African American Studies


Dennis Coleman is a longtime Bronx activists, political leader, and educator. This interview examines his experiences with the Board of Education in the Bronx. Coleman served in the New York State Senate from 1955-1956 and was on a committee that examined different education programs throughout the state, especially in inner city schools. When he returned to the Bronx, he was appointed to serve on a local Board of Education in 1966.

Coleman discusses the 1968 Bronx Teachers strike, specifically the actions of teachers on both sides of the picket line, the issues, parental involvement, and the participation of advocacy groups, like the NAACP.

Coleman and Harriet McFeeters go into detail about a historic and very tense board meeting, where Coleman was physically assaulted by union members to prevent him from voting for an African-American man nominated for a position as a principle. It was fairly common to have violence and protests at the school board meetings. He claims that a major reason for all the tension was the fact that the United Federation of Teachers did not like the involvement of the community in the school system.

To try and quell the tension, a new pre-screening process completed by the superintendent before the board interviewed the candidates was created. This caused a tremendous problem, because basically no African-Americans, no matter how qualified, made it through the pre-screening process. Gwendolyn Baker complained about this to the city and this sparked a major debate resulting in affirmative action policies being implemented in the hiring process throughout the entire city.

He claims that his jobs at the telephone company helped him to hold firm to his beliefs concerning the education system in New York. He discusses a debate concerning the small amount of New York City high school graduates able to pass the entry exam to work for the phone company in comparison to graduates from other counties and states.

Coleman experienced first hand the corruptness of politics but was able to rise above it because of the support he had from the community. McFeeters experienced the political corruption during attempts to integrate the schools and rose above it due to the support of the community as well. Coleman also gives instances of ballot box stuffing in the Bronx, one incident resulted in the Carol Trotter Lawsuit and others resulted in an investigation by the FBI.

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Coleman, Dennis Interview 2.mp3 (131146 kB)