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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Family

Clips from the Alfred Cooper Interview


AC: Well, it probably wasn't in Bedford-Stuyvesant. There was an organization of North Carolinians. Yeah, something called the Sons and Daughters of North Carolina, and they met.

JL: Do you know the story of their actual meeting?

AC: Well, I understand they met-you know they had like a weekly card get-together. They'd play cards and things like that and entertain themselves, and that's where they met. That's my understanding. And for most of his life he was an auto mechanic. Until he retired. In fact he retired out here in Long Island, over in Inwood.

JL: He did?

AC: Yes. When he died he was living in Inwood as a matter of fact.

JL: So tell me about your parents, then. You remember your dad. Describe your-

AC: He was a very hard working man. He emphasized-well both he and my mother emphasized the importance of education.

JL: How did they do that?

AC: Well they did that by, first of all, overseeing, making sure that we got our homework done. My mother would always go to parent-teacher meetings. She was always involved in the school. She
was involved in various organizations in the church. My mother did something very affirmatively.  She converted to Catholicism, which at that time would allow her children to go to a Catholic
school almost free. So she made an affirmative act. She converted. Interesting enough, she also was the eldest of her siblings, and she had a number of them who also converted because she did.
So my parents basically were role models for both sides of the family.

JL: Yeah, wow. Interesting how that happens. Sometimes birth people in the same order, you know birth order, find each other. They have similarities.

AC: Right. They were two years apart in age. And again, like I said, my home functioned like a central station for both families coming together. You know what I mean?

JL: Right, so literally? Were people living in the house, too?

AC: Well we lived in the house. Our immediate family lived in the house, but there were frequent visits by his uncles, her uncles, cousins, relatives. It was like a central station. Like, they
came to our house more so than we would visit them.

JL: Why? Because they were the two leaders of their families, is that what you're saying?

AC: I would think so, yes. Now that I look back on it, yes. I would say yes. Like I said, they were both the eldest of their siblings, and I think-the other thing, I think, is that they served
as a role model because my mother and father were together until the death did they part, that type. You know what I mean? And you know, we had a routine. You went to school. Sundays you had
to go to church. You had chores to do on Saturday. But to answer your question, they both were attuned to their children being educated. They found-they made it a very important task. So it
wasn't a question of if you were going to high school or going to go on to do something else, it was accepted that you would.

JL: I got you. Do you remember moments when either parent said something to you or along those lines that really made an impression about why reading or education is important?

AC: Well, my mother. I would always tell people my mother spoke the King's English. She spoke very well, okay? And she, like I said, I think her example, she instilled in us the importance of
education. Her involvement with the school, it wasn't just tangential, she was involved. She didn't miss parent-teachers meeting night. She was always there. She was always in touch with the
nuns. I had nuns of course. And I think that was the support. That you know you couldn't go to school and not do your work and you feared parents might find out. But not only that, I basically
would have to speak from my individual observation. There were a lot of books in my house. I would have to say we were very literate. There were a lot of books. My father read three or four
papers on the weekend.

JL: How about African American history or literature?

AC: I learned most of my African American history when I was in high school. When I became attuned to that thing I went to libraries. I could spend the whole day in a library just
reading. That's where I gathered my information.

JL: About racial-?

AC: African American history and racial issues in the U.S., yes.

JL: So your parents didn't talk about that as much?

AC: No. Well, the interesting thing, and I'd like to reinforce this. There was no feeling of, you know, we don't quite match or-see, because the parochial school we went to there were white
and black kids, and there were no distinctions made. I have to say that. I didn't really become attuned to racial conflict so to speak, until I was in high school when there happened to be a
demonstration led by a minister who had a church called Concord Baptist Church. Reverend Galamison. He's a historical figure. When he started his march in the 60's and all, that's when I
really became attuned to that, but before that, you know it really wasn't significant because I didn't feel like I was being denied anything. You got to understand, at that time in Central
Brooklyn, we had all of our own African American professionals. So we had dentists, doctors, lawyers, you know. There were Jewish doctors in the community also, but as far as the
profession, we had all ourwn professionals. We had the merchants. Most of the merchants in our community were African American or Caribbean. One or two Jewish merchants, but-so we had a very
self-sustaining community.

JL: So it was very professional and it was very-a lot of successful families?

AC: Yes.

JL: And yet it sounds like it was also predominantly black? AC: Well I would have to say it was. At that time, yes it was.

JL: Do you remember as a child leaving the neighborhood and being aware of your own race?

AC: Well, I was always aware of my race. That's not the issue. I was always aware of my race and my background. Those things we were intelligent and articulate enough to speak about. My great
grandmother was I would say maybe a quadrant Dutch descendant. Okay, so we were aware of those types of things. But we didn't dwell on them.

JL: I see.

AC: We didn't used to let those things kind of hold you back. We were taught to be competitive. And as you know, if you're familiar with Catholic parochial institutions, they teach
competition. And we had white and black students. So no, I don't think the environment was such that we were so conscious of any negative aspect of being African American in a white society.
Other than maybe when I was-in 1960 I participated in a, what we call a regent contest, oratorical contest. I was selected from my school to represent them in an oratorical contest we
had in Brooklyn for a scholarship. And it dealt with the issue of race because it coincided with the Kennedy campaign, you know.

JL: [Unintelligible]?

AC: So those issues-yeah. Those issues were alive at that point. Well they were actually alive before that point, you know, I was aware of the things that happened to Emmett Till and things
like that. But the environment wasn't such as to hold you back psychologically. And like I said, materially we had everything, you know, you could find anywhere else, movies, you know,
professionals in the community.