African American Studies
When Jim was 14 his family moved to the Bronx from Brooklyn. The family found the Bronx through the New York City Housing Authority and moved to the Eastchester Projects. The development had been around for some time, but there were very few black families living in the building. His parents saw the move as a step up in the world. They had 8 children and the Eastchester projects provided them with more space for their family. When the Nathaniels moved, Jim’s father worked as a stevedore in a market in lower Manhattan. Jim quickly made friends because of his athleticism. He loved basketball and met many of his friends on the courts. He described a game called “5-2”, which they frequently played. In addition to his parents, many adults in the building and neighborhood would serve as mentors to the boys growing up in the area.
Jim began high school in the Bronx at Evander. The school was predominately white, with some Black students coming from the Boston Road area. He said he felt as though he was behind the White students because of the way they participated in class and how they responded to questions. The White students tended to only socialize with other White students and Black students only socialized with other Black students. He and his friends formed a social club that they called Club International. They had blazers that they would wear and were exclusively from the Eastchester Projects. He describes the teachers at Evander as willing to work with the students who wanted to learn, regardless of race. When he was a junior, he began playing on Evander’s basketball team. When entering high school, he had no intention of going to college. However, his guidance counselor really influenced him and he ended up going to Pace University.
In the 1950’s a group of Black men in the Eastchester projects were involved with the N.A.A.C.P protest of a White Castle in Aliton that was not hiring Blacks. He and his parents were not involved, but many families and adults in the Eastchester Projects were getting involved with social movements. There was racial tension in the Bronx. Jim describes a lot of tension between the Italian students and the Black students. One day Jim was walking home from school, and a gang of Italians surrounded him. Fortunately he was saved because he used to play basketball with one of them.
In 1959-1960, he saw heroin hit the Bronx. When it first got to his projects, many of the users would get on the Dinky and go to Harlem to get the drugs. In 1960-1962, he first noticed White Flight. There were more break-ins and Eastchester in general became less safe. In 1964, he left on got his own place in the Bronx on Carpen Ave, near 219th street. Prior to drugs, if a person was jumped, he or should would only be beat up. However, with the onset of drugs and gangs, guns became the weapon of choice.
Primarily, his work has been with city governments. He is now a term CEO for a nonprofit group. His wife grew up in Melrose Housing. He ends the interview with some of his recent experiences in the Bronx and with his thoughts on current Bronx culture and youth.
Nathaniel, James. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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