On Monday, September 27th the school district of New Rochelle hosted "Reflections of Change: a 50-Year Retrospective of the Lincoln School Decision" in city hall. The event started at 6:00pm in the rotunda for an opening reception where over 100 people enjoyed refreshments. Lincoln Avenue community members mingled with school district employees, Board of Education members and elected officials. The gathering had the pleasant feel of a school reunion.
At 7:00 the group was directed to the large meeting room on the 2nd floor. Superintendent Organisciak welcomed everyone and introduced himself and Linda Tarrant-Reid, his co-project manager. He introduced people in the audience from the era, elected officials, members of the committee, and Lincoln School graduates. They next showed the CBS Special report from the early 70s called "After 10 Years, The Courts and the Schools". The black and white footage of New Rochelle landmarks and citizens, narrated by Mike Wallace, set the historic tone of the anniversary of the court decision.
Superintendent Organisciak and Linda Tarrant-Reid, project co-chairs
Photo credit: Bob Cox
Mayor Bramson gave a short speech that acknowledged the community and community members. He said that we were writing history now, and that the future is not yet written. The tone of the speech was respectful and hopeful, really nicely said. The mayor emailed me what he said as he remembered it here:
I had an opportunity to speak with several people in the reception that preceded this program and was reminded through those conversations that history is not something we can just package up in a box and place on a shelf, all neat and tidy. We are still living this history. The story is not over. The events of fifty years ago continue to have a profound impact on the lives of everyone here and on the life of our community. So I hope we can seize this opportunity not only to remember the past, but also to learn the lessons that can enable us, as well as we are able, to shape a better future.
Paul W. Zuber and Mrs. Barbara Zuber, son and wife of the late Paul Zuber, lead attorney for the plaintiffs In the Lincoln case, spoke. Paul W. Zuber recalled his father and how he taught his son about the importance of education for children and how it was a way to economic power. He spoke about racism and the other cases that his father fought after the Lincoln case. He spoke about how when President Obama was inaugurated that It was an event that was the culmination of so many hard fought civil rights victories.
Paul W. Zuber, son of attorney Paul Zuber
Photo Credit: Jen Parente
Barbara Zuber spoke about her husband. She and her son were so happy that Paul Zuber was being recognized. She recalls that as the first African American Yale fine arts graduate she received a letter from Lincoln School. The letter invited her to show her artwork to the children at Lincoln School. This was years before she met her husband, who would become so very important in the history of Lincoln School.
Barbara Zuber, widow of Paul Zuber
Photo Credit: Jen Parente
Superintendent Organsiciak and Linda Tarrant-Reid then gave an overview of the full year of activities planned in commemoration of the decision. Museum exhibits, symposiums, panel discussions, school specific events, and high school research assignments were included in the list, as was the possibility of working with the New Rochelle Council of the Arts on an art project.
City Historian Barbara Davis and high school social studies department chairman Steve Goldberg then spoke about how all the approximately 625 11th grade students at New Rochelle High School were working on a research project from primary sources about the case. This assignment would be repeated for at least two years at the high school.
Three wonderful high school interns then took to the stage in folding chairs with microphones. Local reverend Elder Richard Adamson of the Gospel Tabernacle Church was seated to their left. The interns then interviewed the reverend as the audience looked on.
Reverend Elder Richard Adamson being interviewed by NRHS interns
Photo Credit: Bob Cox
The students have been doing oral histories on people involved in the case. The students were complimented on their work and in fact were able to interview the Reverend who revealed very interesting and personal reflections about the history of Lincoln School and the case itself. He spoke about how the school was an anchor for the neighborhood and that much of community life revolved around the school. When the school was eventually torn down, the neighborhood sadly lost a major meeting place for the community. He spoke of his appreciation for the teachers of Lincoln School and how they really cared about the students in their classes. The teachers were in the neighborhood and would encourage the children as they went about their business in the neighborhood. There were local stores and restaurants that have since closed that were very popular for the Lincoln community.
Theresa Kump Leghorn then spoke. She is the curator of the museum within New Rochelle High School. She is working on an exhibit that will contain artifacts, photographs and articles about the event. She asked the audience to share old lunchboxes and other school related items from the era to make the event more tangible to the visitors.
In the closing remarks, Superintendent Organsiciak and co-project leader Linda Tarrant-Reid invited the members of the community to create a culminating event for the retrospective. The school district offered to help the community by promoting whatever event they wanted and participating in it. The school district encouraged local community groups, churches and neighborhood associations to sponsor a dance, breakfast or other event to remember the event. The voice of the community needs to be heard, he said.
Other items mentioned were creating a Lincoln Park conservancy to keep the park clean and enhance the park. An annual fundraising event could generate monies for new playground equipment and/or park upkeep.
The audience was polled for input. People from the audience spoke about their teachers from Lincoln School, and that they should be recognized. A man from the audience wanted the retrospective to come full circle to today and evaluate the success of the desegregation case settlement.
What I found most powerful about the well attended event was the respect that the school district showed the community, 50 years after the animosity and anger of the Lincoln case. At one point the Lincoln School graduates were invited to stand up, and the audience applauded them and their parents. The graduates were asked to sign a list to agree to be interviewed for the oral history project. The evening ended with the superintendent asking the audience if they remembered different teachers and also neighborhood stores of the era. People cheered for the local restaurants and shoe shine stores as each was mentioned.
It was quite a night, congratulations to all who participated and to all that will contribute to the events throughout the school year.
If you missed the event, but still would like to be interviewed for the oral history project, or have items to lend for the museum exhibit, or wish to participate in the events throughout the school year, please call Camille Edwards-Thomas at (914) 576-4233 or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your participation.
To read the eight part series published on Talk of the Sound in January 2010 about the Lincoln School Case, click here for the first installment:
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part I - Early Gerrymandering