African American Studies
Patricia Payne and Marilyn Russell are both college professors who grew up in the Patterson Houses – a housing project. As a child in the 1950s, Marilyn moved there from Harlem with her family: her mother, a stay-at-home mom, her father, a shipping clerk, and her siblings. Her parents were from the South, and she recalls the housing projects as very safe and clean, as well as very diverse.
Both Marilyn remember attending after school programs at their public schools, being supervised by tutors of the same sex, as well as having librarians read to children at the library. Meanwhile, Patricia kept to herself mostly and played with friends at her house, rather than outside. They both recall society being very gender-normed and being taught home economics at school, as well as being taught to cook at an early age.
Both were very smart students, and Marilyn recalls her mother encouraging her to be different and participate in class, in a time when academics were oriented mostly toward men. They also remember most households had two parents, even if the parents were not married, and hardly mothers worked. For Marilyn, however, people thought she didn’t have a dad since he was never home. In reality, he worked 3 jobs and couldn’t be there.
The two of them recall the modesty in people’s behavior then: public displays of affection weren’t often seen and people didn’t curse much. Though Marilyn never went to church, she recalls being involved with the youth center of a Methodist temple, where her mother sang. Meanwhile, Patricia recalls going to a Baptist church every Sunday with her grandmother.
While the two girls were going through puberty, they recall being told not to let boys touch them, and Marilyn was given a book about puberty called “Growing Up and Liking It.” Despite this, boys and girls would hang out, have sex, and girls would end up getting pregnant as early as 6th grade in 1961. But because both lived in households with parents who wouldn’t tolerate that, they never ended up engaging in sexual activities so early on. As the 60s moved on, Marilyn recalls an increase drug use in the projects and helping a teenager who’d overdosed, meanwhile Patricia recalls being taught to fear drugs and “junkies” by her parents. Patricia also recalls that throughout the 60s, the quality of living in the projects declined as populations shifted to lower-income tenants.
Patricia recalls social expectations of marriage: the men work, pay bills, and take care of the woman, while the woman takes care of the home. She married her husband on those principles. On the other hand, Marilyn always wanted to be more independent, having seen her mother live under gender-norms.
They both went to college, Marilyn went to City University and Patricia went to Bronx Community. Patricia earned a degree in education in 1985, after being in and out of college, and she later went on to work at Monroe College and became Chair of her department. On the other hand, Marilyn got a degree in Health Administration and ended up working as a counselor at Bronx Community, where she graduated.
They finally recall that during the 60s, a lot of the stay-at-home moms would have affairs with men they met at bars during the day. Patricia recalls her mother having a fling and telling her father about it, but he didn’t believe her because she was 5. There also were men who had two families with two different women, oftentimes one building away from each other.
Marilyn finally recalls the political activism in the 60s, but being unaware of its significance.
Payne, Patricia & Marilyn Russell. Date of Interview Unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
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