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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Family

Clips from the Fred Brewington Interview


FB: Well, I was, for a lack of a better term, like the poster child of the desegregation of the Malvern School District. When I was in third grade, one of the things that happened was the litigation over desegregation of schools on Long Island came here. That whole thing just came to a head. And one of the test cases was changing the Woodfield Road School which no longer exists. It is now the Lakeview Public Library. The changing of the Woodfield Road School in terms of its makeup by bussing some of its children to the then Lender Place School in the largely predominantly white community. So kids that went to the predominantly black school were moved into the white school.

The reason I say the poster child is because I was quoted in the papers on the first day of school and they asked me, "What did your mother say?" Because my mother would not let me be bussed. She said, "You're close enough to walk. You walk to school like I did." And I said, "Okay. Not a problem," because I never gave my mother lip. And, interestingly enough, she had told me a couple of things. One, she said, "Mind your manners. You don't embarrass anybody." I said, "That's fine." She said, "Remember, stay off people's lawns because they don't want you over there anyway." And I said, "Okay." And I walked on the sidewalks, wasn't disrespectful of people's lawns.

So the people at the press asked me when I got to school, "What did your mother tell you before you came to school?" She said, "Don't walk on people's lawns because they don't want us over here anyway." That was the quote that appeared in the paper. So I've been putting my foot in my mouth ever since. But the reality was is that it was a very strife-filled time in the Malvern School District. And if you go back and look at the archives, it was because of the people in the Lakeview community who had become fixtures on Long Island as advocates of Dr. Lloyd Delaney, Lincoln Lynch, Reverend Whiting, which are some of the names that come to mind of people that were taking leadership roles there and trying to pull together that community.

And the community actually--it was a good point in time because you had people that were interested in making change and did come out and participate.

DT: So can you tell me what your family structure was like in this time period?

FB: Say that again.

DT: Your family structure. You know, Mom, Dad, sisters.

FB: I grew up in a single parent household. I have one brother and one sister, both older. I'm ten years younger than my sister and 14 years younger than my brother. So growing up for me was largely growing up by myself. My sister was in the house. She got married shortly after she graduated high school. My brother went into the service and came back from the service. But I had structured people that were involved in my life. That was a big issue in the community. There were people there that were there to help support, and that was a good thing for me. And I was actively involved in school activities, sports and things of that nature.

DT: So where did you grow up? I'm guessing the town of Hempstead was also the village as well?

FB: No, I grew up in the town of Hempstead in the community called Lakeview. Lakeview is part of the town of Hempstead. It is an unincorporated hamlet, for lack of a better term. If we want to get very technical, according to census jargon, it's a COP, which is a census data place, but I don't want to get too technical for you. And Lakeview was, was as I mentioned--it started out as many other communities did on Long Island, as a farming community and a bedroom community for New York City.

My grandfather worked for the railroads and also my family had chickens and hogs and served as kind of the central place for the collection of African-Americans in that small community when there was very few black people there. So it was--I'm told, at least, by my Mom--it was not uncommon for my grandparents to have dinner for other families in the neighborhood to come and have a barbecue there because they were feeding folks in the community. And my mother was, I think, one of the, if not the only, African­American to graduate from a high school class in the Malvern School District which now is 60-70 percent African-American.

DT: So have you lived anywhere besides Long Island or New York?

FB: Yeah. I grew up on Long Island. I went to college in Albany. I went to law school in Boston. I have worked in Washington, DC and lived in Washington, DC. Worked in Silver Spring, Maryland and lived in Alexandria. I have had the opportunity to do some traveling and see a lot of other things. But I ended up--I had a chance to stay in DC because I worked with the Senate legal counsel, to perhaps go back there. And I decided to come back home, and I think it was the right move.

DT: So did you find that your experiences changed when you moved from area to areas?

FB: Oh, sure. The difference between Boston and New York is like--even though you have Boston that is oftentimes considered to be this bastion of liberality because of the colleges and students that are there, it really is not. It's very provincial. It's very segregated in a lot of different ways because the communities are so divided. North Boston and Concord and the other places are real different than some of the places that we see here in New York. It was more small town-ish than it was city-ish to me when I went to Boston. And I saw some very intense divided racial issues first-hand that were both violent and scary.

One day I'm walking down the street, going to law school. I had my overalls on and carrying my books. And a guy comes up to me while I'm walking and rolls his window down in the car and I'm guessing he's going to ask me for directions. He looks at me and he says, "You f-ing snake" and spits in my face and rolls the window back up and speeds off.

Not too long after that, I saw a young African-American man get beat with his head split wide open with a baseball bat in a Burger King parking lot by five young white men. And then the police brought a suspect to my front door in a car to ask me, "Is this one of the guys?" And I asked him, "Are you crazy?" You don't bring somebody to their house and say, "By the way, this is the guy who can finger you. This is where he lives." It was not a suspect, and the gentleman in the back seat was saying, "Mr. Police, just tell him it wasn't me. Tell him." And I said, "No, it wasn't him." But I then read the police out and said, "Are you crazy? What are you thinking? What could you be thinking?"

But I saw those deep differences that existed even in the communities there.

DT: Do you feel like they can be found at Hempstead?

FB: Well, there are some portions of the town of Hempstead which are clearly racially divided. One of the things that's been recognized by elected officials in Nassau County that Nassau County itself is the second, if not the first, most segregated suburban community in the country. And as a result of that, one of the things is is that means that Hempstead has to share in that to a large degree because a large part within the county of Nassau is the town of Hempstead.

The reality is, yeah, you can go from community to community and see stark differences from neighborhood to neighborhood of segregation in terms of housing. One of the clearest examples that exist is simply stmi here right in the village of Hempstead and go down Front Street and then make a left on Washington. What you see is the communities as you go from Hempstead to Garden City. It's like...

DT: Night and day.

FB: It's like two different worlds. Even the size of the streets, the size of the trees, the maturity of the trees, where the trees create this wonderful cascade view in Garden City. Then you come to Hempstead and it's as though you stepped back into a time warp. But that is not something that's unusual on Long Island, nor is it unusual necessarily in the town of Hempstead. There are different parts of East Meadow where there are no African-Americans that are really living to any extent in terms of large numbers. There are different other parts of communities. You may see an influx coming into certain parts, parts of Jericho place limitations there. Oyster Bay, which is a separate town, but you'll start to go--that area you start to see a great lack of diversity.