Rosalind Jones, 86, moved to Battery Park with her family as a 19-year old in 1950. Then a student at Virginia Union University, she recalls an idyllic time when her family didn’t bother locking doors when they left because pulling up the screen door was enough.
More of Jones’ stories, along with others from long-time Battery Park residents, will be the focus of the second edition of Battery Park Stories: Reflections of Our Neighborhood, a storytelling event about the historic North Side neighborhood followed by a potluck dinner.
Jones: "Battery Park was a nice neighborhood, mostly professional people, doctor, teachers and lawyers. It was safe so I could walk to VUU for cheerleader practice. One year while I was a cheerleader, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson led the Union homecoming parade. He just strutted right up Leigh Street!
We went to teenage dances at the Monroe Center on Leigh Street and at the A.D. Price Funeral Home on Friday nights from 8 to 10. We listened to Nat 'King' Cole, Billy Eckstein and Sarah Vaughn. And, oh, those chaperons! They kept couples apart. They made it their job to make sure no one danced too close. Those were the good old days.
I had a very good Mom and Dad. They never talked to us about other races, never put any fear in us. But I knew when I got on the trolley -- it was seven cents for a ticket back then -- or the bus, I always had to go to the back. That’s the way it was.
Back then, when musicians like Billy Eckstein and Lionel Hampton played the Mosque, they stayed at Slaughter’s Hotel on Second. My girlfriends and I would go to those shows but in that time, we had to sit up in the balcony. We weren’t allowed to sit downstairs, but we still had a good time.
Oliver Hill lived across the street from us. One night, my mother -- her bedroom was at the front of the house -- woke up to a blinding light in the window. It was during the Brown versus Board of Education case and the KKK was burning a cross on Mr. Hill's lawn to scare him. He got a lot of threatening calls, but he was a very good lawyer.”
Michael Lease, Kimberly Wolfe and their young son moved to Battery Park two years ago, aware they were a part of a nationwide trend of whites buying homes in traditionally black neighborhoods.
Historians at heart, they were welcomed warmly by neighbors and decided to capture the stories of long-time residents, piggy-backing on a short-lived oral history project begun by residents Karen Wylie and Debbie Jackson after Ernesto’s flooding devastated the neighborhood in 2006.
“We hope these stories make people aware of past experiences and lives,” Wolfe says of the public event, Battery Park Stories: Reflections of Our Neighborhood. “To know that we're all building upon something that was here before us and to help bridge any real or perceived divide caused by age, race and class.”
Battery Park Stories: Reflections of Our Neighborhood is Sunday, Nov. 15, from 3-6 p.m., Partnership for Families, 800 W. Graham Road. Check out its Facebook page here.