African American Studies
Greene grew up in the Morrisania section of The Bronx; Third Avenue and 171st street in the 1940s and ‘50s and it was a racially mixed neighborhood. There were a few African-Americans, mostly Irish, some Italians, and some Jewish people too. Her parents separated and her maternal grandparents, Maud and Harold Russell raised her. Maud was from Trinidad and her grandfather was from St. Vincent. Maud “was Mulatto and she could pass for white”, as it was difficult during the Depression for African-Americans to get jobs, so she worked as a domestic in hotels downtown. She was very conscious of the fact that she had to “pass’ and taught the children “that we were of value, and to not let others shape who we were or what we were going to become, but rather, that we had to know that we were as good as anybody else”. She described how her grandparents had been captured in Senegal. Maud was told by her grandmother that her own father had been an African chieftain, and he was waylaid by some of his own people and brought to this coast, the whole family was brought there and put on ships. She was very conscious of her race and was very proud of being Black, but “she suffered because she was Mulatto.
At that time, the Bronx “was not welcoming Blacks to live here”. Her grandparents worked initially as supers in the East Bronx on Fox Street and on Minford Place. Ultimately, the building became Black, and the whole neighborhood became Black “but, it was a transitional kind of thing. As we moved in, others moved out. The Whites moved out.” They discuss “passing” and Assemblywoman Greene describes the difficulty of having relatives who were darker or lighter. Maud’s son was very dark and teachers did not believe that she was his mother.
Greene attended elementary PS 42 which was quite mixed and Central Commercial High School which was not as mixed. Her church, St. David’s Episcopal Church, was mixed and she did not really experience racism until she went south to visit her mother who had re-married in North Carolina, at Fayetteville. Her step-father was in the 101st Airborne. She did not have any black teachers, but she was a good student and her teachers like her. Her grandmother taught her “that we’re only in this situation because of the color of our skin. But we have a way of getting out, and that’s through education, because if we’re educated than we have an avenue to move to other sites.”
She describes shopping on Bathgate Avenue and the close-knit community that the area was – it was mostly African-American after World War Two. She worked as a pool Stenographer for Met Life but got bored and then worked for a doctor in Harlem, on Amsterdam Avenue but again wanted more of a challenge so she started working at a plastic manufacturer, A. J. Siris in the Bronx. She rode to work with Mr. Simon, who got to know her better and knew her ambitions and he exposed her to more responsibility in the office. She was eventually promoted to Assistant Office Manager, overseeing Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable and worked with the auditors to audit the stock and the books. She left work when she had her children.
She describes the activities and social events of her teens. She met her present husband, Jerome Greene, through her role as president of the parent association. She was trying to revitalize it and there was a meeting with the Community Progress Center, under Mr. Greene (part of Mayor Lindsay’s Urban Action Task Force) who were also trying to establish an education council for three school districts. She ended up working for Mr. Greene and he encouraged her to get her B.A. Mayor Lindsay had a commission to review the education laws and the policies. The Greenes and the Community Progress Center wanted community control and launched a big campaign in education. This led her to become interested in a career in politics.
Greene, Aurelia. April 23, 2009. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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