African American Studies
Interviewee: Doreen Lewis
Interviewer: Mark Naison
Summarized by Alice Stryker
Both of Doreen’s parents came from the south, her mother from Virginia and her father from North Carolina. Her father is Cherokee Indian and met her mother in Virginia. When he returned from WWII, her parents moved to the Bronx. She discusses the way her father identified himself, whether it was as a Native American or as a light-skinned black. She claims his identity shifted from one to the other as he got older. Her father worked for Swift and Company, who were involved with the meat business.
Although her parents peoples were Methodist and Baptist, she was raised Catholic. The family heard about the opportunities in the Bronx through the many people that had moved their from her mother’s hometown, which was located on a mountain.
Her family moved into the Edenwald Houses in the Spring of 1955. At the time, the buildings were multiracial, but mostly white. She loved growing up in these projects. They provided a safe, fun, and clean environment for a child to grow up in. In the late 1960’s she began noticing that gangs were forming, most notably the Black Spades. When the family first moved in, the area was very rural. She said the roads were unpaved and there was lots of grass. Her grade school was mostly white and her junior high school was more mixed. Consequently, she hardly ever listened to Latin music and grew up listening o rhythm and blues. There were lots of organized and supervised activities for children both at the community center in the projects as well as at the local public schools. She also remembers a strong family environment in the projects. There was hardly a single parent family.
She first became aware of race as she was preparing to enter middle school. She describes and incident in which her father told her not to mark down that she was Native American, but rather mark down that she was Negro. Additionally, there was racial tension between the students at her junior high school. Her sister, who was very light-skinned, was taunted and picked on by darker-skinned black girls.
She was deeply effected by the Black Power movement and became very afro-centric. This spread throughout her middle school as well as the Edenwald Houses. As this feeling began to spread, she claims more and more white families moved out of the Edenwald projects. She adopted this style as a way of protecting herself and attempting to fit in. Even though her mother was very light-skinned, she participated in the afro-centric movement as well.
She attended Evander Childs High School, which was predominantly white. Gang violence never entered the school but rather stayed outside. Around this time, men started coming home from Vietnam and she began to notice the increasing heroin problem. During this time, she also felt that Edenwald was becoming more dangerous. There was increased violence everywhere.
She discusses the experimental and early years of hiphop.
Her mother remained in the Edenwald projects for some years, in spite the dangers. She was always well respected, even by the most dangerous hoods.
Lewis, Doreen. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Lewis, Doreen.mp3 (109410 kB)