Mr. Arthur L. Stinson was born in 1931 in Lancaster, SC. His family came to the Brooklyn community when he was in his youth. Mr. Stinson grew up in Brooklyn and attended the three major educational institutions that existed in the Brooklyn community: Myers Street Elementary School, Second Ward High School, and Carver College. At a young age, Mr. Stinson was involved in various entrepreneurial pursuits working in the coal yard and wood yard. He is a first hand witness in how the community, especially the schools, provided real world preparation for Brooklyn residents to become entrepreneurs. Mr. Stinson provides some insight on the economic climate of the Brooklyn community and how that impacted its existence.was born in 1931 in Lancaster, SC. His family came to the Brooklyn community when he was in his youth. Mr. Stinson grew up in Brooklyn and attended the three major educational institutions that existed in the Brooklyn community: Myers Street Elementary School, Second Ward High School, and Carver College. At a young age, Mr. Stinson was involved in various entrepreneurial pursuits working in the coal yard and wood yard. He is a first hand witness in how the community, especially the schools, provided real world preparation for Brooklyn residents to become entrepreneurs. Mr. Stinson provides some insight on the economic climate of the Brooklyn community and how that impacted its existence.
Tape Log: Oral History Interview with Arthur Stinson
Interviewed by Solomon Franklin
April 23, 2007
|Time||Description of Interview Contents|
|1:00||Mr. Stinson’s origins in Brookly|
|3:00||Professional black businesses in Brookly|
|5:00||The influence of the House of Prayer within the Brooklyn community; House of Prayer Convocation parade|
|9:00||Supermarkets in Brooklyn; “Smoke shops”|
|11:00||Sub-contracted business within Brooklyn; training at the local schools|
|13:00||Parents expectations about success|
|14:00||Insurance companies and their importance to Brookly|
|15:00||Bartering systems within the Brooklyn community|
|16:00||The importance of the family unit in the Brooklyn community; the inclusion of professionals within Brookly|
|20:00||Origins of the “Blue Heaven” Section in Brooklyn; descriptions of the “smoke shops”|
|24:00||Business involved in the nightlife of Brooklyn; Green Willow Garden; Brevard Street Library; Lincoln Theater; Second Ward High school|
|30:00||Queen City Classic|
|33:00||Urban Renewal of Brooklyn; NAACP involvement; the Alexander family; Julius Chambers|
|36:00||Additional services provided by the funeral homes to the black community; Good Samaritan Hospital|
|39:00||Contributing factors that caused the demise of the communal structure of the Brooklyn community; Parental expectations and economics|
|43:00||Description of the shotgun houses in Brookly|
|44:00||Fire department; mailing services; policing in Brookly|
|47:00||Brooklyn as a “slum”; slum housing and their absentee white landlords|
|50:00||Hope for change; conclusions about improvements|
|52:16||End of the interview|
Interviewee Name: Mr. Arthur L. Stinson
Interviewed at Mr. Stinson’s Residence
in Charlotte, North Carolina
April 23, 2007
Interviewer: Franklin, Solomon
Transcription completed: 4/30/07
Transcriber: Solomon Franklin
Editor: Krystion Obie
The home of Mr. Arthur L. Stinson
April 23, 2004
SF: Solomon Franklin (Interviewer)
AS: Arthur L. Stinson (Interviewee)
SF: Good morning. This is the oral history interview with Mr. Arthur L. Stinson, at his residence, for Dr. Flint’s Brooklyn Oral History Project-New South Voices; on Monday, April 23, 2007. Mr. Stinson, thank you for having me here at your home for this interview.
AS: You’re quite welcome, the pleasure is mine sir; and I’m looking forward to this interview, very much.
SF: Ok, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to the Brooklyn community?
AS: I was raised in Brooklyn. I was educated in Brooklyn. This is when the city was quite smaller than it is now. In some ways we were sort of self-sufficient, and of course we were subject to the Jim Crow laws and things, but I think we tried to make a good situation out of a bad situation. And as we go along I’ll try and explain the reason, how we did that.
SF: Where did you specifically live in Brooklyn?
AS: I lived on East Hill Street, near what’s now called Outlet Square.
SF: Ok, and what schools did you attend while you were there?
AS: I attended Myers Street Elementary, Second Ward High–six years at Myers Street and six years at Second Ward, all in sight, a block apart.
SF: Ok, can you tell me any memorable experiences that you had at those institutions?
AS: Well, I might mention also that I also went to Johnson C. Smith a couple of years, also. I had quite a few experiences. I was very fortunate to be able to attend these schools. I lived in a section of town, back even in elementary school, they had social services and we had some very dedicated teachers–and we even had teeth pulled and filled in elementary school. I went to Second Ward High School, where they taught shop, automobile mechanics, mechanical arts, cooking, shoe repair and brick laying and concrete finishing. So these are some of the things that we were able to pick up to make us very independent and self-sufficient in later years in life.
SF: Ok, can you tell me a little bit about the major businesses that existed in Brooklyn before Urban Renewal? Like near Brevard Street, Second Street.
AS: Yes. In that particular, we had a theater, know as the Lincoln Theater. We had AME Zion Publication House. We had a professional building called the MIC building, located on Brevard and Third; one of the first buildings, three story buildings owned and operated exclusively by Negroes. A lot of these professional offices were in there–lawyers, doctors, and of course beneath was cafes, beauty parlors, and barbershops. We had, on Second Street–on Second and Brevard, we had a library there–the first big predominately black public library–on the corner of Brevard and Second. Also many restaurants owned by blacks and some of our more affluent people owned service stations in that area–they more or less serviced the neighborhood.
SF: Can you tell me about some of these specific business owners that you might remember, that might not be prominently know in the history books?
AS: Well, come to mind right quick, Bishop Dale–had a Amoco Service Station at the corner of First and Brevard–he ran an Amoco Service Station at that corner. We had Dr. McCrorey had owned, ran Queen City Pharmacy for all of our drug needs, if we need to have a prescription filled; predominately black. We had McKissick’s Shoe Shop, the owner of that. We had El Chico, one and two. We had one on Second Street, right off Brevard Street; owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ingram; and also they had one down in the center of Brooklyn, McDowell Street; off the corner of Third and McDowell. There were many barbershops and beauty shops and things in this area that served predominately black people.
SF: Ok, can we discuss the House of Prayer and its specific influence in Brooklyn and how Daddy Grace influenced the entrepreneurship in Brooklyn?
AS: The House of Prayer was a church that did a lot of wonderful things for the community. They were more or less self-sufficient. They more or less kept to themselves, in other words if you was a member of the House of Prayer, they more or less married within the church. At the time, back in the day, they only, primarily, married people within the church. Also, they were self-sufficient in the way that they taught their own people how to play different instruments. They had some of the best bands that were taught by the own members of their church. In fact, not just one band, they had several bands in each church, each House of Prayer. They were taught how to play the piano, all of the horns, the drums, the whole thing; and they marched all over the North East United States, from New York to Florida, marching. One of the biggest things in Charlotte here they had what you call a week of convocation, where you had baptismal services, where they baptized and also they had a parade following. And they had white and black alike turn out for the parade. It started on Third Street, went from Third Street to Fourth Street, up Fourth Street to Brevard Street, left on Brevard Street to Boundary Street, down Boundary Street to Alexander Street, right on Alexander to um–walked Brevard Street to First Street, down First Street to Alexander Street, then to Boundary Street, left on Boundary Street to McDowell, and then McDowell back to the House of Prayer. This was–you couldn’t hardly find standing room–as long as this route parade is, you couldn’t hardly find standing room. But it has been said that it was one of the largest spectacles that was in this part of the country. And this was strictly all black, all the way.
SF: Did the House of Prayer own any businesses or have any business influence in Brooklyn?
AS: They had businesses, but not what they have today. They, what they done, they paid for their churches as they built them, as they do now. They just didn’t have, they weren’t–the churches themselves weren’t as fine as they are today. What they done, they paid as they went. In other words, I know some of the other places weren’t able to do that. The House of Prayer did. They paid for their churches as they went along.
SF: How were they able to do this?
AS: Not being a member of the House of Prayer, I’ll give you the best I can. I strongly suspect that they took the monies that they took in, and plowed it back into the church itself.
SF: Ok, so that talks about some of the self-sufficiency that which was also kind of a foreshadowing of what Brooklyn was like too. Can you talk about some of the other businesses in Brooklyn; for instance everybody needed to eat. What about supermarkets, that were located during that time sir?
AS: Well, all the supermarkets; you only had two supermarkets during the day. You had A&P, Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, and the Colonial Stores and they changed the name from Colonial Store to Big Star, and back to Colonial Stores. Those were the only two giant supermarkets that we had locally. And you didn’t have but two or three of them in the whole city. Of course the city at that time was not as large as it is now. We had local stores in our own individual communities that we bought most of our groceries at. Because of the lack of automobile traveling and carrying your own groceries, you had to carry them by hand or pull them in a wagon, or catch a cab to take your groceries home. And then we had local smoke shops that supplemented the grocery stores, which would supplement people’s salaries–and all of your smoking products, ice cream, bread, Vienna’s, potted meat, canned sardines, canned salmon, things of this sort and many other things that you could buy in your little smoke shops. This was a ways and means of making a little money that the mothers and the children could do during the day when the father was out trying to make a living. Some of these little stores, what we call smoke shops. Also they sold beer.
SF: Do you know of a specific location where one of these smoke shops was located?
AS: Well, they had them all over–now these you could find two or three in every neighborhood, or more. They were just all over everywhere, they weren’t hard to find at all. In other words, where you found a few homes you’ll find a smoke shop, because there’s money to be made. But needless to say they sold beer–I don’t need to–you know the rest of the story. It’s the truth.
SF: In addition to that, there were sub-contracted businesses. Can you speak to those businesses?
AS: Yes. There was quite a bit of sub-contracting going on. In the bricklaying area, cement finishing, plastering; yard work, things of this sort, but we were able to pick up some of these trades that I referred to earlier. Some of the best bricklayers and masons we had in town were trained at Second Ward High school. They were taught how to lay bricks, how to figure out mathematically how much sand mix and mortar mix you have to buy in order to build any size house or any wall no matter what the thickness. Also mechanical drawing, blueprinting; they were taught how to do this also. So some of these things we were taught in high school, some of the young men that are now retiring age right now, they learned their skills in high school and took it on to earn a very good living all their life, with the things they picked up in high school. We are quite proud of some of them; I could name a few of them–Polk family for example, in the bricklaying business. Very popular in the Griertown area; they came up and were educated in Second Ward. Some of them went into the insurance business. The Grier Funeral Home Service, which was located, the business was located in Brooklyn. But, they had some excellent training at Second Ward, as far as learning the business; and being educated at Johnson C. Smith and keeping some of this talent at home. But the teachers back in the day they were very influential in our lives, because they were very, very strict. The goal was, back in those days, that every child was to finish high school. Parents were very, very strict about finishing high school. It was also; and then my generation, it was important that my children finish college, a four-year institution. And my children’s children, its necessary now for them to go on to grad school. So as you can see, progress has been made down through the years, with the insistence of parents realizing that we need to get stronger and better as we go along.
SF: Thank you. I heard you mention about some people that did insurance. Can you talk about the Afro-American Mutual Insurance Company and its importance to the Brooklyn community?
AS: Yes. We had quite a few insurance companies. I’m trying to think, Western Mutual is one of them, in particular. I hesitated because I had to separate the white insurance company from the black. But I remember specifically Western Mutual. And they had policies for almost any, any type of insurance you wanted or you could afford; Almost anything that you wanted to buy from them back in the day. And of course they did it a lot different back in that day. The insurance collector, the insurance man went door-to-door collecting insurance; and the policies remained inside people’s houses on the wall. They’d take the book out, fill it out and write down the amount of money you paid, when you paid and the date. Now we send a check in, we do it differently. Now back in the day they used to come around, and collect it as people got paid.
SF: So was it common for other business entrepreneurs to have close ties with the community, come into people’s houses and leave goods and services? Such as, one reference might be how people did their ice back in the day.
AS: Yeah, there was a lot of bartering going on–the iceman, the coal man, the woodman; also the little neighborhood smoke shops that I spoke of. A lot of people ran bartering systems with the owner. I’ll pick it up on Monday and pay you on Friday or Saturday. That’s when they got paid. But, back in the day most everybody worked six days a week–at least five and a half. And sometimes they didn’t even get paid until after twelve on Friday, on Saturday–because if they did they would come to work. I suspect if they paid them on Friday, they wouldn’t show up.
SF: Can you discuss the importance of the family unit in the community and how that helped a sense of being with Brooklyn, how everybody was interdependent and how that spread from the family unit to the businesses?
AS: I think, yes I’d like to speak to this. Its two main differences right now that comes to mind. We were raised by the community. Not just our individual parents or relatives. I mean you might be ten blocks away from your home; most people in the neighborhood knew whose kids you was and they would give you a spanking and send you home and tell your parents; and you got another one when they told your parents. Also, there was two things allowed in school, without question, prayer and discipline. Teachers felt free to do this in schools. I think it has made a world of difference. You were made to go to church, not sent to church. Your parents were there with you. You were in front and they were behind you, coming along. If you had three services on Sunday, you attended three services. You had very few people at that time, for those that had grass in the yard, very few people that cut lawns on Sunday. Sunday was known as the Sabbath. Most people cooked their Sunday meals on Saturday, and just warmed them up on Sunday. Sunday was church day. I think that it might have something to do with my fore parents, my parent’s parents–but they were born and raised in the country, and they fixed the meals and had to go a long way to church, and I think they got in the habit of fixing food on Saturday so they could take their dinner to church with them, cause its too far to go to church in the morning, then come back, and then go back and eat. So they took dinner with them, and they stayed at church. After church was over, it was sort of like a social hour. For about an hour or two everybody would talk about. The boys got to talk to the young ladies and vice versa. But I think that, back in those days, we were a much closer unit as a family and I think that my being raised by the whole community was a lot much better system, a much better system than some of the things; some of the reasons why were experiencing some the things we are experiencing today, is because of a lack of discipline because its just not practiced like it was, back in the day.
SF: In addition to that, can you speak to how it was important to have professionals and everyone living in the same community, and helping to enrich that area?
AS: Why yes. Most of, all of your professional people lived in the same neighborhood, everybody lived together. Doctors, nurses, ministers and they–that helped a whole lot. Because you never felt like they were better than you. Although they had the education over a lot of people, and they had to go to them for help for filling out papers and things of this sort but you felt more closeness and togetherness. I really think that we were–those of us that were in school, kids coming along; we were encouraged to see what they had done, in spite of all of the problems they had; they’d been raised up; going to school you could still make something out of yourself and be somebody in life–and looking at them everyday as they go to work. You know. And at that time, they were going to work dressed up versus wearing jeans as a blue-collar worker. So it gave them something to shoot for, to look forward to, and something to really. We knew it could be ours if we worked at it hard enough.
SF: That’s important. Can you discuss what you know about the Blue Heaven section, where it gets its name from and how that related to the Brooklyn community?
AS: Blue Heaven is a part of Brooklyn that runs between Independence Boulevard and Morehead Street, bounded by McDowell Street and Outlet Square. And it got its name from a little creek that runs through that section. And it got its name from the blue water that flowed down through the little creek. And it came from Charlotte Laundry, which was located on Second Street and College, New Way Laundry on the Brevard and Boundary, and Domestic Laundry, off the intersection of Morehead and McDowell. And all these laundries poured all of their laundry wash water into the creek, therefore turning the water blue. That’s how it got its name Blue Heaven. So they just renamed the section that the people lived in, Blue Heaven. That’s where the word blue came in. Blue Heaven was nothing more than a creek that flowing through, that turned blue by the suds the soap from the laundry.
SF: Were there any black business owners in that section?
AS: There again, we go right back to your little smoke shops. There were smoke shops, maybe a poolroom. Basically you just; we had a couple of stores there but sometimes they’d be owned by blacks–sometimes they were owned by whites. We were able to get in a couple of them because whites sold out, and blacks bought the store and kept it going. But basically, it was just a neighborhood where people lived, nothing extremely special about it except the blue water running up and down the creek.
SF: These smoke shops that you speak of, can you kind of describe the physical layout of what one might have looked like?
AS: Most smoke shops were about the size of a one to two car garage, enclosed; with shelving was put in the inside, to hold the canned goods, ice for the drink box in them and also an ice cream box; tobacco products, and maybe a piccolo, and a place to store the beer; they sold it over the counter. But they weren’t very large, but they were very, very active; between the piccolo playing and the drinking the cold beer on the weekend and the nights; selling the bread and selling the meat during the week, during the day; some people done quite well with the smoke shops, some people done quite well. And occasionally, occasionally they would get up and get a permit from downtown and would sell fried fish, on like, on weekends, chitterlings and this type of thing. They would.
SF: Ok, thank you. Can you talk a little bit about the businesses that promoted nightlife in Brooklyn? As you know Brooklyn had an exclusive nightlife, especially on weekends, where people would come from all over to come to the Brooklyn community. Can you talk a little bit about some of these businesses in places that would draw and attract blacks from all over?
AS: Well you had what they called, nightclubs, if they can be called that. And what it consisted of was a building, with a few tables and chairs sitting inside of it, and a bar across, on the side or in the back of it; where alcoholic beverages were sold. And usually, some combo outfit, maybe a drum and a couple of people playing horns or something of this nature, something to dance to. They really didn’t have too many places to go to because, as far as clubs go, but they had quite a few of these all over, all over Brooklyn you know; just by different names. For an example J.C. Graham had a drugstore on one floor, in the back of it was a poolroom, and upstairs a nightclub. It was just too many clubs, too numerous to tell you, but they had, all these little clubs that they had, they called them nightclubs. Basically, some a little better than others, played a little different type of music. But as a general rule, it was somewhere to go, to have a sociable drink, and listen to some music and dance to it, and try to spend the afternoon; and most times you had to go to a restaurant to get something to eat afterwards.
SF: One such place that was referred to before was Sunset Park. Do you have any recollections of Sunset Park?
AS: Oh yeah, but that wasn’t in Brooklyn. That was across town in Biddleville. That’s the reason I didn’t bring that up.
SF: Well, can you talk about the Green Willow Garden?
AS: The Green Willow Garden was a place where many things went on. They taught boxing there. They had a lot of fights–this was on Second Street in Brooklyn, on Second between Brevard and Caldwell, next door to Queen City Pharmacy, before they moved to the west side. And they had a place that they taught; many, many boxers learned their skills at the Green Willow Garden. We had one, his name was Pent?–I’m trying to think, what was his name? He climbed–he got to be the number four or number five in the world. Came right out of the Green Willow Garden. I’m trying to think of it–Parks, Parks was his name. But he went quite far. Raised up right there in Brooklyn, just like Charlie Sifford. These are local Charlotte boys. Garvel, Garvel, I think the world knows about him. Jim Black. Came that close to winning the Los Angeles Open; right local, born, raised right here in the city of Charlotte.
SF: Other things that people did for entertainment, can you speak to that–the different theaters, the library that they used at Brevard Street and some other things around that area?
AS: Uh, they did uh–of course you had your fishing and your hunting. And then back in the day you had plenty of room to that, but speaking of the cultured things, most of your plays and things. For an example in Second Ward High school, they had an auditorium built right in the middle of the school. I remember specifically hearing; the first time I ever heard Marian Anderson perform was when I was in high school. She visited my high school, she sang right in the middle of my school. So we had a lot of quartet singing. Back in the day quartets were very, very popular. Back in those days singing groups; you didn’t have too many mass choirs back in these days. And then there was a lot of note singing. Doe re mi fa so la ti doe–A lot of this was going on, singing hymns, long, short common meter–this metered hymns. A lot of these things were being used at the time. We’d sing those things. But people in general, wherever they came from, they brought their special things with them; the different type of recipes, different type of things that they ate, from different parts. And then the food, the dance, their culture; anything that they had learned from the part of the country that they’d came from, they lived in Brooklyn. We had a cross section of a little bit of all of it. So we were very fortunate to live in that particular neighborhood, and today I look at it and it brings to mind, so many things; when I walk through there it just doesn’t look like anything I used to know, in that area.
SF: Can you talk about your experiences at the Queen City Classic, and how that was a major social event?
AS: Yes, the Queen City Classic was a cross-town rivalry between Second Ward High school and West Charlotte High school. And at that time, you only had two blacks highs schools in the city of Charlotte; Second Ward on the east side, West Charlotte. Of course, we played each year for the bragging rights of the city of Charlotte. I was fortunate to play on three of the Second Ward Tiger’s Teams. And um, yes. We were sort of successful the years I played.
SF: What position did you play?
AS: I played guard–right guard, right guard. It was a large thing, even the white neighborhood on the east side pulled for Second Ward and the whites on the west side pulled for West Charlotte. Harding High school was located on West Trade Street. Central High school was located on Central Avenue, and they had the same colors Second Ward had. And Harding had the same colors West Charlotte had. We used to take the old uniforms they used to give us, and try to make our kidney pads, cause we played parts without kidney pads, shoulder pads, all that kind of stuff. We just didn’t have it. We used what we had. But, it was a wonderful thing, and back in those days we could draw for a high school game, we could draw twenty-five thousand people. Back in those days, that was a big thing.
SF: And where was it played?
AS: Memorial stadium, the same place Memorial stadium. We had–it was something. It was something. It was really, really nice.
SF: Let me ask you, what do you think about; moving onto the subject of Brooklyn and Urban Renewal. Can you give me some thoughts about how you found out that Brooklyn was going to be razed and removed from the community?
AS: Yes, by being active in the NAACP and several other groups, I was made aware in its early on going. I think, in lots of things, I think it was a good thing to tear down some of the old houses because a lot of them were shotgun houses, but here are some sites that I feel like they should have left for historical purposes. And of course the moving part, you know there never seems to be enough houses when your moving a whole community, to move. So for a while there they scattered the people in Brooklyn all over everywhere in town to find a place for them to live. And as we did so things began, homes began to sprout up on the west side, south side, north side, all these things happened. But the big major change came after World War II. Because that’s when they started building Double Oaks and South Side, Brookhill and all these things. Therefore, creating room, houses for the people that were moving from old Brooklyn.
SF: You spoke about involvement in the NAACP, can you talk about the Alexander family, Kelly Alexander, Fred Alexander, and how they contributed to the things in Brooklyn?
AS: The Alexander’s were a very, very prominent family. They resided in the Cherry community, as we now know it. They owned a funeral home in Brooklyn, and they were on Brevard Street, right next down to the A.M.E. Zion Publication House–right off the corner of Brevard and Second. But they were very instrumental, very, very instrumental in the NAACP. They ran a successful funeral business for many, many years. Its my understanding that they are still in the business now, at least it goes up under the Alexander name, anyway. But they were instrumental in getting a lot of laws changed and the betterment for black people, not only in the city of Charlotte but in the whole Unites States. Because a lot of the things that Kelly fought for was at the statewide level and at the national level. As he went forth with the help of Julius Chambers and a few other black prominent lawyers, they were able to accomplish quite a bit–injustices that black people were suffering at that time and some of them to this day.
SF: You mentioned that they owned a funeral home in Brooklyn. Can you talk about the funeral services were different back then? Funeral homes provide ambulance services and some other things. Can you talk about the differences in the community businesses that way?
AS: Yeah, well in those days, the funeral home did serve as an ambulance service in addition to your burial services. And we only had one hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, which was located on West Hill Street, off of Graham and West Hill. But, in addition to the funeral home the Alexander’s, Mr. Alexander was very, very instrumental in helping people to fill out their insurance papers, teaching them how to draw social security, fill out their paper work for the insurance companies, so they could get the money from the insurance companies; applying for disability, for people with disabilities problems. And they were, these were additional services in the funeral services plus the NAACP. They were doing this for the community as a whole, with very little or no charge. This was an excellent service that they performed for the neighborhood.
SF: Good Samaritan Hospital. Can you talk about how that? Where was the other hospital? Because wasn’t Good Samaritan the one that would take blacks?
AS: Well, at the time it was known as Memorial Hospital. But basically, at the time I’m talking about it was Good Sam, and it was predominately a black hospital. But Memorial Hospital is now called Carolina Medical, which is located off of Scott Avenue and Baldwin Avenue; Kings Drive and Scott Avenue, that’s what I wanted to say. But it’s now known as; Memorial Hospital is the name of the old hospital. It’s Carolina Medical now. That’s what it is, the same hospital.
SF: Let me go back and revisit some issues in Brooklyn. The way that the community was seemed pretty self-sufficient–very vibrant and thriving. What do you believe is the most, or some of the contributing factors; do you think that Urban Renewal was the only thing that caused it to demolish the community or what were some of the other contributing factors to kind of break down that structure that was in the Brooklyn community?
AS: Well first of all, the need for the black man to excel, the need to do better, period. No matter what it took. We realized that we were only going to be able to rise above, to pull us, ourselves up; we had to do it by our own, pull up our boot straps. This is what we had to do; we knew that. Your parents pushed you to do better. You can do better than this. Just existing wasn’t good enough. They did not accept it; it wasn’t acceptable. So you tried harder. You tried to do better. Every generation must get better, and better. So every generation that comes along, it was necessary to get a better education, to make more money, therefore you live better. Period. Economics. It was just that simple, pure and simple. And then you need knowledge in your head, so once you made the money you know what to do with it; how to invest it, how to look forward to the future, how to educate your children. Because my parents felt like, had they had an opportunity to go to school; they saw so many things pass them by, they simply wasn’t qualified for it. Or you apply for a job and they saw you don’t qualify. That’s why it’s so important; we were told, you must, you must, you must get a good education.
SF: And these things–how was this notion lost in the transition of time?
AS: I think, I think some of it was lost when things got a little better, people got a little more money, started moving around and they started taking things for grated. I came up during a time where you had to earn the work for–earn what you had. I think too much is given to our young people, without making them feel like they had to earn it. And I think as a result, things came too easy. I think too many parents said, I don’t want my children to have to go through what I went through, and therefore they gave them more. But I think this hurt us more than it helped us. The idea was to help my child, so they don’t have to go through this. But I think they had been better off, had they been put through this. I think that’s one of the major differences, right there. That they, that we as adults, we need to tighten up and make them realize that whatever they get in life, they are going to have to work for it. Nobody’s going to give you anything. You have to work. You have to work hard. You’ve got to earn it. And when you earn it, you know how it came, and you’ll take better care of it. If I give you a car that I paid for, you don’t know how you got it, except I give it to you. But if I buy a car and make you work, to earn the money to pay for it, you are not going to tear that automobile up.
SF: When we were talking about Urban Renewal, you spoke of the shotgun houses. Can you describe what the shotgun houses looked like and how prominent they were throughout the Brooklyn community?
AS: Yes. They were, most of them were these straight through houses. Three to four rooms, straight through. You could stand in the front door and look out the back door. Straight through. And some of them you couldn’t even walk between, they were so close together. So, if one of them caught on fire, three or four of them would burn down before you could get the first on out; especially on a hot summer day in the nineties. Or a lot of times, you had spontaneous combustion. So when we say shotgun that’s exactly; just like a barrel of a gun, straight through.
SF: And when the houses did catch on fire, who would relieve these fires?
SF: Yes, who would put the fires out?
AS: Oh, the fire department. They would come out. They had fire extinguishers; I mean fire hydrants in the neighborhood. But they didn’t have–like I said they had the fire department sort of centrally located around the city of Charlotte, like they do now. And so–and we had alarms on the poles, telephone poles.
SF: The fire alarms were on the telephone poles?
AS: Yeah, when you pulled it down it would call the fire department. Also you had; now they put mailboxes and drop mail until the mailman picks up. We had mailboxes in our individual neighborhoods. We would go to certain corners–we had mailboxes there. Now if you want to drop it, you either go to the post office or go to a shopping center to find a drop in box.
SF: Were there black firemen?
AS: No sir. That’s another thing. I’ve had the pleasure, during my lifetime of seeing black firemen for the first time, black postmen, black policemen, liquor stores, rockets being shot out into space television. All of these things, and I won’t go into the VCR, computer and all that. But all these things, I feel real blessed that they’ve come during my lifetime, that I’ve been able to see, all of these changes take place. And I have some wonderful, wonderful memories in my head concerning these things; and looking back in the past and comparing back in the day with today.
SF: Ok. Policemen. It was said that the black police force was put into the black neighborhood because of some of the crime. The white police dint want to come and deal with it, so that’s where the black police force came from. When did you first see them? Do you have any recollections of the black police in Brooklyn?
AS: Yes sir. First of all, they were policemen but they weren’t; its two reasons we wound up with black policemen that I feel. First of all, it wasn’t so much that the white policemen couldn’t handle it. It was the pressure; the people were demanding that we have black policemen, along with black postmen and this type of thing. Second of all when they first made black policemen they could not; they could arrest them but they couldn’t take them to jail. They had to call a white policeman, see. And they only worked the black neighborhoods. Later years they were able to arrest anybody and work any section in town. But when they first started, they only worked the black neighborhoods. And that’s about the size of that.
SF: Well I wanted to just talk about, Urban Renewal, and the fact that people were deeming Brooklyn as a slum. Can you give your take on whether–or where this came from, and these disparities and why people would try to push for that notion?
AS: Well, back then; it was a slum. But we as black people we didn’t dwell on it. We knew it was a slum. We knew it wasn’t going to change unless we stood up and fought for it. Just like the city, with the problems that we have now a days. There are so many injustices going on right now, that you came along to this club that club, what have you, what want you. You know its not happening overnight unless somebody goes to court, unless somebody sues somebody. It wasn’t any difference back in those days, its just worse. We knew we wanted better housing, but in order to have better housing we needed more money. You have to understand some people were paying seventy-five cents a week. Some were people paying house rent a dollar and a quarter a week. If they had made better houses, we wouldn’t have been able to afford them, without the education to make the money. That’s why I keep going back to economics. You can’t get away from it. Money talks. They don’t care what color you are, money talks. That’s about as straight up as I can be.
SF: What I wanted to ask you is that most of the slums, as it was referred to or the slum housing is said that it was owned by absentee white landlords. Can you talk about; did you know any landlords and how they dealt with the housing?
AS: Well, same thing like I just said, its true today. Most of your slum houses are owned by white, absentee landlords. Nothings changed, it remains the same. Do you realize that most of you slum houses don’t get fixed up now a days, for the same reason they didn’t get fixed up back then. That’s what I keep saying. It’s the same thing, over and over. Owned by the absentee white landlords, they’re not going to put any money in it. They just want to make money. They’re not going to put the broken windowpanes in. They’re not going to fix the air condition.
They don’t care about the heating unit. The same problems exist today, that existed then. If you go in a rundown neighborhood or apartment complex, it’s the same identical thing. I can’t explain any better than that. And I can’t, and that fact.
SF: Ok, are there any other situations or topics concerning that we haven’t discussed that you believe is important for people to know about, concerning the community and the history of Brooklyn?
AS: Well I just feel like this, in a summation of what we have said today. I feel like what I’m saying, it means more to some than it does to others. For those of us that came through back in the day, we could see it vividly in our memories. We have a mental picture of how things were, back in the day versus what it looks like today. It’s sort of like asking somebody, hey, do you like being pulled around with a mule and a wagon or do you like riding in a Cadillac? There’s no choice to be made. Everybody wants to ride around in Cadillac. I think that what I’m saying to you is, that we realized that we needed to do something to make a change. We hoped that our generation has made enough inroads towards progress. And as I look around, I would like to think that we have made a difference. I don’t think that we have made as much of a difference as we would have liked to, but I do feel like we have contributed, and contributed heavy. I would like for the history books to read, that we did try. We tried to improve upon that which was bad, when it seemed impossible. I feel like we did do a lot of things towards that end. The work is definitely not finished, there’s much work to be done, as there has already been done. And I’ll continue to work until the day I die, and try to get some of these changes to take place. I thank you.
SF: Thank you for having this interview sir.
AS: Thank you for asking me.