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Behalf Of S. E. Anderson From Ourtimepress.com JITU WEUSI: WARRIOR KING OTP: Where were you born? Jitu Weusi: Right here. This is my turf. I was born in St. John's Hospital. At the time my mother was living on Jefferson and Throop. She lived there until I was four years old when she moved to 58 1/2 Kosciusco between Bedford and Nostrand. I graduated from eighth grade P.S. 54 in 1952. We moved to Clifton Place when there was a big Episcopal church on Marcy at Clifton before it burned down and we grew up in what was then Tompkins Park (now Herbert Von King Park). John O. Killens used to live across the street on Lafayette between Nostrand and Marcy. I remember the day, I was about sixteen years old, we used to see this guy come out to the park all the time and play ball with us. This was during the daytime and we asked him "what do you do?" He said I'm a writer. 'Writer? What does a writer do?' I'll never forget, he came out with a handful of books and gave them to us. It was his first novel, Youngblood; I took that book and must have read it at least about five times. I was so wrapped up in the fact that this was a guy who we knew, we had close contact with, who literally raised us and he was actually a writer and this was his book. And since I had not any firsthand knowledge of the South, my first views on the South, of the 20th century South, came from Youngblood. It wasn't until I was eighteen years old that I would go South myself for the first time and attend school. I went down to Virginia Union in Richmond Virginia and felt the sting of the separate bathrooms, going through the back door to the colored cafeteria... OTP: It must have seemed very odd coming from Brooklyn. Weusi: It was a mindblower. I was the oldest of seven children and I used to tell them about my travels down South. I stayed in Richmond for about a month and a half and came back to New York and went to LIU, Long Island University at DeKalb and Flatbush. I went to school on a basketball scholarship. I was a history major and in my third year we had a new basketball coach, Roy Rubin, he was from the Bronx, and he told all the juniors and seniors, 'At least take some education courses, so if you can't do anything else when you get out of here, you can teach." That summer of my junior year I took six credits of Education and my senior year, I took six more credits, with 12 credits in education you could be a substitute teacher. I qualified for high school and junior high, but because I was only twenty-two, I started in junior high school for the greater age difference. OTP: How did the African-American Teachers Association get started? Weusi: We first started teaching at Junior High School 35, on McDonough between Sumner (now Marcus Garvey)and Lewis. It was one of the Premier Black junior high schools of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Lena Horne, many of the early Blacks went to 35. That's where I got my first job, teaching social studies. When I came, there were a lot of young black teachers; Al Vann, Milfred Fierce, Randy Tobias, Oliver Patterson, Leroy Lewis, Hank Johnson, Joan Eastman, a nice little core of young Black teachers. It gave us a base, a springboard to get involved with the kids and really form a group that would try and motivate the kids to aspire to higher goals. After a while, myself and Vann, in 1964, we went around to Siloam Church and met Milton Galamison (see sidebar). Galamison was glad to see us. He said "you could be a part of this movement but it would help me more if you could go and organize Black teachers to support what we're doing." That's what we decided to do. We made outreach to some Black teachers in the neighborhood. PS 25, PS 21, 262, 258 and we talked to them about forming a teacher's association. The first meeting we held was in a woman's basement on Maple Street and Nostrand Avenue. It was almost like a clandestine meeting. It was in the basement, it was dark, maybe one lightbulb. We couldn't see other faces, just talking to each other. We agreed we needed to start an association and we'd have a public meeting at the YMCA on Bedford and Monroe on April the 12th, 1964. We named the organization the Negro Teachers Association. That was our first meeting and fifty people came out, there was a lot of give-and-take and I remember we had an election, for chairman of this newly formed organization. It was the first time I had experienced 'light-skin privilege.' The two people in the election were Vann and Dave Brown. He was a hip guy, I liked him. He was a light-skin guy, like an Adam Clayton Powell. Now Vann had been the one getting people together to come to the meeting and everything. Dave was a nice guy, but the only thing he had going for him was that Adam Clayton Powe ll thing. We just beat him, Vann got 26 votes and Dan got 24 votes. I said to myself, "Wow, that's deep. How did it get that close?" Vann won and became the first and the only chairperson we would have in our nine-year history, from 1964 to 1973 when the then-called African Teachers Association went out of business. We went about organizing teachers. We had cocktail sips, fashion shows, all kinds of things to raise money and get teachers involved. I was like the political radical of the group. I went to the March on Washington. I went to all the political meetings in the community. Brooklyn CORE, NAACP, Black Panthers, I wasn't afraid to go to all those kinds of meetings. In the summer of 1966, I worked for Brooklyn CORE and got a chance to see how one of these organizations really worked. At the end of the summer, I came to Vann and said ,"I've got a lot of insights from my experience working at Brooklyn CORE. I got some ideas about how we can shape up ATA and really make it go. And sure enough, that's what happened. We started having a lecture series with people prominent at the time, such as Preston Wilcox, who recently passed. We brought William Booth, a prominent Black politician in the city at the time. Alvin Poussaint from Tufts, Basil Patterson. So each month we would bring in one of these outspoken Black intellectual types, political types and the lecture series became well-known. We'd get 200, 300, 350 people . The second thing we did was to put out a newsletter, the ATA Forum. We'd put out about a thousand copies that got all over the city. We went from one chapter in Brooklyn to five chapters throughout the city and our membership went from maybe a hundred to like five hundred and we really became 'The Voice of Black Teachers." In May of 1966, we had a conference at 35 and that's when we changed our name. One of the teachers, Connie Hicks, who later married Herman Ferguson, proposed we change our name from the Negro Teachers Association to the African-American Teacher's Association. That was unanimously passed. The following Sunday after our conference we had a major article in The New York Times by C. Gerald Frazier. Back in those days, the Times was a "prayer book." For a Black group to get a major article, half a page in the Times, then we really exploded. There was no more, "I don't know who you guys are. I never heard of you guys." OTP: That stopped. Weusi: That stopped then and there. After that Kenneth Clarke brokered a meeting with us and Al Shanker, head of the teacher's union. In May of '67, a group of us went to the union and met Shanker and his executive board. And, of course, we were making outrageous demands as far as Shanker was concerned, "Are you kidding me?" OTP: What kinds of demands were you making? Weusi: We were asking that the union fight for the teaching of African-American history in the schools, that the union fight for adjustments in the school curriculum to make it more relevant to Black students, so-called minority students. We called for the union to take a position around more Black educators in positions of power in the school system. This was the middle of the 60's and there were four Black principals in the whole system of over 2,000 schools. There were 30 Black assistant principals. Even 35, the school where I worked, they had no Black principal, no Black assistant principals. They had five assistant principals, all white. The highest position a Black had by the mid-sixties in 35 was the head of guidance. And that was a recently obtained title. We asked for the union to demand more Black supervisors and administrators in the school system. To call for more tutoring and help avoid Blacks dropping out. Our demands were based upon the empowerment of Black educators and the upliftment of Black students in the system. So as I said the reaction was, "What, are you guys crazy?" That was the first time confronting the union when we went down for this meeting, but it would not be the last time. One of the things the union was pushing for at the time was the "disruptive child" issue. They were trying to get the Board of Education to allow teachers and administrators to label a child as a "disruptive child" and once the child had obtained such a label, they then had to go to a special school for disruptive children. We fought that like the plague. We said very plain and clear, that this is another way to railroad Black students out of the classroom into one of these "600"-type schools, and labeling them made it unlikely they would attain any positions or jobs. It was another way of criminalizing our youth. In that year, '67, the union was in contract negotiations with the Board of Education. Now, they didn't say it, but one of the points was, they (the union) wanted the Board of Ed to take a position on the "disruptive child" issue. They couldn't agree between the board and the union, and the union called a strike. We took the position that if the union goes on strike, that the Black community should not support this strike, because they'll be going on strike only because they want to force the Board to give them the "disruptive child" language. So we took that position and mobilized all over the city, around that position throughout the summer. So when the strike went down in September, we had people out in the street and we told our teachers to go to work. We had people and parents, everything out in the street after the union about this "disruptive" piece OTP: Were kids able to go into the schools? Weusi: Yes, absolutely. So they took a public relations whipping during that week they were on strike, so much so that they were forced to settle and go back to work the following week. Shanker didn't come out and say it, but they settled because of the whipping over the "disruptive child" piece. That soured Shanker on community evolvement. All of these parents had been out picketing him, and at that same time we pushing community control, more power to the community. Community school boards. OTP: Was that Ocean Hill-Brownsville? Weusi: Yes, right after the strike, that's when they came into existence. OTP: Who came into existence? Weusi: Ocean Hill-Brownsville. The Ford Foundation had given money to three experimental districts, Ocean-Hill/Brownsville, IS 201 and Two Bridges in lower Manhattan. After the strike, these experimental districts came into fruition. Now when they were being formulated, Shanker and his people were aligned with them. They were going along with this. But after the strike, and the parents had come out against the UFT, Shanker and them began to take an anticommunity position. And many of the UFT people started taking that position. When they formulated in September of ' 67, the relationship between the union and these districts, these experimental districts, began to go downhill. One of the reasons Ocean Hill-Brownsville went downhill was because there was a white Jewish principal at J.H.S., 271. He was supposed to get the job as the unit administrator for the IS 201 experimental project. But the parents decided against him and gave the job to Rhody McKoy. OTP: A Black person. Weusi: Exactly. And that's when the union people, they were up in arms. OTP: Because the job went to Rhody McKoy instead of Jack Bloomfield but he was the one they all thought would get the administrator's job. And when the parents came together and named McKoy as unit administrator, they were furious. They were furious. It was like they had been betrayed. From then on, the relationship between the UFT, the CSA, and the Ocean Hill Board, they just... OTP: Went dowhhill. Weusi: Went down hill, a parting of the ways. Next issue: The Prelude to Ocean-Hill Brownsville. "That same September of '67 Vann and I met with Rhodie McKoy in his office. We asked him at that time if he wanted us to funnel some Black teachers into Ocean Hill-Brownville, just in case these union teachers begin to turn on you. And begin to disrupt your program. He said, "No, we're going to give them a chance. We're going to work with them." We tried at that point in September of '67, we tried to offer assistance."