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Andrew Osborne, 68Current Owner
Lives with: His wife
The man I bought the house from, in 1979, had bought it out of foreclosure. He’d borrowed money from his family to get it — from his in-laws. Before I even moved in, when the house was empty, a drug addict broke in one night. He was after the woodwork and the metalwork. There was an older couple from South Carolina living next door. Sam Hinnant and his wife — everybody called her Ms. Minnie. Sam came over here with a shotgun and chased him out of the house. Sam was this quiet, steady, unassuming guy. He walked real slow. But nobody messed with Sam. I asked around and found out he’d been in a segregated unit in World War II — he’d driven a gas truck on the front line at the Battle of the Bulge. Now, that takes guts. There were a lot of unoccupied houses in the neighborhood at the time, which makes you a little uneasy. They were overjoyed when I moved in, and I never would have bought the house if it wasn’t for them. Ms. Minnie ran a numbers business here in the neighborhood. She liked to sit in her backyard and smoke a big cigar, but if I ever came around she’d hide it behind her back — she didn’t want to look unladylike.
Being from the South, Sam and his sons liked to go hunting. One morning, this must have been around 1982, his sons were loading their car, when some guys came by and mugged them. When he heard what happened, Sam told them, “Get in the car.” And they chased after them with their shotguns. A patrolman pulled them over. He said, “Sir, you cannot speed through the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant with shotguns sticking out your windows.” One of the sons was later killed a few blocks from here, in a grocery store that was being robbed.
Over on the corner, at the Casablanca, there was a time when almost every Sunday morning there’d be a chalk outline on the sidewalk outside. We had a situation where they were selling guns out of one of the bodegas. When you’d hear a racket — people making a disturbance, playing loud music, or carrying on, Ms. Minnie would say, “Andy, those are avenue people” — people who lived in the neighborhood apartment buildings — “not block people. We are block people.”
But having grown up in Harlem, I’d pretty much seen it all. Originally, we were supposed to live in Stuy Town. But once the city learned that the family was black, we were barred.
I’ve made it to 68. I’ve fought with the house. I’ve loved the house, and I’ve loved the neighborhood. But it’s time for me to act like a grandfather. My wife and I have a house in Hempstead, Long Island. It’s easy living out there. You walk into the pharmacy and they greet you by name: “How you doin’, Mr. Osborne?” There are too many people here now — too much hustle-bustle. It used to be no problem to park your car on the street. There’s nothing better than being able to wash your car in front of your house, to stand there with that hose — there’s something about it. It’s American.