organizations

  • Boys' High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn Children's Museum
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.). Board of Education
  • Community School District 17 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Community School District 75 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Youth Collective (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • P.S. 375 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African Americans -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Bars (Drinking establishments) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Blacks -- Race identity
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Crime -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Ethnic neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Gentrification -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Riots -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Flatbush (New York, N.Y.)
  • Weeksville (New York, N.Y.)

Naison, Mark, 2017 January 4

Biographical note

Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Dr. Mark Naison was seventy years old at the time of the 2017 interview. Raised in a Jewish family household where reading was emphasized, he attended PS 91, Winthrop Junior High School, and Wingate High School. Naison's pugilism led to a transfer to Erasmus High. He went on to Columbia University and a professorship of History at Fordham University.

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Dr. Mark Naison talks about life in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn during the 1950s. He describes the neighborhood as very working class and, in demographic terms, mostly Italian and Jewish. Dr. Naison remembers being ostracized for the intellectual pursuits that his parents foisted upon him, and the gameplay, athletics, and fighting with his public school peers which he used as social compensation. Interview conducted by Obden Mondésir.

Conditions Governing Access and Use

Access to the interview is available onsite at the Brooklyn Historical Society's Othmer Library and online on the Oral History Portal. Use of the oral histories other than for private study, scholarship, or research requires permission from BHS by contacting library@brooklynhistory.org.

Subject Names

  • Naison, Mark D., 1946-

Subject Organizations

  • Congress of Racial Equality. Brooklyn Chapter
  • Erasmus Hall High School
  • George W. Wingate High School
  • P.S. 91 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Community development -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community identity -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Education -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Ethnic neighborhoods -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Games -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Public schools -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Race relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • School children -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Social classes -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Teachers -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)

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