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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Origins

Clips from the Geraldine Calhoun Interview


GC: There was a mayor here at that time. He decided that the West end was not what he so chose it to be. There is a lot of issues that the teenagers - there is things that I heared that the normal public did not hear. It was like a cleansing of Rockville Centre.

LS: A cleansing?

GC: A cleansing of Rockville Centre. They wanted all the blacks out, and all of the Jews out. I was in eigth grade when I came to New York, but kids tend to hear things that adults don't hear. Because the West End was predominantly black, they decided to bring urban renewal in. Urban removal came in because our pastor at that time sort of encouraged the people to sell their homes in the West End. They got predominantly nothing as far as value for their homes. The homes were no worse in the West End than they were in the East End of Rockville Centre, or the North or South. There were some house like five years old, but because it was in the West End, they gave them a little money to buy out and leave. There was a big turnover. They were just going to tear down and rebuild factories initially we had heard. But my mom and my aunt and maybe about ten or twelve other women went out and they fought to have a place after the urban renewal would come in and tear down the homes. That they would not just take the peoples' home but give them a place to live. We rente so we didn't own our home so we did not have a choice of saying I am not going to sell my house. The person who owned our home owned a few homes in Rockville Centre so they sold the homes that they owned.

LS: How many homes were sold? How many houses were in the West End?

GC: A minimum of 50.

LS: 50 houses?

GC: Minimum. Because the West End went as far as Lakeview Ave. to the Fire Station. To the railroad station would be a better landmark. There were homes all over the place. In this cleanout of homes, they built Old Mill Court first. They actually built a row of town houses that sit on Centre Ave. That was the first project that they did; and the next project they did was Old Mill Court. Meehan Lane came a little while after. They made a lot of promises and said they were going to build attached homes for people to purchase, but it never happened. In that quest, my mom, NAACP, and another organization called CORE, they all got together, and they fought, marched. On many days we were at the train station as young children, passing out flyers, encouraging the community of Rockville Centre to know exactly what was going on. Because, if you weren't privileged to what was going on, you would never know. It's not like now with TV, and we can watch what goes on at the town meetings now. That's what happened back then and it's because of my mom. My mom was always concerned about the community she lived in. And my aunts. If you know when I look back it's like really great to understand people that were concerned about their children; what kind of communities that their children were in because that's when we came to New York. Because I'm actually from Tennessee; I came here when I was 14 and my mom was always on top of her kids. There are friends of my mine, we talk now and I never went to their houses, I didn't actually know where they lived, and the community is not that large, but my mom always sat her children where she could place her hands on. And we were not allowed to travel all over the place. She was a mom that was very protective. And there was actually only five of us - my oldest three siblings, they were all grown when we came to New York - so it was only the five of us that she kept us in until she knew exactly where we were. So basically why I'm concerned about my community is because I was taught who showed me how you care about where you live.

LS: Well you're clearly your mother's daughter. So, let's talk a little bit about life before you came to Rockville Centre. If you could tell me about your earliest childhood memories: where you were born, what your mom did, etc.

GC: I was raised in Chattangooga, Tennessee. I was born in Spring City, Tenn. I understand that at the age of four our house burned down, and we moved to the city.

LS: And the we being?

GC: My mom and my siblings.

LS: Was there a dad in your life?

GC: No. My father was not in my life. My siblings' dad, my mom's husband; I don't think they ever divorced, I don't really recall, so when we left he was there. I don't know but we moved. We must not have been in Tennessee very long because we moved to Indiana. I went to kingdergarten, and I remember having my vaccination and laying on the little pallet. For some reason I remember that big old thing was on my arm - the scab as it came out. I remember Halloween because that Halloween I was dressed as a little boy; my brother as the girl, and my older sister and my cousin, you know they reverterd their sex. I remember going out trick or treating that year.

LS: In Indiana?

GC: In Indiana.

LS: Did your mom work outside the home?

GC: My mom did domestic work for a living. We only stayed in Indiana for like nine months.

LS: So you were like five years old when you went to Indiana? And do you recall where you lived and what kind of places you went to?

GC: We had to have lived in a house, because we lived with my great aunt so we had to have lived in a house. I was just too young to really recall. I don't remember too much about Indiana because it was Gary, Indiana. We were out there a couple years ago, after Michael Jackson died because he lived - we ended up passing by his house and we had to go look at it. I was just entirely too young to recall, but I know we had to have lived in a house because back then I don't think they had so many projects.

LS: So after Indiana...

GC: We went back to Chattanooga, Tenn. We lived near my grandmother, in a house right between two churches, up on a hill. It was a really high yard because you couldn't jump down to the sidewalk, you had to had to walk down the stairs. Then we moved to the projects on the other side of town.