African American Studies
Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison, Natasha Lightfoot, and Claude Mangum
Interview took place on January 26, 2005
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Harriet McFeeters was a teacher, administrator, staff developer, and Assistant District Superintendent in the New York School System and originally from the Bronx. She begins by talking about the way in which the Bronx schools became integrated. Dennis Coleman says that they had to try and come up with a number of new ways attempt to comply with the federal laws on integrating schools. One of the ways they integrated the schools was through rezoning. In addition to the need to integrate the children attending the schools, there was a need to ensure there were teachers and administrators working in the schools. Additionally, the curriculum needed to be changed and ESL programs had to be developed. One of the byproducts of all the reforms was the teachers’ strike of 1968. Mcfeeters discusses the Instructional Administrators Program.
The interview then switches to discuss Dennis Coleman’s upbringing. He was born in 1931 in Harlem. However, during the depression he was sent to live with his grandmother in Jamaica in the West Indies. Both of his parents were originally from Jamaica, but became US citizens. He came back when he was 12 due to the violence in the West Indies caused by World War II.
He attended Junior High 40, now called Ridder Place. He lived on Fulton Avenue and 168th street. He was skipped a grade and put into advance classes because of the excellent education he received in the West Indies. He attended DeWitt Clinton high School and later Morris High School. He was disappointed to learn that despite being an honors graduate from a good junior high, he could not compete as well as freshmen coming from other schools in the Bronx. The make up of Junior High 40, was mostly white. People in the neighborhood surrounding the school were unhappy about the fact that there were some Blacks attending the school and consequently Coleman and his friends had many close encounters with them.
He was active with the NAACP Youth Council and youth groups. He did not attend many West Indian events with his parents other then Cricket Matches. He listened to Duke of Iron. He also went to music halls to hear West Indian Singers. He mentions many leaders in his community that were instrumental in helping workers. He was very involved with the various politicians and campaigns of leaders of his community.
He was elected a state senator in 1965 running against Murray LaWinter. He was the only man of color to be on the State Sentate from the Bronx at that time. He participated in the midnight march. He considers his major political achievements as beating the Democratic Machine in getting elected and being the first person of color to do it. He credits his victory to the support of the community he gained from being the president of the Bronx NAACP and his instrumental role in organizing transportation to the historic march on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King.
When he was a child in Jamaica during WWII, he and many of his friends wanted to be pilots, and because of this he joined the navy reserves to start training as a pilot. Due to extended training circumstances, he was put on active duty and therefore not eligible for the draft. However, he moved to Washington D.C to attend Georgetown University and was accidentally drafted and discusses a theory as to why that happened. He served in Germany for 21 months in the Army. He also discusses race relations in the army during the time he was stationed in Germany.
Coleman, Dennis and Harriet McFeaters. Interview 1. January 26, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Coleman, Dennis and Harriet McFeaters.mp3 (129050 kB)