African American Studies


James Blakeney is a long time Bronx resident who grew up in the Patterson Housing Projects. His parents were sharecroppers from North and South Carolina. Neither of his parents received an education beyond the 6th or 8th grade. His father fought in World War II and then returned to the states to live in Queens, where James lived for three years, before moving to the Patterson Houses. His father worked at the mess hall of St. Albans Neighborhood Hospital and left the family, as many fathers were beginning to do, when James was ten years old. Mrs. Blakeney did domestic work, primarily in Queens, and was the sole bread-winner after her husband’s departure. James also had a brother who was eleven years older than him, and lived with the family for a short period of time until he decided to stop attending school and was therefore no longer permitted to live with the Blakeney family.

At that time the Patterson Houses had a unique, tight-knit community feeling among the many diverse residents. A selective screening process that included an interview and review of personal documents such as birth certificates, life insurance, and marriage licenses, was used to choose residents. This process usually weeded out single-parent households and welfare recipients and offered preference to war veterans. James Blakeney explained that the Patterson Houses were a thriving community of African-Americans, Irish, Italians, and Latinos, who looked out for each others children. He felt safe there because he knew the other residents, could play outside in the nighttime, the doors to Patterson were locked at night, a doorman was present, and a group voluntarily patrolled the grounds in addition to the police patrol.

James Blakeney attended PS 18, an elementary school located in an Italian neighborhood that stretched from the school to 153rd street. He also attended Clark Junior High and DeWitt Clinton High School. During this time, he participated in track and field, and began to listen to various jazz artists such as Coltrane, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez. Towards the end of his high school career, he became interested in politics and began to read Baraka’s material, literature from the Panther Party, and various forms of African-American history research. In the late 60’s, Blakeney formed his own service-based political party called the Babylonian party.

Transitions in the neighborhood began towards the end of Blakeney’s elementary school years as the white population began to move out of the Bronx after receiving G.I. loans. G.I. loans were to be given to all World War I veterans, but were primarily granted to white veterans. The Patterson Houses began to change when Blakeney was in eleventh grade because people his age began to use drugs, gangs began to form (perhaps out of the repression of the panther party), the community in the houses lost their sense of civility, and populations residing there began to change.

In 1973, Blakeney began to work as a social worker at Patterson community center. During this time he observed the deterioration of the education system and the increase of gang presence, such as the Black Spades. Blakeney continued to have a passion for various political issues, and continued his work with youth in the Bronx.

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