Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

Photo: Francis Agyapong for New York Magazine

We were very much a group of strivers.

—Ulric Haynes Jr.

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Ulric Haynes Jr., 84Former Tenant, Retired Diplomat, Former U.S. Ambassador to Algeria

Now lives in: Florida

History: Lived with his parents in a second-floor walk-up from 1935 to 1948, for which they paid $35 a month ($596 in today’s dollars).

My family was originally from Barbados. They moved to MacDonough Street when I was 4 years old. The landlords were a couple from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia. Their names were Herman and Ida St. Luce. There was a great exodus from the Caribbean just after the turn of the century. The level of education, primary- and secondary-school education, in the British Caribbean was quite high, and as children became educated, they did not want to work in the fields.

There were not locks on the doors between apartments at the St. Luces’ house, and we were quite friendly with our neighbors. At that time, the block was in transition from predominantly white to predominantly black middle class. Our white neighbors were predominantly German and Irish, and my fellow black neighbors were either from the Caribbean or originally from the American South.

Ulric Haynes Jr. in front of his current home in Florida. Photo: Courtesy of Ulric Haynes, Jr.

There was some racial tension between neighbors, but I remember it only with one white family. There was an Irish family that owned the house next door to where we lived. They had three daughters. And they forbid their daughters from speaking to us. However, my best friend on the block, Charles Dougherty, was an Irish-American kid. Our apartments shared a common wall, and we used to go out on the fire escape at the back. We both collected turtles, and we would bring our little turtles out on the fire escape and discuss their well-being. We were 10, 11 years old. 
My other closest playmates at Public School 70, where all of us kids from the block went from kindergarten through sixth grade, were also white. Our classes were very integrated. And although all of our teachers were white, they were all highly motivated and treated us all quite equally. To tell you the truth, growing up, I encountered more cultural difficulties from my black American playmates than from my white playmates. There was a great deal of hostility between black Americans from the South and black people from the West Indies. I think the black Americans saw us as competing for their turf. And the black West Indians considered themselves better educated, which, in fact, many of them were. And then we didn’t speak the same kind of English. We didn’t have southern accents, and we spoke very correct English. I remember getting whacked at home if I came in speaking a street dialect.

My mother was a seamstress — she worked from home — and my father worked as a messenger for the Saucony Mobile Oil Company. My dad worked in the marine-sales department, and the head of that department was a man named Frederick Pratt. And it was through his intervention and encouragement that I ended up going to Amherst College, where the Pratt family had been major donors.

One interesting comment that I might make about the 400 block of MacDonough Street is that all of the black kids on that block went to college. And I do mean all, which I cannot say for the white kids. I don’t think any of them went to college. On the part of the black families on that block there was a conscious effort to improve one’s self. I would attribute our feeling to a kind of immigrant zeal. We all knew, even those who came from the American South, that we had to work hard — not just to make a living, but to make a place for ourself in American society. And the white kids in the neighborhood didn’t have that feeling, that zealousness. They had already made it.

Living on that block was Myles Paige, who was the first black municipal-court judge. And also the son of one of the founders of the NAACP — William Pickens. These were people who, growing up, I knew, I admired. Living not far away was the actress and singer Lena Horne. And on the 500 block of MacDonough street was Jackie Robinson. A block away lived Fats Waller and Bill Bojangles Robinson. We were surrounded by black achievers. It very much affected the black children of our generation. I would see them walking the street. Lena Horne would come to visit Mrs. Pickens, I remember. She would walk over. It wasn’t a question of her being brought over by a chauffeur or anything. There was great excitement among us kids whenever she would come over.

Lynn Bowden, 90Current Owner, Retired Kosher Butcher

My grandmother was from North Carolina. She never went to no doctor, never went to no dentist, never took no medication. She lived to be 106 years old! My mother and father were farmers in North Carolina. They grew fruits, vegetables. I went in the Army when I was 17 years old, crossed the English Channel in a boat, and went to Le Havre, France. The military pay was $50 a month, but everything but $23 I had to send home.

I came to New York in 1955. There wasn’t no work! I’d do anything I could—washing, simonizing cars. Saturdays, I worked for a butcher. He’d give me meat: frankfurters, chopped meat. But he didn’t give me no money. He said, “I’m learning you a trade.” And he was right. After that I was a kosher butcher for Hebrew National. You can’t tell me about no meat — beef, poultry — because I already know. When I retired, in the ’80s, they paid me $17 an hour.

I was married twice. The first time for 12 years. I got a divorce, and the second time I stayed married for 43 years. My second wife was a social worker. She passed away 12 years ago. When I bought this house, there wasn’t two cars on this street! That streetlight wasn’t even there. But I’m 90 years old now. Everything changes. Twenty-five years ago, I was out walking here, and a man put his hand on my shoulder. I turned, and another man put a .38 to me. They said, “This is a stickup.” That’s why I never let nobody put no hand on my shoulder. It’s like my father told me, “Don’t trust nobody. And if you do trust ’em, make sure you got a good reason.”