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Leatrice Hinnant, 46Current Owner, Day-Care Operator
Lives with: Her 28-year-old son, who has the top floor.
History: Her grandparents bought the house in 1970, when she was a year old. The family has lived here ever since.
The summers were the best. The children today do not have the fun that we had. The boys would go in the street and draw these boxes. They would make their own tops from milk-gallon tops — they’d burn wax into them so that they were heavy, and they would flick them onto certain numbers in the boxes. That game — it was called skully — lasted all day long. It would be dark, and they could barely see. Hide-and-seek was my favorite. A friend of mine — her dad did carpentry work, and he had this big pickup truck, with a tarp that went over back, where all his tools were. Once, my cousin hid under the tarp and went to sleep. We had the police on the block, because we couldn’t find him. When the police came, he woke up. Back then, when the streetlights came on, we were supposed to be in this yard. But we never wanted to come in for dinner. We would eat really fast — shovel it in — and then beg, beg, beg to go back outside. Just to sit on the steps.
When we had the blackout, in ’77, I remember sitting outside into the next day with my parents because we were so scared. We burned candles, and families came over to reassure each other. We went and checked on the elderly people. Because on this block, that’s what we do. You become somewhat of a family member to your neighbors and you look out for them. The block association today, though, is not what it used to be. We had a lot going on back then. The block parties were awesome, and we also used to have something called “Open Block,” where they would close the streets off on each end and we would play until we fell down without having to worry about cars coming through. We had bus outings to different places. I remember going to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania. We all went, packed on the bus, having a great time, there and back.
My dad was in his late 30s when he died. So my mom raised my sister and I with major help from my grandparents. My grandfather took over the father role. His name was Samuel Goodwin, but they called him Bud — that was his street name. He was a World War II veteran and a no-nonsense guy. Everyone knew not to mess with my sister or I, or any of his grandchildren. But he was also a very well-liked person, and I’m kind of well known on this block because of my grandparents.
My grandfather was a trucker, picking up stock from factories and delivering it to stores. My grandmother had been a maid; she would go to wealthy people’s homes in Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Williamsburg — all over Brooklyn — and take care of their children. After she retired, she took care of children from the neighborhood in her home—at that time, you didn’t need a license. I used to watch her, help her get the bottles ready. When I thought about having my own business, I thought of my grandmother, and how well she did it. That’s why I have a day care today. Of course, my day care is licensed.
My grandmother — they called her Ms. Minnie — did a few things on the side. She would have card games here, and she sold fried-chicken dinners and fried-fish dinners throughout this community. People would come, put their order in, she would fix their plate, and then they would go home and eat. Because she loved to cook and she loved people, she would make these big feasts and sell them for a very small cost. That was how she paid her mortgage. It would be maybe once a month. People would ask, “When are y’all having the next fish fry? When y’all having the next card game?” They had the best parties here.
Nineteen fifty-five is when they moved up from South Carolina. We had the biggest barbecues in the backyard. My grandfather built with his hands a pit that roasted a half a pig. He built it brick by brick. It was huge. Nobody could touch the grill but him. He was the only one that could put anything on it or cook on it. His garden was out back — that was for him too. You couldn’t water it. You couldn’t walk on it. He maintained it beautifully.
Back then, Malcolm X Boulevard used to be Reid Avenue, and Reid Avenue was a scary place. There were a lot of fights on the corners. There were plenty more liquor stores — a lot of alcoholics would be hanging around. There were these stores that were called mom-and-pop stores at the time, and they would sell liquor, illegal alcohol, under the counter. It was very depressing in Bedford-Stuyvesant, drug-infested. That’s why I think the block itself was so family-oriented, because we weren’t allowed to go off the block unless we were with my parents or an adult. Now I let my daughter, who’s 14, walk around the neighborhood. When I was 14, I couldn’t do that. I would go to school and I would come home. It was always like a curse to go on the avenue, as a child, because something bad would happen to you. That’s how my mom made it seem to me. And I believed her. Because when I was with her, it looked scary.
This block was our comfort area. It has always been working people. They worked a legal job. They lived in a house. They took care of their families. Everybody lived the same.
My son is now 28, and he lives upstairs. It’s always been a family house, and it always will be a family house. When I retire, I’m going to Florida with my mom, and my son will keep it. The block’s not as close-knit now as it was growing up. People don’t know what they missed. People are different now. I think they see it as: I purchase a home, I live in it, I go to work, I come home, and I don’t really need to talk to you people. They say “Hello,” but you know, it’s not friendly. They’re just being sociable because they know you’re a neighbor.
It’s different. It makes me sad, though, because I feel like that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. On this block, we’ve always been mostly African-American people. And now we have white people, Indian people, Hispanic people, people from different cultures. It’s so diverse now. Maybe that’s why people aren’t as friendly? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s people of our generation, that the older folk had more love for each other. I don’t know what it is. I would say it started to change, for me, five years ago. That’s when I think the homes became very expensive.
It’s a different vibe, definitely. That’s part of why it won’t be difficult for me to leave. I know how it used to feel — how the block felt. And the new people, they came in and they kind of changed it. But a lot more positive has changed than negative, and that’s why it’s so beautiful. But the new folks, they come in and take it for what it is now, but they don’t have the memories that I have.
Geraldine HinnantFormer Resident, Retired
Now lives in: Florida
History: Her parents bought the house in 1970 from a white family that had been there for several generations. Retired to Florida in 2010.
My parents were farmers in South Carolina. In the ’50s, that’s mostly what African-Americans did in the South. My dad came up first to New York, Brooklyn, and then sent for my mother. There were five of us, five children. And my mother brought us up with her on a train. I don’t know how my mother did it. It’s not a short ride. And it probably wasn’t a fast train either.
It was Memorial Day, 1970, when we moved to MacDonough Street. My parents loved New York. They talked about how hard it was living in the South — they just couldn’t see themselves really getting anywhere, any way of saving anything. They felt that there was more opportunity in New York for them and their children. And they were right.
Everybody knew my father. Mr. Sam, they called him. He was very outgoing — my mother and him both. Neighbors were more close back then. In the nighttime, during the summer, we sat out in our front yard. On the right side there was a lady that was my mother’s age, Ms. Jenkins, and then there was Ms. Twain, and they would sit out in the yard and talk. At the time, my kids were young, and they would be playing in the yard. Nobody had no central air in their houses. And after you had your dinner, you’d come back outside and sit for a little while, enjoying the night air.
Everybody knew each other, because they were all the old families that had been there since the ’60s and the ’70s. The older people knew your kids, so that when they got a little older and could move a little further away from the yard, there would be someone watching them to make sure they were doing what they were supposed to do.
My parents had bought their house from a white family that had been there for like three generations. I think it was the grandmother’s house, and who sold it was her grandson. It was a three-family house, and the grandmother had live-in care. Shortly after she passed, the house was sold.
Before that, the block was all white. We were the first generation of the blacks, taking over, moving into the neighborhood. So everybody was being neighborly to each other. The ones who were already there would try to help out the newer arrivals. I think it was because they knew how hard it was to be able to own a property. They were all happy to be homeowners.
I came down here, to Florida, in 2010. The neighborhood had changed a lot. All the owners that were there had either passed on or they had moved to the South or whatever. They were somewhere else. It was all new owners. There definitely wasn’t that closeness. I missed the way that it used to be.