African American Studies
Frank Belton was raised in the Morrisania neighborhood of the South Bronx for most of his life. He left in January of 1960 to attend Morgan State College, now Morgan State University, and returned to the South Bronx after receiving his degree in June of 1965. In the first interview session Frank discussed growing up in the Morrisania neighborhood. In this session he talks about his return to the South Bronx and the changes that he noticed.
When Frank returned from Morgan State, he moved only a few blocks from his parents home on Chisholm Street, to Teller Ave and 168th. After becoming a graduate assistant at NYU, he became the interim Executive Director of the Claremont Center. This was the center for the Claremont Village, a low income public housing program built in the South Bronx in the 60’s. It was made up of 3 main sections, the Morrisania Houses, Butler Houses, and Webster Houses that stretched from 168th between 3rd and Webster, to 171st. Frank says that 70 percent of those living in these homes were single-family, single-parent homes. He also described how many of those living in the Claremont Houses were on welfare which is connected to the number of single-parent homes as well. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s a person could not get welfare if the father was in the house, so many fathers would quietly disappear, or wound up in jail, or the children were born out of wedlock. He says that this eroded the black and Hispanic families which lead to the erosion of the communities and community housing.
Frank Belton took over as the Executive Director of the Claremont Center in 1974 after an embezzlement and corruption problem with the previous director. This meant Frank had a lot of work to do to fix up the program. He speaks about the decentralization and Johnson’s War on Poverty, as well as the anti-poverty programs that went along with that that were very corrupt. He also served on the Morrisania Planning Board to try to bring additional programs to help out the community. During this time he also mentions again the changes in the school system in the mid 60’s and the emergence of the Black Power image which caused the attitudes of the black students to change. This change in the students also changed the attitudes of the teachers who frequently left during this time. There were 2 strikes in the 60’s that closed down the school system. By working in the community center, Frank was able to directly help the youth to make a difference in their lives and say that he help a lot of kids from the development get into college with scholarships. He also created programs such as basketball and women’s track to give the kids something else to do in their free time. He also created a safe haven free of gangs for the community. He was the first director to serve more than 2 years in the position. While discussing the deterioration of the Bronx, he also notes the changes for the better that occurred in the 80’s after the Bronx received national attention.
Belton, Frank. Interview 2. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Belton, Frank Interview 2.mp3 (133316 kB)