Racial tensions soared as the Spencers, a middle-class black family moved into Rosedale, a Queens white working-class neighborhood. Bill Moyers examines the fear, hatred and courage generated as the have-nots of our society battle for a tiny piece of the good life.
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GLENDA SPENCER: The only reason this is happening is because we’re black. So whether it’s Rosedale or the neighboring communities — this can happen anywhere. This isn’t happening because they say, hey, you know, those are your ideals, you know. This is happening ’cause we’re black. And what are we gonna do about it? What are we, as people, gonna do about our blackness? Hide it? Become invisible? We can’t — do that.
(Hubbub of crowd “Spencer go to hell! Nigger go to hell!”)
BILL MOYERS: These are the people of Rosedale — the way it is. Tonight, their story. I’m Bill Moyers. (sound of helicopter)
BILL MOYERS: New York City, one of the world’s great cities, and one of its most provincial. The financial and communications capitol of a nation. For visitors, New York City is the skyline of Manhattan; for New Yorkers it’s a tangle of neighborhoods. The skyline of New York keeps changing — so do its neighborhoods. Fifteen years ago about eight million people lived here. Today the population is still about eight million but it isn’t the same. Since 1960 more than one million whites have left New York City. The black and Hispanic population has grown by almost one million and it’s still growing. This is Rosedale. A community of six thousand families in the far southeastern pocket of the Borough of Queens. To the passing eye, it seems quiet. Modest one- and two-family homes with fenced-in lawns and tree-shaded streets.
The people who live here are almost all white; working-class Americans of Italian, Irish and Jewish roots. They’ve worked all their lives to afford these homes. Many came from the inner-city, refugees from neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn and South Jamaica; neighborhoods they saw changing, and dangerous to live in. These people saved their money and made their escape to what they call “the last frontier” in New York City … to Rosedale, to what they hoped would be a safe and quiet life. In the early 1970s a few middle-class black families with very much the same idea in mind began to move to Rosedale too. The whites saw their coming as a threat: the forerunner of more blacks bringing crime, blight and poor services they had witnessed in other neighborhoods in the city, and the peace of Rosedale was shattered.
In 1971, a score of men and teenage boys using axes and picks nearly destroyed a house, reportedly bought by a black man married to a white woman. Two hundred residents stood by and watched. Since then more than 10 acts of violence have been aimed at the few blacks living in Rosedale. The tension escalated with the coming of the Spencers. In the summer of ’74, Tony and Glenda Spencer bought this 7-room house on 136th Avenue. They came to New York from the West Indies after living in London. Spencer, a photo- engraver in Manhattan said they just wanted a good place to live. But some whites suspected them of block-busting, of trying to force lower property values on Rosedale homes so other blacks could afford to buy here. Before the Spencers moved in their house was set on fire with gasoline. They moved anyway. On New Year’s Eve Day a year ago, while the Spencers and their son slept, a pipe bomb exploded on the porch and smashed through the windows of the house. Police said the bomb was intended to wipe out the family. Attached to the bomb was a note that read: “Nigger, be warned. We have time. We will get your firstborn first.” It was signed: Viva Boston. KKK.
TONY SPENCER: My first feelin’ when I saw it I thought, my God, these people are tryin’ to kill us! What they think this is? This time of the morning who are the animals that could be doing things like this? That was my first thought. And my second you know, my main concern was to get my family out of the house, once we called the police — and they claim at the time there was another bomb outside. My concern was to get my family out.
RICHARD KOTUK, Producer: How did this terrible thing affect your children? How did it affect them?
TONY SPENCER: It has affected them in many ways. They’re very apprehensive now about being children. About going out and, you know, doin’ the things that boys do. You gotta remember they’re three boys and boys always get into things. And its got them now where they look twice at everybody, they’re wondering about the people that they live around. You know, the people lives around in this neighborhood they wonder … could that be the person, why are these people hating us? You know, why are they doin’ the things that they do to us? Especially when my youngest son was beaten up twice in our front garden.
RICHARD KOTUK: When they … when they ask you these things, why … what do you tell them?
TONY SPENCER: Well, I usually… my thing for getting out of it is I usually tell them that there are good and bad in every people, every race, regardless. There are prejudices for most things, whether it’s religious, whether it’s race, whether it’s color or what. And we just happen to be amongst a few people whose minds are warped. And therefore we cannot class everyone that we see in this neighborhood as the same. They are only, they are in the minority, the people who are doing these things in this neighborhood. And that’s the only thing I can tell ’em. I don’t want to, you know, teach ’em hate because hate consumes people.
Anyone who allows hate to become an everyday thing in their lives, their object in life and their goals become second … and their hate becomes first. And I’m not gonna teach ’em that regardless of how many bombs they put at this house. I’m not gonna teach my children hate.
(Crowd shouting: Down, down with the Nazis, down with the Klan.)
BILL MOYERS: The bombing of the Spencer home galvanized the support of civil rights sympathizers outside of Rosedale. They gathered to rally near the Spencer home.
LEADER: We decided that we would come down here and do whatever we could to help the Spencer family, to help any family that wants to move into a neighborhood and something goes wrong. Somebody comes, bombs their home, burns them, tells them to go back to Africa, or some other slur. Right? We are outraged by this!
(Crowd: What do we ~ant? The right to live where we choose! When do we want it? Now!)
MARCHER: You know every time, you know, like good people try to live anywhere they’re being harassed. Even in like in the ghetto, for instance, our kids are being shot down, you know, kids are being harassed. And you move out to a neighborhood, you say I’m gonna move out here into a peaceful neighborhood. Bombs are being thrown in your house. And that’s not right. People have the right to live where they want to live in America. If I have forty thousand dollars to spend on a house I’m supposed to live in that forty thousand dollar house.
BILL MOYERS: To the whites of Rosedale, the demonstration was more aid from outsiders for outsiders and.it provoked a reply ..
(Crowd sings God Bless America … hubbub … applause…)
MARCHER: They want to keep their community white, right? So that means this country is separated, this country’s divided. You mean you want a divided country. I live on one side of the railroad track and you live on the other side? Well, that’s not the United States then, that’s the divided states.
BILL MOYERS: The white moderates my colleague Richard Kotuk and I met in Rosedale didn’t want to be interviewed on film, but they told us that while they don’t approve of violence they’re determined to keep Rosedale from turning black. And they say that the acts of a few bomb-throwing racists have obscured their case. What they’re trying to prevent, they say, is this: This is the ghetto of South Jamaica — also in Queens, just three miles from Rosedale. It’s a familiar story. Once residential and almost all white now South Jamaica is the home of seventy thousand people, most of whom are poor and black. Almost half of them earn less than four thousand dollars a year. Thirty thousand live on welfare. As the neighborhood tipped, the crime rate soared. It is one thousand six hundred per cent higher than in Rosedale. More than nine thousand crimes were committed here last year. The schools of South Jamaica have some of the lowest reading levels in the city. There isn’t one public elementary school where more than one half of the children read at or above grade level. Even closer to Rosedale, the very next community, in fact, is Laurelton. In the last five years it’s gone from thirty-five per cent to sixty-five per cent black. So when they look north and west, the whites in Rosedale see coming the very changes they once fled.
When they look east, they see this: Directly across the New York City line are some of the most fashionable and expensive suburbs in America with homes ranging well over one hundred thousand dollars in price. School and property taxes on one of these homes for a single year can be higher than the down payment on a house in Rosedale. Beyond are other affluent communities of Nassau County whose per capita income is among the highest in . America. Two and one half million people live in Nassau and neighboring Suffolk counties; only five per cent of them are black. The whites who do live in the suburbs are relatively insulated; safe for the moment from the rapid changes that struck New York. Property values and political policies discourage’ low-income people, white or black, from moving in. They just can’t afford it. afford the suburbs, have their eye on Rosedale, and it’s why the whites who already live here feel hemmed in with nowhere to go. They’re determined to hang on. This is one way they’re doing it, with a home referral service run by an organization known as ROAR. Roar: Return Our American Rights — is dedicated to keeping Rosedale white. Its home referral service was set up to make sure that if whites moved out they would sell their homes to other whites. ROAR keeps a listing of families who are selling, makes contact with prospective white buyers, then shows the homes. This family wants to move to Rosedale. This member of ROAR is showing them a house.
JOE SOLTIZ: Got a heck of a house here. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. The outside here -we got a porch over here that’s built all the way around the house. And they put an addition on to the side. You gotta fence all the way around which is something you don’t find in a corner house over here. Nice fence … pretty good property. And they told me they’re leaving a heck of a lot of appliances. Let’s go inside. Hello Charlie.
WOMAN: How do you do?
JOE SOLTIZ: This is Angie. We got them through our home referral system. Somebody recommended them.
MAN: Good, very good.
MAN: Told me you had .the exact thing they were looking for.
JOE SOLTIZ: I tell ya, the home referrals are fantastic. I don’t think the real estate people know about this. We’re very selective. Very selective. You know… even the people showin’ the house are doing their part to keep Rosedale the way it is, because they could probably sell for a couple of thousand dollars more if they want but … if prices are just good enough where someone could afford it they’re not gain’ overboard. And the same token if they’re satisfied and they help ’em keep the area just the way it is, predominantly white. Is this place everything I told you it was so far?
MAN: It certainly is.
JOE SOLTIZ: And the main feature about Rosedale is just about everybody is hard-workin’ people, they have a heck of a lot of pride in their homes, in the community. And we’ve got just about everything over here. We’ve got Chinese, we’ve got Jews, we’ve got Italians, we’ve got Slovaks. You know, a melting pot. This I can honestly say about Rosedale, it is America, period, the melting pot, the great melting pot, and you got it right here in this community and a hell of a great community. I can’t emphasize that enough. I think this neighborhood, with people like yourself coming in, people like Charlie and Ann who are giving their houses to ROAR Home Referral, seeing that we bring the right people in and are gonna help keep Rosedale just the way it is: a beautiful, white, ethnic community. And when I say ethnic, we’ve got it, every majority. And I don’t think it’ll change. They’re tryin’ — they’re tryin’ like hell to knock us out. They over-publicize a heck of a lot of things. Things that happen in Springfield Gardens they call Rosedale; just, you know, to put the spotlight on Rosedale maybe to scare people. But it’s not working. Nobody’s runnin’, nobody is ‘runnin’. And if they have to move they’ll give the home to ROAR. And we’ve been bringin’ in people. I think out of the last 43 homes we’ve gotten 31 have gone to white people through ROAR.
BILL MOYERS: Before the Spencer’s arrived in Rosedale there were fewer than 20 homes for sale. We’re told there are now- over 200. This, too, is an old story. The fear of block-busting can make a rumor come true; people act as if it’s happening, and then it happens. ROAR is trying to stop it with some unusual tactics. When a white owner has sold to blacks ROAR has followed that family into their new neighborhood, demonstrated outside their home, and told their new neighbors that this family sold to blacks. ROAR is an angry outfit. The Justice Department has asked for an injunction against ROAR’s activities, accusing them of harassing and intimidating tactics. Some moderates say its militance doesn’t reflect Rosedale as a whole but no other group effectively offered an alternative. So ROAR, with the acquiescence of people who would not themselves have been militant, became the only game in town. Who then is ROAR?
JOE SOLTIZ: I’ve been in … I’ve lived in neighborhoods that have changed and I’m ashamed to go back, afraid to go back ’cause you wouldn’t be safe there. It’s not a case of discrimination or bigotry, it’s a fact, because, blacks, you … well, put it this way: you can’t take them on an individual basis. In cases like this you have to take them on that happens as a whole.
BILL MOYERS: Joe Soltiz, grandson of Czechoslovakian immigrants, shined shoes 10 years as a kid to stay in school and help support his family; Navy veteran; father of four daughters; sanitation worker.
MIKE BIGGIO: This is something that someone dreamed up, that we have to mingle. I don’t really think that that’s life. I think we have basic differences, our life styles are entirely different. — If I don’t feel that I want to mingle with blacks, there’s no law in the world that can make me. And this is the issue here.
BILL MOYERS: Mike Biggio, unemployed accountant, bought his house in Rosedale for his mother, now deceased. Biggio is one of two men charged with bombing the Spencer home. They were acquitted.
JERRY SCALA: The rights of white people in America have been taken away from them. Politicians are taking the rights of the white people away and givin’ it to the minorities. By busing, by jobs, by everything, You name it and you see that the white people are gettin’ the short end of the stick.
BILL MOYERS: Jerry Scala came from Italy at age 6 with his father, a bricklayer. Worked in a defense factory during the war. Now a plant manager and seven times a grandfather. Has lived in Rosedale 20 years.
JOE EWALD: I moved to Rosedale three years ago… and I’ve been married 10 years. It took me eight years to save money to buy a house, I got this house here- it’s an old house- I worked on it for one year before I moved in… fixin’ it up… to the way I want to live. And I worked hard on it. And I’m not gonna just say, here, it’s yours. I’m not givin’ to anybody and I’m not gonna run ’cause there’s nowhere to run today.
BILL MOYERS: Joe Ewald, ex-Marine, riveter, now a concrete worker, tried to become a fireman but says he was told the job must go to someone from a minority, father of two girls and a boy.
JOE EWALD: If I move from here I’m gonna run into the same problem five years from now maybe. I mean, you know, there’s no place to go. We worked hard for what we got, nobody’ s ever given us anything and we’re not gonna just back down and lose it, we’re not gonna… you know… blacks are tryin’ to come in and we’re not movin’, we’re not gonna run like white people have been doin’ for years. we’re gonna stay and we’re gonna fight for our neighborhood.
RICHARD KOTUK: They’re afraid of losing everything that they’ve worked for.
GLORIA SPENCER: Why should they lose it? Because a black family moves in … that they should be afraid of losing everything they’ve worked for? How would they lose it? How would they lose it? You tell me. How would they lose that?
RICHARD KOTUK: They’d say to you there’s gonna be crime here.
GLORIA SPENCER: We’ve got crime by the fire-bombing and the pipe-bombing that was projected by the whites on a black family. So there’s crime right here. There’s crime in all neighborhoods, so we’re not gonna bring anymore crime.
RICHARD KOTUK: They’d say our property values are gonna go down.
GLORIA SPENCER: It certainly hasn’t, and it certainly does not go down.
RICHARD KOTUK: They’d say my daughter is going to be mugged in school; my wife is going to be raped by a black person.
GLORIA SPENCER: Vice-versa.
Mr. SPENCER: That was going on before we got here.
GLORIA SPENCER: That can easily happen to anybody, blacks or whites. I mean, nobody wants this for themselves. What white family wants their children to be raped … or black family wants their kids … who wants that?
JOE EWALD: I mean, it’s .been proven in neighborhood after neighborhood, when they come what happens to the neighborhood. I mean you can go right from here in towards the city. You got Laurelton, which was beautiful; you got Springfield Gardens that was beautiful. Nobody from Rosedale would walk down Merrick Road in Laurelton at night; no white people.
JERRY SCALA: Now until this here stops and the people are educated to the point where they can live with white people, white people are not going to accept them. At least I’m not.
RICHARD KOTUK: If they have the money to buy the house, why can’t they come?
JOE EWALD: Because they’re gonna like we … well because they’ll come first and then maybe a couple a people’ll panic in the neighborhood. This is what happens- we’ll be truthful- a couple a whites’ll panic and they’ll sell,-and if they can’t sell right away, it’s in the real estate a year or so, maybe they’ll sell it to the real estate. Then the real estate will maybe start renting’ it to welfare. And then you start gettin’ a lower class in. And then the people next to these low-class people, these low-class blacks, maybe they’ll sell. So then you got three houses with blacks in it. And then the next two go, and then the next two go, and then the next two go, and before you know it you got all the low-class in here and here is your middle-class black runnin’ again. And he goes in and screws up another white neighborhood.
Mr. SPENCER: I say if I can afford to buy this house, wherever it is, that’s where I’ll be and he can’t dictate to me or tell me where I should be. The Constitution and the laws of this country says that each and every one has equal rights. And I am demandin’ my equal rights.
GLORIA SPENCER: We are here to stay. As a race and right now as a people. We are right here and we’re gonna stay here. Nobody’s gonna change that.
Mr. SPENCER: I look at it this way. When the house was up for sale it was open to anybody. There was no notices anywhere saying “no blacks allowed” or “no Spanish allowed” or “no Haitians or no Jews or no Italians.” Therefore since I was able to buy the house I have a right to it. I have a right to live in it and I have a right to do what I like in this house … ’cause it’s my home. It’s as simple as that. No one else has any reason to tell us what we should do, that, we can’t live here or we shouldn’t live here or we’ve gotta move; no one else. We decide that.
JOE EWALD: Well, I can’t deny them their right to live here, but yet I don’ t have to associate or even look at them, and I’m not gonna. And I won’t let my children look at them. And I won’t let my children play with them. If they want to live in that atmosphere they can, as far as we’ve concerned. We just tell our people: ignore them. Don’t bother with them, don’t look at them. If a guy wants to come out every morning to get in his car and go to work and nobody on the street’ll even wave “good morning” to him, I tell ya, I wouldn’t wanta live like that.
GLENDA SPENCER: : The easiest thing for us, for anybody, be it black or be it while, it’s always easy to jump out of the situation. Okay, I can … we can move, we can go back anywhere, we don’t have to live in this house, we don’t have to live here. We don’t have to. We can move. And this is what happens all the time; everybody says: we can move, we can do this, we can do that. But we have got a right as people, as human beings to live where we want to live.
Mr. SPENCER: Aren’t we people. If they can determine that we are not people then they got a point. If they can’t determine it or they can’t prove it they better shut up. The color of our skins don’t make us any less. We are people. We like to believe that we’re human beings and we’d like to believe that they’re the same. But it’s givin’ us a lot of doubts … some of the things that they’ve done.
BILL MOYERS: So the Spencers are staying … their house the front line in a struggle for turf. Even after the fire-bombing their children were harassed, the family threatened with more violence. And while the whites drew together in Rosedale, support for the Spencers came from beyond.
REVEREND TIHOTHY MITCHELL: (through chorus and music of organ) We need ya when we walk the streets…
BILL MOYERS: This is the Reverend Timothy Mitchell of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Flushing.
REVEREND TIHOTHY MITCHELL: … we need ya in our homes … we need ya on the highway. And right now, O’ Lamb of God, we ask that you would bless this family … somehow be a hedge all around them. Yea! we’re not praying a new prayer. Black folk shave been praying for 400 years to the God of their salvation. Yea, and in our troubles we cried out there must be a God somewhere. Yea! Help them to know that He’s not just somewhere but He’s there when you need Him most.
(Organ … singing …) And when it’s over if in our hearts we do not yield we thank ya. Yea, we thank ya. We’re goin’ home one day, we’re gonna wear a crown one day, we’re gonna sing a song one day, we’re gonna shout trouble over one day. ‘Til that day that the angel of the Lord encamp ’round upon us, keep us in perfect peace.
(Sings) I’ll be all right (congregation joins in … ) Trouble will be over … (congregation repeats … ) I’ll wear a crown (congregation … ) Don’t you know … (congregation … ) Deep in my heart I do believe I’ll wear a crown someday .
RICHARD KOTUK: What harm could they do? What’s wrong with them?
JOE EWALD: They’re black, that’s what’s wrong with them. And the way I feel, black and white don’t mix and it’s never gonna mix. They’ve been here in this country 200 years and it seems that any … you show me one neighborhood where integration worked. I don’t think there’s a neighborhood where integration ever worked, where it didn’t go totally black. And we don’t want that to happen here. And-we’re gonna do everything within our power, through-legal means, to make sure that this neighborhood stays white.
MIKE BIGGIO: If their strategy was to chip away this community piece by piece, before they could take it over, they- blew it. We’re all alert we’re watching and we’re not about to let them come in and take over.
BILL MOYERS: Every night from eight to well past midnight; ROAR volunteer-s cruise in patrol cars through the streets of Rosedale searching for outsiders they feel are-a-threat to their community. Andre Nobles, a former soldier in the Belgian Congo, came to America with ten dollars. He worked, literally, day and night as a security guard and dishwasher and now owns his own home in Rosedale.
RICHARD KOTUK: Why is it so important to you?
ANDRE NOBLES: Well, it is very important to me I live over here and I want this place to be very safe. I want to keep colored people out of the community of Rosedale that’s what I’m struggling for. That ROAR is doing may save America.
RICHARD KOTUK: Why?
ANDRE NOBLES: Why? Because the middle class of white people is the backbone of America. We are the backbone of America, we go out and work and pay our tax. And ‘if the country keeps on going the way it is going, like right now community after community downgrading itself, white people are moving farther and farther away. I know such instance that some white people even left the country of America.
RICHARD KOTUK: What’ll happen then?
ANDRE NOBLES: What will happen? Let them have their own problem. If you like to see all black America, fine. If you like all black America, fine.
Mr. SPENCER: For a start, these people who are saying that they don’t want blacks in this neighborhood or blacks do not have equal rights. Now if that was the majority of the white people sayin’ that a lot of the laws, the civil rights laws and things like that would not have been passed. It’s felt that the people of this country, the right-thinkin’ people, the people who felt that there was a time for change, these are the people who made the decision, not the average little illiterate fool out there.
JOE EWALD: The people that are dictatin’ all this stuff to us and tellin’ us who to-live with and how to live and who our children have to go to school with and all that … where do they live? Where do they live? They live in their lily-white neighborhoods way up in their high-rise apartment houses right?'” Their children go to private schools but yet they’re tellin’ us our children gotta go to school in black neighborhoods, they’re tellin’ us that we have to be integrated, we have to live with the blacks. Why don’t they practice what they preach? I mean, why don’t they come and live in Rosedale here, and why don’t they live in Laurelton, if they wanta tell us to do it why don’t they try it? But, no, they sit back and get rich and tell us what we gotta do.
BILL MOYERS: Both sides in Rosedale are frustrated because they believe the scales are tipped against them. Friends of the Spencers point out that the two men indicted for the bombing were acquitted by an all-white jury. The whites say they can’t get the politicians to listen. It’s easy, in fact, to neglect Rosedale, politically. Any of the representatives from the area can lose the town and still win the election. Many of the contests are decided either by the poor and middle-class black voters of Queens or by the wealthier white voters of next door Nassau. Rosedale becomes a kind of nowheresville. Frustrations compound, the tragedies add up and confrontation spills beyond the ability of people to communicate; it spills into the darkest passions, it spills into the streets, and more frightening than all, it spills into the next generation.– — (Hubbub of crowd)
CHILD: People know that white and black people are never gonna get along so they should just stay apart, you know. Common sense… you shouldn’t try and get together ’cause they just don’t like each other, and they never will. It’s the truth.
RICHARD KOTUK: What do you think of black people?
CHILD: I don’t like them.
RICHARD KOTUK: Why?
CHILD: I really don’t. ‘Cause I… I just think that they’re always lookin’ out to make trouble. They never want to be friends; it’s the truth, man. They never want to be friends. If they see you on the… if they see you walkin’ down the block they won’t turn around and say, hey, you know, how are you and stuff. They turn around hey, honkey, what’s the matter with you, man, you got an ugly head.
SECOND CHILD: If they lived in Rosedale, you’re only gonna find them all over the streets and everywhere… they’re gonna be startin’ up with everybody cause if one starts to come the whole pack’s comin’
MAN: You get a minority group in any area and you see what happens to it. It’s all welfare.
WOMAN: They don’t add to the area.
MAN: It always goes down…it always goes down.
RICHARD KOTUK: What kinda work do you do?
MAN: I’m in construction.
RICHARD KOTUK: What kinda — life do you want for your son?
MAN: The best I could give him. That’s why I moved here. I used all my money to buy a house because I liked the neighborhood. I had to move out of East New York three months ago because it turned overnight … in three years … my neighborhood … overnight in three years, you wouldn’t believe it. Because most of the time you see it’s welfare.
RICHARD KOTUK: And what happened …
MAN: The whole apartment building turned welfare.
RICHARD KOTUK: And what happened to that neighborhood?
MAN: It looks like a bomb hit it.
RICHARD KOTUK: Could that happen here?
MAN: It ain’t gonna happen here. Sure it could happen if they all come in.
SECOND MAN: That’s why we’re here today.
MAN: That’s why we’re here.
TOM LLOYD: I see this brave woman, this Spencer woman who is the kind of woman that anyone would welcome as a neighbor, anyone in their right mind. I mean I can understand that perhaps there are some black people who you might not want as neighbors. There might be some white people I might not want as neighbors. But this couple, this family, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want them as neighbors. They’re delightful people, .they’re beautiful people.
MAN: I don’t like ’em. I don’t want ’em in Rosedale.
RICHARD KOTUK: Why not?
MAN: They’re no part of Rosedale. Just want it a white neighborhood. No blacks… at all!
TOM LLOYD: That is the most ridiculous, racist statement I ever heard in my life. How can I say that I want an all-black community? I mean I suppose I could say it, but if I… I think if I said that I would therefore be a racist myself. This is America. I mean if they want an all-white community I think they have to go to another country. If this is America — and America stands for freedom — no one can say that in this country. No one!
RESIDENT: Blacks say they’ve been oppressed for 200 years. I didn’t do it. Why are they bothering me? I didn’t do it to them. The government might have done it to them. Their own native chiefs sold them as slaves; I didn’t sell them as slaves. That’s 200 years ago. Today is today. Don’t give somebody else and take away, from me. I’ve worked all my life. I’m not a rich man. If you wanta bother the rich can, go bother him. I go to work every day. I go to work sick at times when I can’t afford to stay home. That’s all. I’m askin’. Leave me alone. Why should they push them upon me? When I moved here seven years ago Herrick Boulevard on the other side of the parkway was beautiful. Today all ya see is iron gates up … protecting the stores when their owners aren’t there.
WIFE: We don’t want that, we want to keep the neighborhood the way it is. We love our neighbors, we’re all very, very close. And, you know, you seem to get to know everybody around here. Arid we don’t want anybody to run, and that’s all we’re trying to protect. You don’t understand what I mean by that? If they start comin’ in, the black families, the white people will run, and we don’t want that to happen. That’s all we’re asking for.
MAN: We want to keep the neighborhood the way it is.
WIFE: We want to keep it the way it is.
RESIDENT: We came from East New York. We were one of the last to leave there.
WIFE: The last ones.
RESIDENT: We were abused. My son come home in Brooklyn twice with his head swollen, black eyes, nose swollen. Go to the police station. Well, we can’t do anything about it unless you …
WIFE: … catch them. You have to …
RESIDENT: … catch them in the act. And how are you gonna catch them in the act? They disperse and that’s it. The kid was in the school yard playin’ ball and they wanted the court … pushed him off the court … they beat him up. Twice. And this time I’m staying!
WIFE: I’m not leaving.
RESIDENT: … fighting …
WIFE: I’m not leaving.
RESIDENT: I’m gonna stay and fight because I can’t be pushed anymore. They pushed me outta East New York; I’m not gonna be pushed again. I’m too old to move right now, I’m gonna make my stand. I’m stayin’. And I have to stay otherwise I’ll be on Montauk Point in the water. They keep coming and people keep moving that’s where you’re gonna end up … in Montauk Point in the water.
BILL MOYERS: As we filmed in Rosedale a group of blacks from South Jamaica was coming through the neighborhood in a demonstration of support for the Spencers. To the Spencers the demonstration said: hold on, we’re with you. To the whites, the outpouring of support was not only making martyrs of the Spencers, it had brought to the streets of Rosedale the encroachment they had most feared.
JOE EWALD: Every time a group of blacks get together they want to help Rosedale with their problems. We don’t need any outsiders helpin’ us with our problems. We’ve been doin’ good enough all these years we’ve been here and we’ll keep doin’ good enough. And we’ll stay white, period.
(Off mike voice: White on. Applause … Several: Right on … )
JOE EWALD: White on. This is the thing. White on, everybody. Just like the other… just like the other slogan: Black is beautiful but white is outta sight. That’s all we’ve got to say. They had “right on”, we got “white on”.
JERRY SCALA: Now we say we are white and we are proud of being white. (Hubbub … )
JOE EWALD: He, look. Hey, look. Look … (hubbub … ) Let me tell ya somethin’ We all came into this country in plain English, on the heels of our ass. The white ethnic American, that’s Italians, that’s Irish, that’s Germans, that’s Jews, everybody that come into this country came in with nothin’. And we got somethin’. Nobody ever did me any favors, nobody gave me anything, anything I got I worked for. These people want anything and they don’t want to work for anything, this is what they want. They come up from the South, they go on welfare. They come from Puerto Rico, they go on welfare.
(Hubbub … shouts)
We’re sick of payin’ for these people.
(Shouts … applause … hubbub.)
MAN: Keep on gain’. All the way down. Go ahead, keep on walkin’ down to the end. Stretch out a little more. Let’s give ’em a nice show. Keep on walkin’ down to the end.
WOMAN: I’m livin’ here for 24 years. I raised four children in Rosedale. When we moved in Rosedale we could of slept with our doors wide open. My kids are married. I have nine grandchildren. My son and daughter hadda move out of Rosedale and move out to the island on account of what’s goin’ on in the school yards today: the kids getting beat up and everything.
RICHARD KOTUK: What are you scared of?
WOMAN: I’m scared of what’s goin’ on. I’m afraid of them.
RICHARD KOTUK: Of who
WOMAN: Of them, the blacks. I’m afraid to go out at night. Which we never did … we … we used to live one happy family.
MAN: You gotta leave your lights lit at night.
WOMAN: If we go we have to have the timer on for the lights, we have to leave out lights outside on the front stoop, on the back stoop we had to put on spotlights.
MAN: Flood lights.
WOMAN: I mean what kinda livin’ is this? We don’t want to live like this. They want to live like us let them earn it the way we did, not give it to them on a silver platter. They wanta come in and take over. They walk around with a chip of their shoulder. The kids in the school yard… go to school with a dollar in their pocket.
MAN: They stick ’em up.
WOMAN: … for lunch … for lunch. I’m talkin’ about lunch. This happened to my own son. He used to ask me to give him money to eat in the school lunch room. I used to give him a dollar. At that time, a couple of years ago, you know. He used to tell me, don’t give me no more dollar bills. I said, why? Because … he won’t tell me the truth, he told it to his sister, when the colored seen that he had change in his hand, they used to shake him down. I had to take my son outta that school and send him to Delahanty where it cost me fifty dollars a month to keep him in school, beside his books, to give him an education because I was scared of what they were gonna do to him in school. Is that the way you want to live?
MAN: We have one of the best rated city schools here that I can’t send my daughter there because they … they’re either like harassed or they’re knifed. And these are facts.
WOMAN: And let me tell you another thing. I put my last son through college, right? …And I hadda pay to put him in college.. Now I get letters from the college that I have to donate to the underprivileged. Who the … who gave me the money to put my son through college? Who are they?
MAN: He worked for it.
WOMAN: They’re not better than us.
SECOND MAN: Nobody gave me nothin’ and I was never on home relief or any such thing as they have today. I worked and earned everything we had, it’s blood, and a lot of blood .. And I’m still givin’ them a lot of blood. Look at my paycheck at the end of the week, what my take home and what my gross is. What is that? That ain’t blood’?
RICHARD KOTUK: What does blood mean? What is it?
MAN: What is blood? WORK!
WOMAN: Sweat … which they don’t know what it is.
MAN: Not aid — A I D, ..,.work! I’ve had it. I came from a busted neighborhood, South Ozone Park, and they don’t live like human beings, they live like animals and that’s what they are, animals!
(Applause … shouts … )
You don’t know who’s livin’ next door to ya from one day to the next. I came from that neighborhood, I ran from there. And I’m not gonna run anymore. This is it. My anchor is down here!
WOMAN: They’re comin’ in. There they are.
(Hubbub … shouts … boos … )
POLICE OFFICER: I strongly recommend you disperse your group or else we will have demonstrations by everybody.
MAN: We have a right to demonstrate in our neighborhood.
SECOND MAN: We’re the people who live in this neighborhood.
BILL MOYERS: : After the blacks pulled up to the Spencer home police cordoned off both ends of the block to try to keep the angry whites away.
POLICE OFFICER: Half of the people are going this way or that way, they are not going through this block. (Angry words … hubbub … )
MAN: We’ll go around … we’ll go around. Go around … go ahead … all right. This is our neighborhood, we live here. I live on this street … why can’t I walk through?
POLICE OFFICER: Either way Mr. Scala…
JERRY SCALA: All right.
(Shouts … hubbub … applause … yells, shouts … )
MIKE BIGGIO: Why? Because some nigger lives there? Why the hell does he have police protection? It’s our neighborhood. That’s bullshit. That’s ridiculous.
(Off mike voices … hubbub … )
RICHARD KOTUK: Does he have a right to live here?
MIKE BIGGIO: No. Because he’s black!
(Hubbub … off mike voices … shouts … )
JOE EWALD: We live here in Rosedale, these people don’t live in Rosedale.
POLICE OFFICER: They’re citizens.
JOE EWALD: But they still don’t live in Rosedale.
POLICE OFFICER: So what?
JOE EWALD: Well, we’re citizens, we should be able to walk down the streets. Why can’t we walk down the street? Let these Mau Mau’s from Jamaica come in here … that’s what ya are, yeah, Mau Mau’s. Right, you heard me, Jack.
(Off mike voices … crowd chants: “Equal rights for whites!”)
REVEREND ALFRED SWEET: The Constitution is at stake. Everybody’s rights are at stake here. Yours and mine. Because as long as we allow anything to happen in this country to destroy the morals and the principles of one man, we are gonna pay through our pocket, one way or the other, through our minds and our pocket. We must have a good educational system, a good community where people can live in, whether the Spencers or whoever they are.
The Spencers are human beings and they have a right to live in this house. And this is why we’re out here now standing and lookin’ in and tryin’ to see what we can do … some way to correct a grave mistake that is bein’ made here in Rosedale now. The principles that we stand for is bein’ eaten out by this type of thing. It’ll make it so that I cannot look at a white man in a way that I should look at him as my friend. And I’m sure with this type of thing that a lot of white people are not gonna look at me, and think that I have a right to enjoy the things that this country offers. And so it’s just gonna eat us out until all of us, white and black, become concerned about what is happening here in Rosedale … and wipe it out. Most of us know what’s right. And what we have to do is stand up for what we know and what we believe. (Siren … hubbub … off mike voices … )
WOMAN: (off mike): The Spencers are blockbusters, that’s what they are … I hate niggers!
(Hubbub … off mike shouts … chanting … Niggers go ‘to hell! Spencers go to hell!) (Sequence in which white children attack black children, spit on them, call them “niggers”, shove them.)
BLACK GIRL: We were ridin’ down this block and these white people start sayin’, get out of here niggers … you know, get out of my neighborhood, then they start punching, hittin’ her. SECOND
GIRL: Draggin’ her off and everything else.
GIRL: And throwin’ rocks. ‘Cause we were in their neighborhood.
GIRL: He went on a bike hike to McDonalds, we…we didn’t mean to bother anybody. We saw the parade … we saw the gathering so we went down there to see what was happening. All right, I mean we didn’t bother anybody, we weren’t lookin’ for trouble. I never even knew people around here were like that, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life.
RICHARD KOTUK: What happened to you?
GIRL: Nothin’ happened to me but this little boy … short boy … about my size … or a little shorter … picked up a rock in the front of all these tall honkies and he was … he was gonna throw it … tried to hit my sister but he almost hit me. And I sure wish he had … he had hit me with that rock I woulda picked up the rock right next to me and hit him right in his face.
GIRL: They always say niggers are doin’ everything. They always say we’re doing everything. We don’t push ’em outta their neighborhood and throw rocks and start hittin’ them.
GIRL: We don’t bother the white people around our neighborhood but when . we get in a white neighborhood they … they just push us out …
GIRL: They treat us like we’re a piece of dirt, dogs. I mean that’s the way you treat an animal. I mean, God, we’re human beings. You don’t treat other people like that, it’s just wrong. Black, white, I don’t care, a person is a person. Skin should have no bearing on how you treat a person. That’s just wrong.
GIRL: I hate their goddamn guts.
GIRL: I can’t say that I hate them, I can’t say that it’s totally the kid’s fault, I mean I’m sure their parents had some bearing on the way they feel and everything else. I think it’s just the system. I don’t know. I can’t say that I hate them ’cause I don’t hate anybody.
RICHARD KOTUK: Do you forgive them?
GIRL: No. No … you can’t take back no hurt.
GIRL: They will always do that. They’ll always spit on us like we’re some dog … ain’t nothin’ … ain’t nothin’ gonna change.
GLENDA SPENCER: I mean there are black people who are harassed constantly. This isn’t, I said before, this is … may not be a unique situation, it’s happening to too many people all over the world. Too many people in America this is happening to. And many people, even … you know, people in the neighboring communities, always says the easiest solution to the problem is — we now are the problem right here- and the solution to the problem is like you say: move. And then another problem comes up. So you’re … you’ll be constantly running.
And we can’t run away from our blackness. We can’t. So let’s face that fact that we are black and we’ll be harassed constantly. Either it’s here, either it’s a job situation, whether it’s on busing, whatever. And we have to do … we have to decide at the … what are we gonna do about it as people? What are the good people gonna do? What are the … people as people, whether you’re black or whether you’re white … what are the people gonna do about situations like this? Or situations that’s happening all over.
RICHARD KOTUK: What are you gonna do?
GLENDA SPENCER: What are we gonna do as a family? We’re here … we’re here for … we’re here right now. We’re gonna stay here. Definitely gonna stay. It bothers us. Naturally. I mean we’re human beings! It must affect us, it must affect our whole lives .. I mean the … a fire-bombing affected our whole lives … and a pipe-bombing affected our whole lives. But whenever we die we’re gonna die black, we just can’t get away from that. No way can we get away from that.
TONY SPENCER: We are being separated by a whole lot of things goin’ on because of the color of our skins, yet we have the same goals, we’re after the same things. You hope that your job is safe, that you’re doin’ well at your job. There is advancement, there’s promotion. We have the same frustrations over whether our children are doing well at school or whether they’re not doing well; problems with them. We all have the same problems.
JOE EWALD: I mean I think a parent’s whole life is their children. Everything you do, more or less, is gonna benefit your children. If you try to get a promotion at work, it’s not for really yourself … it’s to make more money so you can give your family more, your children and you … you want to give… you know, your family more, you want a better life for your family. I mean … I think this is what a man strives for. I know this is the way I feel and I know this is the way my father was. So I mean, you know, his life was his family. And this is the way I feel. I want them to be … have an education so they don’t have to be out pourin’ concrete like I am. I think my son should have better than I had. I would like to see him President of the United States.
This is what I would want for him … that good, that’s what I want for him. I want him to go as far as he possibly can. And as long as I’m here I’ll help him any way I can. They’re… me and my wife, I mean … they’re somethin’ that we’ve made, we brought into this world. I mean that’s … that’s us sittin’ right there, that’s us. I mean and I know how much … much more you can explain it … I mean… I mean how I love them as much as … I love my wife but it’s a different kind of love. I mean, you know they’re me, what can I say? This is me right here. This is what I brought into this world and to me they’re … they’re perfect and they’re the most beautiful things in the world. And … you know, what can I say? I don’t know how to say it. I mean that’s the best I can say. But this is my feelings.
GLENDA SPENCER: : I want to live … to the best of our ability. He want … all want to live. We all have achievements, we will have goals, we all have aims, we all like a lot of things. And we just go through, you know, go through life as it is. Happiness … who doesn’t want that …
TONY SPENCER: A moment’s happiness, that’s what I want, a moment’s happiness. To be rid of all-this sort of aggravation so my family and I, we can just have our moment’s happiness. There are thousands and millions of people seekin’ that . moment’s happiness … and it’s very elusive.
BILL MOYERS: An outsider to Rosedale has to be wary of simple judgments; Things are more than they seem, and you can’t neatly sort out all the streams of conflict that make this a tragedy of people coming to grief in their search for good. Racial hatred is here. A fierce; murderous passion that turns men into vicious brutes hurling bombs at sleeping children. It’s happened often in our past, it happens still. But only in part is Rosedale the story of racism. In the end, the people who live here, black and white, want the same things: a place to work, a place to live, a chance to be happy. That’s one reason for the conflict; they’re competitors after a piece of the dream, when the dream is shrinking and there’s not enough to go around.
The Spencers want to be judged as human beings, not by the color of their skin. But they’re judged as threats. The whites want the people who run the country to say, yes, crime, blight and erosion have occurred again and again, in neighborhood after neighborhood, in city after city, you’re right to take a stand. But the decay continues and across the gulf the struggle here goes on. The people with money, status and power have bought their way out to security and stability for the moment. It’s like watching a war on television; you turn off the set and it’s over. For these people it’s only beginning. Black and white alike in the Rosedale’s of America have been abandoned, condemned together to economic apartheid by a system that rewards the people who can afford to get out, and condemns to bitter, consuming rivalry those left behind. It’s a travesty. It’s a travesty those consequences will haunt and one day may overwhelm America the way it is. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on May 6, 2015.