African American Studies
INTERVIEWERS: Mark Naison
INTERVIEWEES: Richard and Doris Burbridge
SUMMARY BY: Andrew O’Connell
Richard and Doris Burbridge, a married couple now living in Queens but originally from the Morrisania section of the Bronx, discuss in this interview how their families came to arrive in the Bronx and their early experiences growing up in the borough. Mr. Burbridge begins by explaining that his father first came to New York from Mississippi in the 1920s in the first wave of the Great Migration. His mother, also from Mississippi originally, joined his father in New York City shortly after.
Mr. Burbridge’s father, a parking lot attendant, found himself a widower after the sudden death of his wife, and jumped around from residence to residence before settling in the Bronx in 1941. Mr. Burbridge recalls a time when the Bronx was still seen as somewhat exotic, equivalent to the country in some minds. He mentions a lot where he and his friends would play ball from morning till night as his most vivid memory of the neighborhood, and his mention of several parks gives one a conception of the Bronx in a far less urbanized state than one would find it today.
Though far from wealthy, Mr. Burbridge attended Catholic parochial school at St. Anthony of Padua on 166th Street and Prospect Avenue. He remembers the charity of the school as one of the main reasons that his widower father proved able to send three children to private school. Mr. Burbridge then attended Morris High School, the local public school.
Mrs. Burbridge begins by telling the story of her mother, a native of Antigua who came to New York to live with her aunt in 1916. After meeting her husband in Church, Mrs. Burbridge’s mother moved the family to the Bronx. Mrs. Burbridge attended New York public schools throughout her educational experience, starting at P.S. 23, then onto Theodore Roosevelt High School and Hunter College.
Mrs. Burbridge’s describes her family as very active in the Black political community at the time. She recalls that her father was an avid Garveyite, a supporter of the Back to Africa and Buy Black movements and that he held some type of role in Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association. Mrs. Burbridge also gives an insight into Jackie Robinson’s effect on the black community through his breaking of Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947. She points out that prior to Robinson her mother never cared about baseball, but afterwards was hooked.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Burbridge recall a youth in which racial discrimination and gang violence were present in their lives but not overwhelmingly so. Both describe a youth dominated by unspoken social norms about young blacks being encouraged not to travel into white neighborhoods, but never mention any instances of overt discrimination. Similarly with gang violence, they recall that there were some blocks that kids knew not to travel down for fear of trouble, but neither felt an overwhelming sense of this.
Burbridge, Richard and Doris. Interview 1. February 12, 2007. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
Click below to download supplemental content.Burbridge, Richard and Doris Interview 1.mp3 (90613 kB)