African American Studies
Gene Norman’s family first moved to Clairemount Parkway and Third Avenue in the Bronx. He was an only child and his father was not living with him. His mother worked as a housemaid and later as a nurse. The neighborhood was predominately African-American and he attended PS 23 and PS 9. These grade schools had tracked ability levels, which were determined by standardized testing. He was always in the “1” classes and noticed that there were significantly less African-Americans in those classes. He attended Junior High School 52 and noticed a change in the makeup of the student body. Students had to travel further to get to the school and because of this there were students from many different neighborhoods.
When he was in third grade, he moved to Kelly Street. At the time, there were not many African-Americans living on the block. One of his best friends was Colin Powell and for fun they would play seasonal street games. Also, the movies provided another source of entertainment. Adults would play numbers or participate in other ways in the underground economy, so it’s called.
He attended Morris High School and remembers the school being racially mixed, even though the neighborhood it was in was predominately African-American. When he entered high school, he was well aware that he wanted to go to college. Music was important to him when he was going through high school. He listened to several styles of music, which he believes is due to the many cultures he was exposed to. He enjoyed going to dances and listening to live music with his family. When he was 12, he got interested in Latin Music.
He attended Hunter College for a short time and then decided to join the Marines. When he returned from the Marines, in 1956, he noticed great changes in his neighborhood. For one, many of the middle class families had moved out, making room for new immigrants to move in. Two, there was an increase in drug use.
He developed his love for architecture in the Marines from traveling to different parts of the world. His first job was with an architecture firm as a messenger. About a year later he was promoted to a Junior Draftsmen. He did notice some discrimination in the firm, but during the 1960’s this went away and his career soared.
He married a woman he met before joining the Marines and they moved to the Monroe Houses. Initially, the tenants were screened to promote a good community. However, as the original tenants moved out, new tenants were not put through as rigorous a screening process and the complex began to decline. He noticed a drastic difference between living in the housing projects and the Co-ops. The co-ops were more of a family environment, where as in the projects people isolated themselves.
In 1972, he began work with the Urban Development Corporation. At the same time, the Bronx fires were ravaging his old Kelly Street neighborhood. He reflects on his childhood and believes that the children growing up in that area today are missing out on a lot of the things that made his childhood great. The lack an active neighborhood and teachers that push them.
Norman, Gene. Date of interview unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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