African American Studies


Rosemary Brown, a civil rights activist and long-time Bronx resident, was interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project on April 21, 2005. Rosemary Brown and her large family of eight (eventually nine) first moved from Harlem to 1319 Prospect Ave. at the corner of 168th Street in 1940, when the Bronx was an especially good place for African American families, because it offered schools, better apartments, safer conditions, and a community where everyone looked out for each other. Prospect Ave. was a tree-lined block where children could play outside, and had residents of various races. The integrated community began to change approximately a year after the Brown family moved there. Rosemary’s father worked as a chef at Grand Central station and her mother worked at home, maintaining the family's three-bedroom apartment.

Rosemary attended PS 40, a predominantly Jewish junior high school where she was one of the few African American students. During that time, she also attended St. Augustine’s, headed by Rev. Edler Hawkins who helped to create a tight community and a church that offered services such as clubs, choir, a place for children to come after school, and assistance programs to those who were in need. After PS 40, Rosemary attended Walton High school on Jerome Ave and Kingsbridge which proved to be a negative experience because she was one of the twelve African American students, who were constantly discriminated against, by both students and faculty. She was excluded from clubs, rewards, and special recognition.

In 1954, a time of stability and safety in the Bronx, Rosemary moved into Soundview public housing. Soundview housing was difficult to get into, well-integrated, and offered a unique, warm community in which everyone watched out for everyone else. She also joined Soundview Presbyterian church. This church was run by Bob Davidson, a white minister, and was very political and active in the civil rights movement. Davidson was especially interested in encouraging and providing an integrated community so he got to know the Soundview area by knocking on the doors of the housing projects and inviting all to his church community.

During the 1960s, Rosemary first got involved in political activism through her work with the CORE group of the Bronx that boycotted White Castle’s racist employment procedures. Though the CORE organization was national, Rosemary found the Bronx chapter to be more active than the rest, and was most ready to embrace the philosophy of dignity upon which the organization was based. CORE was open to all, and even had the participation of two white men Dave Singleton and Bruce Caulkins, who were violently targeted by the counter-demonstrators (typically the National Renaissance Party). While Rosemary Brown remembers the intensity of the protests, she can not recall a significant police presence at any of them. Eventually the protests did succeed because White Castle changed its hiring policy.

Shortly after these demonstrations, Rosemary attended the 1963 march on Washington where she continued her political activism. This form of activism caused a divide within the four hundred to five hundred member church population because there was a question as to how political the church as an institution and community should be. As the 1960s continued on, the Bronx became more troubled as drugs, specifically heroin, entered the scene and the housing projects began to deteriorate.

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