African American Studies


Paula Morris’ earliest memories of the Bronx are of Ritter Place. It was majority African American and had a great sense of community. Her father was initially a police officer, but later in life became a photographer. She was always aware that her mother, Maxine Sullivan, was a famous musician. Her mother’s fame, however, did not affect her upbringing. She still had to live by the same rules as everyone else she knew.

She attended P.S 54 for elementary school. The sense of community she experienced on her block continued at the school. Parents were always involved with their children. The school was multi-racial and she had friends from all different races and who lived on different blocks. The school did have a few African American teachers; for example her math and kindergarten teachers. During this time, her mother was still performing in Manhattan and many musicians were still coming to their house to have jam sessions. Early in her grade school career, she attended at Dance school in her neighborhood. She was best at acrobatics. In the third grade, she was sent to boarding school for the year at Onteora Central School. That year her mother was doing a lot of traveling and did not want to leave Paula at home or with baby sitters.

She attended junior high at P.S 40. Here, she began playing the Cello, which she was allowed to bring home on weekends to practice. She was talented enough to be in the borough wide orchestra for two years. She was also in their marching band. Through her involvement with the Bronx orchestra, she met a lot of future famous musicians, like Jimmy Owens. When she was PS 40, her mother began telling her she had to think about a career. She thought about something in the medical profession and started volunteering at Lincoln Hospital.

After, P.S 40, she attended Evander Childs High School. Her academic experience here was more challenging and she was a cheerleader. The year she started at Evander, was the year that there was a big fight between Evander students and students from DeWitt Clinton High School after a football game. After high school, she began working at Equitable Life Insurance Society as a messenger. However, shortly thereafter she began nursing school at King’s County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. It was a three year residential program. When she graduated, she first worked as the head nurse of open-heart surgery at Einstein Hospital. Though this was a very stressful job, she really enjoyed it.

When she finished the program she returned to the Bronx. At the time, other neighborhoods were being hit by the drug problem. Fortunately, Ritter Place was never touched. In 1969 she got married and moved to Riverdale. However, through working with her mother, she would frequently come down to Prospect Avenue and see the destruction caused by the fires.

In 1975, her mother founded The House That Jazz Built. This was a program to teach children about music and Jazz. Paula served as the fiscal officer. Many people on the board of directors were former musicians. The parents and children participating were very enthusiastic and involved. They would frequently perform at different venues around the Bronx as a means of fundraising. One of the biggest problems they encountered was the low literacy rate of the students entering the program. Because of this, they began working to address the literacy problem as well.

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Morris, Paula Part 1.mp3 (50210 kB)
Morris, Paula Part 2.mp3 (8728 kB)