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Hofstra University Library Special Collections

Diverse Suburbs Oral History Collection

Theme: Schools/Education

Clips from the Patrick Duggan Interview


PD: I was an assistant pastor at the-associate minister was the title-at the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Jamaica, New York. That's where I was ordained, and it was the first church I joined as an adult. I was there for about-oh, about eight years, eight years. We were members of that church-members of that church, actually, since-for about 13 years, 12 or 13 years, but in ministry there since 1980-no, it wasn't '87-since '89, so about six years I was in ministry there.

SC: You said that was the first church you joined as an adult.

PD: Yes.

SC: So does that mean that prior to that you were not as active in the church or did...

PD: Well, yeah. I was raised Catholic, and probably until about 10 or 11, attended the church. And toward that time in my life, my parents used to allow us to go by ourselves. They didn't go, and they didn't make us do that. So from that age until-I guess I was about 20-I don't know-whatever I was in 1982-I didn't really go to church. I mean, I was-I thought about spiritual things, and I actually started-I would say developed­entered into a relationship with God probably in my-when I was like around 19 or 20, when I started thinking seriously, but not consistently. You know, I mean, I would have my times, but mostly I was just kind of being a young man and stuff.

SC: Was there an event or a revelation that spoke to you and said, "Okay, you know, you really need to get serious about church and"-or that calling? Like when did that calling for you happen?

PD: The calling to the Christian faith began when I was in a choir at-I went to Harvard University. I was an undergrad there from 1976 to 1980. I graduated in 1980. And I was-I saw a group called the Harvard-Radcliffe Cumba [phonetic] Singers. Now they're just called Harvard Cumba Singers, because Radcliffe is no longer around. I saw them in my freshman year, and it was a group that celebrated the black experience at Harvard, and found it in the '79s, early '70s, during the whole civil rights era. And they used to sing contemporary gospel, some contemporary secular music, and a lot of traditional-both traditional or negro spirituals and European classical Christian music. And they were very good. So the freshman year, I saw them, and I became a part of the choir in my sophomore year. And being a part of that choir, you know, we were singing a lot of gospel songs and songs about God. That dealt with my whole spirit and my life, because, you know, I was doing some crazy stuff as a young man. And then the examples of some of the other students and particularly of the choir director, who I used to watch. I mean, he was a man of great faith.

SC: Right.

PD: And that sort of really drew me into the things of God. And so it was a good-it was an experience over time.

SC: Yeah. So it was a process.

PD: Yeah. Right.

SC: Like baking a cake.

PD: Right. Right. So by the time, you know-and then I met Patricia, and she'd always-I mean, it wasn't even an open issue for her. She was raised in the Baptist church in Kansas City.

SC: Oh, wow.

PD: So that was different for me. I'd never been around anybody like-who was like, yeah, you know, church, God, Jesus. This is what it is.

SC: Right. Sunday [unintelligible].

PD: Yes. And I was kind of like, wow. And then, you know, after I graduated from college and I was actually dealing with those things and met the man who eventually became my pastor. And before I actually joined the church, I was involved in Amway with Patricia. And at one of the business conventions, the speaker started talking about Jesus and at the end did an alter call and...

SC: And then you came...

PD: Yeah. At an Amway convention.

SC: At an Amway convention. Oh, my goodness. That is [unintelligible].

PD: Which is important, because-and I-you know, it didn't really mean anything as much as it does now, in reflection, in retrospect, because what I've taken it to mean is that I'm not to have a traditional ministry, that, you know, I must be about different things, you know, in terms of the walk, because, you know, I was trying to get rich. And [unintelligible] is God's, you know.

SC: Yeah, exactly, [unintelligible]-got other plans for you. Right?

PD: Right. Right.

SC: Now, is Patricia-Patricia is your wife?

PD: Yes.

SC: And so she-when you-I guess she was the one that you said had a more traditional background. You met her at Harvard?

PD: Yes.

SC: So how many children do you have?

PD: We have three sons.

SC: Wow.

PD: My mother was-ran our family. And both my parents are pretty extraordinary people.
They were not regular people. My dad was a Jamaican immigrant. He came in 1943. And I've just-I've been doing research on my family. So I've learned a lot, mostly in 2009 when I took a sabbatical. But he came over on a-through special legislation that they made for the Caribbean to fulfill-they needed people to work because of World War II. And he came over through that law, which-and I found an article on the law and the statistics on these workers. So he became part of the Steelworkers Union early in that-around that time. I don't know what year exactly. But he worked with them for his whole life, practically, after that, from 1943 or '45 or whatever it was on until he retired in 1986, I think it was-1982. And he died in 1999. But he-so he was a cabinet maker when he came here, and he became a laborer in a copper mill, copper refinery, Phelps­ Dodge [phonetic] Refinery in Long Island City in Queens. While he was at Phelps­ Dodge, he became an electrician, an industrial electrician, you know. So he was a type of person who was always trying to advance himself. He used to-he built furniture. He­ we never had a repairman until-until I was grown, I didn't know what it meant to have a repairman in the house. He fixed everything, the cars, the refrigerator, the plumbing, the-you know. It was amazing.

SC: Yeah.

PD: So that was my dad. My mother was born in White Plains in 19-oh, gosh. She's a couple of years younger than my dad. She went to Howard University, which was then one of the few-one of the black colleges in the country, on a Pepsi-Cola scholarship. A Pepsi-Cola scholarship was a precursor to the National Merit Scholarship Program. But I think it was First in National Achievement Scholarship. But they used to pay full ride plus a bus ticket or whatever-passage home once a year for four years for what they called negro students from around the country. And, actually-no, it was-I believe it was black-I found an article on that too, a study on the progress of some of the students. I think it was mixed, but a portion of them were black students. And so she got four years at Howard, and then she got a scholarship to Howard Law School, where she was a top student. She graduated in 1952. And she was one of these students who helped-she was like a-the equivalent of a paralegal for the Brown vs. Board of Education legislation. So she knew Thurgood Marshall. She knew all of those attorneys, because almost all of them went to Howard. If you were an African American attorney in the '40s and '50s, the only school you could go to was Howard.

SC: Really.

PD: So all of them carne out of Howard. Some of them went into civil rights. Others did other things. But they-she helped write those briefs. And she used to tell stories about that and stuff. So they had-they were all part of that whole great migration, you know, of black people, 6 million people coming to the North from the South, you know, all with this kind of seeking something bigger and better and-you know. And so that was driving them.

SC: So it seems like, to me, from what I'm hearing-is it safe to say that the-like the civil rights and-I guess, is something that's been kind of like pulsing in your family, as far as like your mother, as far as, I guess, that undertone that, you know, black people can achieve in possibly going after-you know, in other words, some people-they don't take advantage of civil rights. They don't excel, you know, for some strange reason, it seems like. I mean, your mother was an attorney. Your father took advantage of a law that brought him here, you know.

PD: Well, I think when I-because I've read about-I think that was sort of a-symptomatic of black people as a whole for the large majority at that time. When you think about 6 million people-not because somebody said go, but on their own, pretty much, moving­ when you study it, it's just like amazing. There was no, you know, law. There was no specific, you know, directive. But people made these individual decisions to leave the South and come to the North, basically because they had Jim Crow [phonetic], and it was still crazy. You know, slavery legally ended, but the system of segregation was killing people. People were getting lynched and what-not-and the fear of that, so they were seeking a better life. So that was kind of like-sort of like in the air.

SC: Right.

PD: And so civil rights-the civil rights movement was sort of the height of that. It wasn't something that started then. It was something that had been happening for decades. And even Martin Luther King-I mean, he really started out in the early '50s. You know what I mean. So by the time you get to 1968 when he's killed, you know, then laws start being passed and all that kind of stuff. This is something that had been part of the culture. Not everybody-you know, you had a lot of folks, you know-when you look at the country in that way-people who didn't migrate, you !mow--didn't do so well as a group economically and all. And then the kids of this generation didn't do as well as that generation.

SC: I see what you're saying.

PD: So it's really that particular time period and who the people were and what they were trying to accomplish that I think my parents were a part of. And-because they were really-it was interesting. People think-and I heard somebody say this--everybody was for civil rights, you know, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. You had a lot of­ you had a range. You had folks who were like, yeah, into it, who would go and get hosed and beat up and all that. But not everybody. Folks were scared.

SC: Exactly.

PD: You know, that was scary.

SC: Right.

PD: You know, that was-and the Black Panthers were happening and all this other stuff. It wasn't like, you know, oh, yeah, we'll do-mixed feelings. People understood and supported what it was about. But probably if anybody ever like took a census, most people went to work every day and-you know what I mean?

SC: Right.

PD: And tried to still do what they were doing, because it was-you know, people died. People got locked up, broken up, killed, whatever. And, you know, that was a certain segment of black folks at that time too. So...