Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

Photo: Francis Agyapong for New York Magazine

You can’t force somebody to talk to you.

—Jervey Ector

Jervey Ector, 54Current Owner, FedEx Driver

Lives with: His mother, Wilma Ector

History: Ector’s grandparents bought the house when his father was 10, in 1951.

My dad had a restaurant on Reid Avenue, which is now Malcolm X Boulevard. These days, you would call it a soul-food restaurant. Him and my grandmother were cooking. My mom used to go by the restaurant. She was a customer. 

It was a good block. The neighbors got along. Still a few people on the block who’ve been there since I can remember: Herby, Gwen. Known Herby since 5 or 6 years old. Basically all my life.

When I was real young, you stayed on the block. As you were older, you could go off the block. We didn’t have all the modern electronic stuff, so you knew you couldn’t go too far without telling someone.

In ’92, I got married and moved to Manhattan for a few years. And then we bought the house in Pennsylvania. That’s my primary residence. But since I’m working in New York now, it’s easier to stay at my mom’s house during the week.

The biggest change [on the block] I guess was between the time I moved away and got married and came back last year. When I was younger, there weren’t any Caucasian people living in the neighborhood. If they were there, they were teachers, doing work. Different races moving in and out. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s something that you never saw before. It’s kind of funny, it’s like, Oh, hey! The neighborhood is reforming, for lack of a better term. The new people come in and you have to get to know them, or they have to get to know you. As opposed to growing up next to someone for 20 years.

Wilma Ector, 81Current Owner, Retired

Lives with: Her son, Jervey Ector

History: Has lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstones since she was 9 months old. Her husband’s parents bought this house; she moved here when she got married in 1955. Her husband died in January.

I’ve lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant all my life — since I was 9 months old, and I’m 81 now — always in brownstones. My family moved from South Carolina. My father worked in a navy yard, and my mother was a domestic. But my mother died when I was 8 years old, and my father died the next year. My grandmother took care of us. We used to go to church on Mother’s Day, and we all wore white flowers. People would say, “Look, there go those poor orphans.”

My grandmother was very strict. Imagine having five children without a mother and a father, and she’s elderly and not that well herself! We had to stay around the vicinity of our home. We played hide-and-seek, hopscotch. Oh, Lordy. You see then, in the ’40s, they didn’t have as many cars. You could run in the street. We had one pair of ice skates between my brother, my sisters, and me. Our backyard was concrete, and when it would freeze over, we would skate there.

My father-in-law was a baker. When his family came to New York, they had a restaurant on Reid Avenue — Ector’s. My cousin and my husband were very good friends, almost like brothers. We would go in there when I was going to school. That’s how my husband and I met. He owned it and worked there for some time. But it was just too much for one person to handle, and so he went into the Department of Correction. I was sorry to see it go — a lot of the people in the neighborhood were. 

My husband received this house when my mother-in-law died. It seems like a hundred years ago now. We got married in 1955, and that’s when I moved to MacDonough Street. Tomorrow would have been our 60th wedding anniversary. He passed January the 9th. I felt really, really bad that we didn’t make it to 60. When he died, a part of me went with him.

We had a peach tree in the backyard. Every September, we picked peaches off the tree and gave them to some of the neighbors. Not all of them, because if you give them to everybody, then what have you got left? My husband, when he was still living, he was in a wheelchair, and he would roll to the back of the house and look out at the peach tree, and he would say that was his heritage. But then we had a storm that destroyed it. It’s been gone maybe four years now. He was so sad when that happened. Because it had been there since he was a child.