African American Studies
Dr. Cyril O. Byron was born atLincolnHospitalin theBronxonApril 15, 1920. His parents moved fromJamaicatoNew Yorkin the early 1900s. His father, who had been chief chef on Marcus Garvey’s ship, cooked for severalNew York Cityrestaurants and hotels, and founded Byron Caterers, one of theBronx’s largest black owned catering services. His mother did housework for prominentNew York Cityfamilies. Both were politically active, and his mother was a staunch follower of Marcus Garvey. His father was also superintendent for various buildings in which the family resided in theBronx, and Byron recalls doing much custodial work in the buildings with his brother.
In his youth, Byron moved from Brook Avenue, to Third Avenue, to Jackson Avenue, and to Dawson Avenue, where he spent several years. He attributes the frequent moves to his parents’ changing working situations. After his father stopped cooking, he owned a grocery store on Dawson Avenue. Byron explains that neighborhood gangs existed, and that there were certain blocks that you did not visit. He describes tight knit gangs forming basketball and stickball teams, and playing throughout the city. Byron attended P.S. 35 and 23, Junior High School 52, and Morris High School. He states that he did not have any trouble with white classmates, as he was a good athlete. Byron explains that white teammates would not invite black players over their houses, but that they got along fine. He remembers dating one of the sisters of a white teammate in high school, with the teammate’s permission, and walking with her arm in arm on 125th Street to show her off.
Byron experienced many race-related incidents over the course of his life. He discusses noticing policemen following black customers in stores, and white customers being waved ahead in line to be waited on before black patrons. While serving as traffic officer in the late Forties, Byron and two other black officers donated blood, but their blood was rejected on account of high blood pressure. Upon visiting his doctor, Byron was assured that his blood pressure was fine.
Byron was drafted in the early 1940s while studying at MorganStateUniversity, and sent to Tuskegee, Alabama. He was assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron in 1942, the first black Air Force group, and worked as a ground crewman. Byron remembers being frustrated by the fact, that despite his service to the country, he was still forced to sit in the balcony of the local movie theatre inTuskegee. However, he lived by a saying instilled by his parents - - don’t resent, what you can’t prevent. The Byrons viewed racism as something that was ever-present and unavoidable, so you learned to live with it. Byron traveled abroad toNorth Africa andItaly, and worked in the group that became known as the Red Tails which escorted bomber planes.
Upon return from abroad in 1945, Byron married and had two sons. He completed his education at Morgan, and moved toStebbins Avenuein theBronxfor a period. He eventually continued his education at NYU.
Byron, Cyril. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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